Stress Management

by Helen Whitten

Typical stressful situations

As each person experiences stress from different situations, you can’t be sure, even with major events such as redundancy or divorce, that a person will inevitably be stressed. Some people are able to view challenges as opportunities, but to try to convince someone who is devastated by an event that they should look on it as an opportunity can be to brush over their real feelings.

Stress occurs in all areas of a person’s life – at work, at home and in general life. The fact is that wherever the stress occurs, it will have an impact on that person’s ability to perform in the workplace. As a result, while the workplace is your area of responsibility, it can still be in your interest to support your people through the stress they may experience in other areas.

Stressors

Below is a list of examples of situations that can prove stressful, depending on the individual.

In the workplace

  • Change
  • Uncertainty
  • Job insecurity
  • New post
  • New technology
  • Technology that doesn’t work
  • Targets
  • Deadlines
  • Conflict with boss or colleague
  • Customer expectations
  • Other people’s stress
  • Work environment – noise, lighting, ergonomics
  • Long hours culture
  • No ready access to the outside – fresh air and daylight
  • Lack of support
  • Harassment and bullying
  • Lack of autonomy and control
  • Lack of feedback
  • Doing work that doesn’t motivate them personally
  • Lack of recognition and reward
  • Unclear goals
  • Lack of skills, training

Personal life

  • Small children
  • Teenagers
  • Elderly or sick parents
  • Sandwich generation – children and elderly parents
  • Financial concerns
  • Illness
  • Moving house
  • House renovation
  • Marital problems
  • Divorce
  • Bereavement
  • Feeling stretched between work and home life
  • Lack of exercise
  • DIY and home renovations
  • Family conflict
  • Home help/nanny problems
  • Burglary
  • Getting married

General

  • The economy
  • Transport – daily commute
  • Traffic jams
  • Politics
  • War
  • Crime
  • Education

Many of these may be beyond your control or not within your area of responsibility. However, you can, as a manager, give moral support to a colleague and that in itself can make a difference to a person’s ability to cope. Whether or not you feel empathy for the person, it is to your mutual benefit to help the person manage their stress, as it will not only be impacting on them, but their colleagues and possibly their clients. Negative emotions are infectious, so you want to avoid them within your department if you can!

We are all different

Why do some situations stress one person and not another? This is a question of perspective. It depends on how each individual views a situation. It may also relate to whether a person has had a bad experience in the past and is facing the same experience again – for example, change, restructuring and potential redundancy.

Some people are simply more ‘anxious’ than others; it doesn’t necessarily make them a weaker person, but you can help them review whether their anxiety is rational and realistic or due to imagined problems that may never happen. Other people can appear very macho and in control, but in fact are extremely stressed underneath – just not admitting it.

Every human being has areas of vulnerability and can be incredibly calm in one situation and incredibly stressed in another. It is part of the human condition. By introducing stress management interventions, you will be helping prevent unnecessary stress and providing techniques to manage stress – but you can’t change the world, so there are always likely to be situations that will cause you and your team some degree of stress.

Is stress in a team member contagious?

It can be. Each case needs analysing in its own right. It can happen that someone becomes vulnerable and requires a great deal of support for a period of time, due to a specific event in their lives, a change or a project. Support can be invaluable at these times.

It may also occur that someone develops a feeling of being a victim of their circumstances. These can end up grumbling. Watch out for the negative grumblers – they can spread negativity quickly. If you notice someone behaving like this, try to find out what their main problem is and address it. Point out to them what they can do about current problems and also help them to see what is working and what support they have. In fact, help them talk about things and then focus on the positives and constructive where feasible (see The beliefs behind stress).