Challenging Stress Remotely
It’s Stress Awareness Month. That certainly calls for a minute to take stock on where we’re at and where we’re going. Many of us are keeping up to date with news of Covid-19 in the UK and around the world, but are we really checking in with ourselves? If we don’t look after number 1, why would anyone else? If we don’t look after our teams, who else will?
The word ‘Coronavirus’ is shaping up to be the biggest story in Google trends history (click here for graph and twitter discussion) as we struggle to keep our companies afloat, plan long term survival, deal with redundancies and furloughing, and the overwhelm or boredom that can result. Interestingly, boredom triggers stress too – our brains need to be engaged in meaningful activities that give us a sense of purpose. Being stretched is different to stress and I personally never to refer to stress as a healthy state. It’s when we are stretched too thin that we break. The smallest things can cause the step from stretch to stress.
In addition to work worries, our anxiety about family, friends and health has increased. For me personally last week it was having to find time in an already busy week to queue for shopping (with the likelihood of getting online grocery slots a bit like winning the lottery), having to clean the house (our beloved cleaner disappointingly isn’t considered essential) and home-schooling (thank goodness it’s now the Easter ‘holiday’). My husband and I are constantly checking in with how we’re attempting to get all this to work, which changes day to day depending on how we feel and what else is going on outside our control.
Taking Ownership for your own Stress
It’s very easy to feel like a victim when we’re stressed, and to blame others. I’ve written in previous blogs about the power of mindset, alternative perspectives, of positive psychology and of increasing our resilience to reduce stress. But sometimes, we need to take action.
Mike, who I wrote about in February (The Bus is Coming but When – blog) decided to take responsibility of his feelings and speak up. He asked for a meeting with his manager to say that he didn’t feel things were going as well as he hoped and that he wanted to get on better. That’s a great starting point. Mike was able to say what he wanted (focusing on positive outcomes rather than criticism) and discuss what might help, from both of them, to achieve a desired future. As a result, Mike’s stress has dropped. And I’ve no doubt his managers’ has too, both individuals now sharing the same path.
What can you do to reduce your stress? It might be about psychological approaches I’ve shared previously or taking action.
- How will you reorganise your week to fit in additional activities or fill gaps when you were previously working?
- How can you plan for the uncertain future of work? We know that the Coronavirus will come to an end but the journey to that point is less clear. And the reality of what work will look like afterwards is open for change. Who do you need to speak to and get creative with? What new skills and knowledge to you need?
- If you’re speaking to someone else about their actions, be mindful of your language which sets the tone for the conversation. Prepare what you want to say. Use ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’ to avoid blame. Acknowledge this is difficult for everyone and you’re wanting to focus on things being better for everyone; win-wins. If you can’t speak to the most relevant person (e.g. your manager), who can you speak to?
Spotting Stress Remotely
When we’re in physical contact with people it can be easier to detect stress. Seeing a change in someone’s energy, communication and mood all signal that something might not be right. But over video, or worse, the phone, this can be more tricky. We don’t see the signs as easily. When people are in ‘video mode’ for an hour, it is easier to put on a mask. We really need to be aware that what we see is just face-value
Cue yourself to look out for signs of stress in others so that you’re more likely to recognise them. Remember that only 7% of communication is via the words we use so you have a lot of other signals to pick up on. These might include:
- Increased irritability, being argumentative, defensive or ‘closed’
- Low mood, loss of humour, tearful
- Difficulty remembering information, concentrating or problem solving
- Change in physical appearance, being mindful of the difference between ‘relaxed’ and appearing not to care. Looking tired.
- Withdrawal from opportunities for interaction
One of the most powerful strategies to support others at this time is to focus on positive relationships. We’re most likely to share what’s really going on for us when we have genuine emotional connections with people that are based on complete acceptance and without judgement. How many of us really experience that? How many of us have that with work colleagues, friends and family? It starts with YOU.
Look out for the signs
Check in daily with people showing some of the symptoms of stress
Use video instead of the phone
Focus on identifying what can change; be solution-focused
To discuss further, check out concerns or explore potential ways forward, please drop me a line. I’m happy to help. We’re in this together.