On Stress Management

Stress needs to be considered from several perspectives and is generally manifested through Physiological, Psychological and Behavioral responses.

I find it hard to fathom why with all the research an development we have seen in the major fields of behavioral sciences, we still seem to lack a formal definition for Organizational stress – nor is there any source I have been able to locate, where there is any body of work around the subject of stress, definitions, and management thereof.
(But I could be looking in the wrong place for sure)

Given that background and extremely limited ‘text book’ knowledge of the subject, here is what I have observed over the past several years, both through my colleagues and peers, as well as several Leaders I have had the good fortune to work with:
Stress is usually a by-product of misalignment of one’s work environment and values, with one’s home environment and values, as well as with the individual’s personal compass (True North) versus where the organization compass is driving towards.

It would be inaccurate to simply state that Leaders do not feel stress – or that Leaders feel more stress than others. It is relative to the individual at all times, and the factors above will impact everyone in much the same way – when such misalignments are allowed to take root and become the root cause for stress and other related issues.

I have found that some individuals are able to develop a ‘system’ to deal with the stress factors. Meditation, Yoga, adopting a pet, volunteering with various social service organizations, taking up a new hobby like a musical instrument are the some of the ‘remedies’ that come to mind. Others may take up physical fitness programs, enroll with Gyms, train for a Marathon, enroll for a new sport like kick-boxing or group fitness activities like Pilates, etc.
A newfound appreciation for religion and spirituality is another key approach that I have observed in individuals who are looking for proactive means to avoid and manage stress.

I cannot tell (yet?)which of the above works least or best – sufficeth to say that these individuals seem to enjoy a better, more balanced outlook to life in general, appear to be more calm and at peace with themselves…and usually better aligned with their internal sense of ‘True North.’
It has been my life’s struggle to try and learn and implement these ‘good practices’ from my friends and colleagues – I believe it is a journey of a thousand miles….and I am still faltering at the first few steps…

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The thing is that stress is universal, impacts everyone in a relative sense, regardless of rank or position in an Organization, and most importantly, is as destructive to individuals as it can be to teams and leadership as well.
The thing to note is that stress or the lack thereof can be directly traced back to our work environments, the nature of the jobs we perform and how much of a sense of satisfaction do we realize at the end of the task, shift or project in a manner of speaking. The satisfaction and sense of contribution that comes from a job well done and well recognized is like an endorphin rush after a particularly strenuous work-out or prolonged physical activity. Almost like an adrenaline shot. In this sort of situation, it is conceivable that we feel less stress than we would, if at the end of the task, shift, or project all we felt was a sense of utter frustration and despair, at a task that was ill conceived and poorly executed. Add to that any form of management or supervisor criticism or displeasure at the way the task was executed and you have the makings of a super ‘Stress’ migraine!

Thee things to remember

1. No job, or task or project is personal – nor is it going to be around for a lifetime – everything is transitory – I always remind myself “this too shall pass.”

2. The only thing you have control over is that which is within your own circle of influence. Stephen Covey talks about two concentric circles – the larger outer circle being the circle of concern and the smaller circle in the center being the circle of influence. We typically tend to focus on the circle of concern – all the things that we have no control over that could potentially go wrong…and in so doing we keep expanding the circle of concern and squashing the circle of influence – until it becomes insignificant…a little dot.
Instead we need to ask ourselves what we can control, and then go about exerting our best efforts in working in the areas that we can control and influence positively – this is a sure-fire way to stay positive, focused and always be a strong contributor.

3. We have the power of choice always…whether we want to stay on the current job or if we want to seek other opportunities, if we want to take the challenges and stress of the current role or do we want to change direction and careers…if we think we are getting a fair shake…or not. In every case, we have the power of choice…of making an informed decision with full knowledge and awareness of what we are getting into…and the innate human capability of taking accountability for our own actions. The sooner we recognize this, the sooner we rid ourselves of needless stress and ‘circle of concern’ behaviour.

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I find it somewhat confusing – this belief that Leaders have some sort of innate responsibility for taking us by the hand and leading us to the promised land, stress-free and worry free?

My take is that everyone experiences stress that is as relevant, impactful and debilitating as does the Leader…and that we are all equipped with the same basic coping skills (as the Leader) to address this issue, as we would any other task that comes with the territory: Communication, Decision making, Problem solving, Teaming, and the list goes on and on (albeit, some may be better equipped as others in this situation)

I am afraid that we have become more of a responsibility-shedding, ‘entitlement oriented’ society that believes everything can be ‘blamed’ on someone else – or delegated to someone else to deal with, rather than recognizing that we need to take on ownership and accountability of managing our own issues/stresses without dependency others.

The sooner we recognize that we are the architects of our own future and well being, the sooner do we take the first steps towards understanding what causes our stress, and how best to deal with it. There is nothing wrong with learning from our peers, colleagues and leaders, how they go about addressing stress, as long as we do not entirely rely on their successes to heal ourselves.

Here are some of the well known factors to consider in developing a stress management plan:
Exercise, a balanced diet and adequate sleep.

Exercising personal discipline over addictive , debilitating habits (like alcohol, tobacco, other habit forming drugs)

Alignment of our professional value system with our deeper family and spiritual values is a significant aid in finding our own true north

Understanding what we have control over and applying ourselves to working within our ‘circle of influence’ and dealing with what we can (Thank you Dr. Stephen Covey) and eschewing the distractions that drag us down into the ‘Circle of Concern’ (ditto Dr. Covey) and typically cause us to stress.

In conclusion, it is absolutely fair game to look up to our leadership and learn from their example, how we may learn to manage stress ourselves.

What I do not agree with is the belief that Leaders are required to perform some sort of ‘show and tell’ on how we are to deal with stress…and that perhaps they can wave a wave a magic wand and make it all go away…

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