Stress is contagious. It spreads, just like anger or sadness. Evolutionarily, our brains are wired to catch on to anything that represents danger. Says Kristi Hedges, author of ‘The Inspiration Code’, “Simply watching someone else tense up can trigger the release of stress hormones in our own bodies.”People often report this experience by saying something like:

  • “When he gets stressed, I try to avoid him.”
  • “Everyone knows when she’s having a bad day. It’s all over her face.”
  • “When he gets strung, he gets everyone else strung. It’s exhausting.”

What does this mean? While we try to understand the impact of stress on ourselves, we miss out on understanding its impact on others around us. Research shows that a leader’s stress is acutely felt in the entire organization. What then can we do to not add to our teams’ already full-plate?

The workload is not the issue. 
When we feel fatigued, anxious, or start losing sleep, our go-to mechanism is reducing our workload. Instead, the authors of ‘It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work’ recommend that you examine how you feel about the workload. Do you feel compelled to be perfect? Are you prone to second-guessing yourself? Is there a pattern of not saying no to requests? More than the quantum of work, the challenge could stem from your mindset. Change your practices – build boundaries, focus on strengths, learn self-care, etc., and your stress will reduce.

Talking about stress doesn’t help. Saying that you are stressed just adds to the culture of stress. What we focus on, only gets stronger. Instead, talk about how you are addressing it. For instance, say, “I have worked until midnight all of last week. It affected my sleep and mood negatively. But now, I’m going to share with my team that I am not available after 8 PM.” Hedges notes, “By doing this, you model that it’s necessary to push back against stress. And, if you state what you’re doing out loud, you’re more likely to follow through.”

We need respite. Plan for mindful breaks. In Hedges’ research, a client who felt drained from excessive business travel restructured his time to build in breaks. He selected hotels with spa services and booked massages during his stay. When possible, he extended his trip by an evening to visit friends in the area and committed to not working during the flight back home. He also made sure to keep the first day back relatively free from meetings.

It may seem like we know what to do to build a better lifestyle. But are we really doing it? The invitation to you – examine your work-life patterns and make the shift from thinking about how to reduce your stress to actually doing it.

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