How HR Managers Can Help People Cope With Job Stress

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Author John Towler, Ph.D.
Original Publication Exchange Magazine

Advise on how to manage workplace stress more effectively.

These are stressful times. People are worried about SARS, terrorism, and the economy. As if that wasn’t bad enough, business failures, downsizing and record high layoffs have led to major concerns in the workplace. Job stress affects productivity, destroys relationships and creates problems for everyone from the executive suite to the shop or retail floor. This has become a major concern for HR managers and has led to more stress for them and the people they manage. How can you help people cope with stress? One thing to do is to educate them about signs of stress and give them some practical stress reduction techniques. Here is some information to help you do that.

The answer to stress reduction lies in understanding what stress does, recognizing stress signals and taking steps to become stress resistant.

What stress does to you. –. When we are involved in a stressful situation, our body is programmed to respond to protect us. Adrenaline enters the bloodstream to prepare us for action. The heart speeds up, digestion shuts down, lungs work harder, muscles tense and we get ready to either fight or flee. This may have been very useful when we met a sabre toothed tiger outside our cave, but our bodies still react this way and this is where the problems begin. Unless you fight or flee, your body has no way to alleviate the changes that have been triggered by the stress.

How to tell if you are stressed - Your body will tell you when you are under too much stress. Here are some of the signals it sends out. How many have you experienced?

Migraine headaches
Loss of appetite
Fatigue
Heart palpitations
Depression
Increased drinking
Insomnia
Sore neck or back
Irritability
Upset stomach
Aggression
Loss of sex drive
Stuttering
Compulsive talking
Passiveness
Frequent illnesses

Recognizing your own stress signals is like knowing when you have reached a breaking point. Your body is telling you that it has had enough and that you must so something before anything worse happens. But what can you do?

How to Become Stress Resistant – There are many things that you can do to cope with stress, reduce its effects and make yourself stress resistant. Here are a few of them.

Maintain a good sense of humour. Learn to laugh at yourself. Adults don’t laugh enough. Children laugh 700 times a day on average, but adults laugh only 35 times. Laughter releases endorphins. These are natural painkillers and analgesics. If you can’t find anything to laugh at, go out and rent a funny video. Fawlty Towers always does it for me!

Set realistic goals for yourself. We are often our own worst enemies and set impossible goals and then castigate ourselves when we fail to reach them.

Get control of your time. Our society suffers from “hurry up sickness”. We drive ourselves crazy with schedules and the clock. Stop setting impossible deadlines and take a “who cares” attitude whenever and wherever you can. If you are late for a meeting you chair, relax. It won’t start without you.

Learn some relaxation skills. Yoga, massage, meditation, a hot bath or going to bed with a good book can work wonders.

Get enough sleep. No one functions well when exhausted.

Never let a computer know that you are in a hurry.

Be prepared to wait. We all have to wait in lines, on the phone, or at the dental office. Be prepared and take a good book and relax.

Learn to say “no”. Refuse to take on tasks you don’t want and learn to delegate.

Don’t be a slave to the phone. If you want privacy, unplug it or let the answering machine take it.

Inoculate yourself against events. If you know that something stressful is about to happen, prepare for it. Anticipate what is likely to happen. Think about how you will likely feel and then plan to cope with these feelings.

Live one day at a time. Live every day as if it is your last because one day you will be right.

Do something you enjoy every day. You deserve some pleasure in life, but you have to plan to make it happen.

Do something nice for somebody else. Not only will it surprise them; it will make you feel good. Smiles are cheap and easy to give away.

If you have something unpleasant to do, do it first thing in the morning then you will free of the anxiety for the rest of the day. This must have been what Mickey Rooney (who has been married eight times) was thinking about when he said, “Always get married early in the morning. That way, if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wasted a whole day.”

Become more flexible. This isn’t a perfect world and things don’t always turn out the way you want. My mother was a perfectionist, but my Dad’s attitude was “ A blind man on a galloping horse will never notice.” Dad was a lot easier to live with.

Your job and our times may cause you stress, but it is your responsibility to deal with it and cope. There are lots of other things you can do, but this will get you started. The main thing is to understand what stress does to you, recognize when your body tells you that you are under too much stress and then decide what to do about it.

John Towler is a Psychologist and the founder of Creative Organizational Design. Please send comments about this article to jtowler@creativeorgdesign.com. For more information, please contact us.

Re-printable with permission.