Stress Management

by Helen Whitten

What is stress management?

One of your duties as a manager is to understand what stress is all about and what can be done, both to prevent it and to manage it.

The formal definition of stress is that it is a state that occurs when the perceived pressure on an individual exceeds their ability to cope. One popular current definition stipulates that ‘stress is a process by which certain work demands evoke an appraisal process in which perceived demands exceed resources and result in undesirable physiological, emotional, cognitive and social changes.’ Basically, this means that stress is a sense of overwhelm, when things go from being motivating and challenging to being just too much to manage.

Stress management, therefore, represents tools and strategies to help prevent both ourselves and our colleagues from feeling stressed, and also to defuse the experience when it occurs. The benefit of stress management in the workplace is that it enables people to manage difficult situations and maintain emotional and physical equilibrium and clarity of mind.

As soon as stress occurs, our body and mind are primed for the The fight-or-flight response – the physical response built into our systems millions of years ago to provide us with speed and strength to deal with a specific short-term threat.

In the workplace, stress is seldom about a physical threat; its causes tend to be more psychological (see Typical stressful situations). In fact, the fight-or-flight response is unhelpful in most situations that arise in the modern world, and impacts work performance in two tangible ways:

  1. It depletes the immune system, leading to ill health and sickness absence
  2. It puts people into ‘survival’ mode which cuts off the ‘thinking’ part of the mind that people need to manage complex situations in the workplace.
Key point

Stress is a state rather than an illness, but it leads to illness.

This is not good for you or your business. People make very different decisions when they are calm and confident compared with when they are stressed and fearful. They also think and communicate less effectively under stress.

It is therefore in the interest of any manager to address the situations, issues and approaches that are likely to cause stress. You can then take action to either alter the situation or give your staff the tools to manage challenges more constructively.

It is the individuality of response to situations that confounds an overall policy that would reduce stress for everyone. It takes time and attention to understand staff and realise that what stresses one person will motivate another. That’s not easy when you are busy trying to meet targets!

However, there are some general and practical structures and mechanisms that can be put into place to prevent stress impacting the performance of the majority and this programme will introduce you to some of the actions that you can take.

The components of anxiety, stress, fear, and anger do not exist independently of you in the world. They simply do not exist in the physical world, even though we talk about them as if they do.

Wayne Dyer