Controlling Heightened Stress in the Workplace

There is no doubt that stress levels are skyrocketing in the workplace today: we would be crazy if we weren’t stressed. The term “job security” appears to be obsolete, as the economic crisis that began in the banking, the housing market and automotive industry has spread like a virus throughout the entire country, threatening our economic stability. Most employees today are struggling with stress and anxiety due to uncertainty. For psychologists, this is a great opportunity during this period of the unpredictable workplace to guide clients to control and lessen stress. We can take a leadership position in helping clients and people in the workplace learn and grow through this negative time of turmoil.
We need to offer our clients a process for stress reduction techniques that focus on resilience. Resilience, as you know, is fostering a mental process of positive thinking, realizing we are learning, (and) creating healthy personality characteristics after being exposed to unfavorable life circumstance causing stress.
The objective of a resilience program is not to eradicate stress, but to teach methods to manage our responses to the increasing pressures that exist in the workplace. Stress is both an emotional and physiological response to difficult or unfamiliar situations and it has become almost impossible to escape. Even if a person does not directly experience stressful situations within the workplace, simply hearing news report of increasing layoffs, job losses, and company closings is more than enough to cause one to wonder, “Will I be next?” Having guilt because one is left and friends have all been caught in a reduction causes elevated stress.
The presence of stress in the workplace is extremely high, and it should be, given our circumstances. We all know that stress and anxiety preclude learning, productivity and efficiency in the workplace. Psychologists can help employees become less stressed, for example, by utilizing CBT and Mindfulness in response to negative, debilitating, and victim thinking.
Implementing a resilience program or even offering workplace stress training, conflict resolution, stopping the negative thinking of self, work and future, and communication can be a great place to start. Psychologists can convey the crucial message that stress is not caused by events alone. It is how we chose to interpret and give meaning to work related events that will ultimately hurt or heal us. It would be beneficial for people to understand both the negative and positive reactions to stress and anxiety so they can recognize their own psychological tendencies.
One common example of a negative reaction to stress is self-denial. Denying that stressful events are emotionally affecting “me” in the workplace is void of logic but some use it as a coping method. It is important for people to actually confront negative thoughts and the issues that are occurring in their lives but understand there is no need to panic. Expressing thoughts in writing, even in the form of a letter that will never be sent, is a method of self-confrontation. It allows an internal dialog that will help to face the stressful situation and clear a path for successful stress management techniques.
There are the tried and true techniques to utilize with clients that can reduce the stress levels and anxiety at work. Many of the techniques are familiar to most psychologists, but should be reiterated in order to allow workers to recognize their ability to manage workplace stress. The following are examples of simple stress reducing tips for the workplace:
 Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Get up and walk around during your lunch break, and go outside on nice days. Take a break and talk to people in the workplace at least twice a day.
 Create an “I Did” list (list of daily accomplishments) at the end of each day. This list will help you to recognize all the services you provide. For an example, when you pick up the ringing phone and address questions, you are providing a service.
 At the end of the day, lay out one project to do first thing in the morning. When you come in the next day, do not check your voice mail or email until you have finished that project. This will provide a sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of a completed task. This will boost the employees’ confidence and self esteem and stop the unorganized thinking and chaos that can ensue from heavy unmanageable workloads.
 Do a deep breathing exercise to relax and mentally debrief
The latest events of GM and Chrysler filing for bankruptcy will directly or indirectly effect everyone. What we see is the workplace consolidating to a level that it should have been for years. We also see that people who put themselves out as leaders were facades and reflections of leaders without substance. With the latest statistics showing that the unemployment rate is the highest that it has been in over thirty years, there is an increasing need for resilience thinking in the workplace to combat workplace anxiety. No individuals are immune from the possibility that, at any moment, they could lose their jobs. Many companies used to state, “Our People are our Greatest Asset”; today’s motto could be “Our Assets are Expendable”. A definition of the workplace is: an opportunity for each employee to demonstrate gifts and talents. Help your clients to understand that the workplace does not define them; it simple gives them an opportunity to fulfill them as they work toward professional and personal goals.

About rexgatto

Rex Gatto, Ph.D. is an internationally known speaker and author whose insights and breakthrough research on the characteristics of U.S. management have helped organizations enhance their productivity and individuals enrich their lives. Dr. Gatto has been featured often in the media by, among others the New York Times, the Business Times, KDKA TV, The Accounting Web, KQV Radio, Polaris International Quarterly, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, The Aspen Law and business Advisory and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He has authored the highly acclaimed "Smart Manager's FAQ," in addition to books on stress, presentation, work/life balance and mentoring.
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