Stress 101 for Leaders: Understanding Stress and Life Stressors
Stress Has Negative Affects on Leaders and Their Teams
Downsizing, diminished budgets, and attrition are just a few demands that are creating additional stress for leaders and their teams. There is pressure to constantly accomplish more work in less time and with fewer resources. With the nature of work changing at whirlwind speed, now, more than ever before, job stress poses a threat to the health of workers and, in turn, to the health of organizations.
One might assume that since leaders have more control over policies and procedures, they would suffer less stress. However, recent reports from HR Magazine indicate that, “Nearly seven in ten (67%) business leaders are struggling with stress and managing their emotions in the workplace”. The white paper from Center for Creative Leadership, states that lack of resources and time are listed as “…the most stressful leadership demands…”
Regardless of where on the management ladder they are, leaders may not recognize the signs or symptoms of stress. He or she may say, “I’m not stressed. Sure, I feel that things are a bit chaotic, but that’s the way it is. I can handle it.” In many cases, however, the stress exceeds leaders’ capacity to deal with it on an everyday basis. They turn a blind eye to the stress and slip into a vicious cycle that includes stress, fatigue, irritability, performance slippages—and more stress. Stopping the stress cycle is helped by understanding the symptoms of stress and understanding the stress triggered by life changes.
Identifying Stress Symptoms
To avoid sliding into a negative stress situation or cycle, leaders can benefit from understanding both the physical and psychological symptoms of stress.
The physical symptoms of stress include:
- Gastrointestinal upset
- Sleep disturbances
- Sweating palms
- Tense muscles
- Increased health risks including heart disease, ulcers, impaired immune function, and injury
The psychological symptoms of stress include:
- Short attention span
- Poor memory
- Poor organization
- Mood swings
- Increased risk of emotional problems including depression
After you understand the symptoms of stress, remember that major life changes and transitions sow the seeds of stress, especially if someone faces more than one of these changes simultaneously. No one is immune from the affects of life interrupting life. Even those with high intellectual potential and well-developed coping skills can be brought to their emotional knees by the stress associated with their own life changes or that of another.
Don’t Ignore Stress
It is easy to overlook the stress that comes with positive events such as graduations, promotions to leadership position, and even joyous occasions such as marriage. For example, finished with her residency, Kristen and spouse faced numerous life changes: a new baby, a new research job, and a move across the country to a small house needing remodeling. In addition, her husband was completing his own projects and looking for a job. Is it any wonder that this couple felt stressed?
Assess Your Stress
From a list of the top ten causes of life stress, check all that you have endured in the last 12 months:
___ Onset of an illness or management of a chronic disease
___ Serious illness or accident of a loved one
___ Departure or death of a partner, family member, or dear friend
___ Change or loss of job or promotion
___ Change of residence or place of business
___ Home or business reconstruction projects
___ Financial setback or economic downturn
___ Introduction of a child into one’s life through birth or adoption
___Feelings of social, career, or personal failure
If you’ve confronted the challenges of any one of the top ten causes of stress, think about the symptoms of stress you might have experienced. Self-awareness of stress is a first step toward managing stress and enjoying work/life productivity.
For more assistance on this topic there are many resources on this site:
How Stressed Are You? A self-assessment to see how much stress is affecting you.
7 Ways to Manage the Stress Mess – tools and tips to get it under control.
Seven Steps to Stop Fatigue From Eroding Leader Productivity – steps you can take right now!
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