Charter Magazine

By April 10, 2012 Articles No Comments

 PDF_LogoThe Economy and Workplace Stress

With rising economic pressures and focus on short term results, Australians are working under prolonged conditions of stress with little support on how to manage and reduce it. The challenge that many experience is how to feel calmer and emotionally composed when so many demands and constraints are placed upon us. Workplace stress is costing Australia businesses $10.2 billion a year and 3.2 days per employee are lost each year through workplace stress.

Stress is also one of the fastest growing areas of workers compensation claims and employee absences. According to the Australian Safety and Compensation Council, the number of compensation claims in relation to stress rapidly increased by 83 per cent between 1997 and 2004. Currently 21.6 per cent of all Australian employees suffer stress that affects their productivity and ability to work effectively.

We often tend to feel stressed when we are presented with demands and pressures that are not matched to our knowledge and ability to cope. Stress also increases when we are not in control of a situation or when we have limited or no options available to change our circumstances.

Here’s an example to illustrate this.
Peter, a business development manager for a software company, is about to board a train to a client meeting where they will make their final decision whether or not to sign his proposed $500,000 contract. In these challenging times, business has been tough for Peter’s company and this contract will determine whether he will reach his targets and maintain his current employment. He has been working day and night for months on the proposal and there’s a lot at stake. Two senior executives have flown in from out of town and he has been told that the meeting can be no longer than one hour. The arrival time for the train approaches and an announcement is made informing passengers that the train has been delayed by 20 minutes. Peter realises that he will never make his meeting on time and begins to feel extremely stressed.

His stress is caused by the fact that he feels he has no control over the arrival of the train and limited options at his disposal to resolve the problem. We often believe that the events in our lives are responsible for our feelings of stress and that our circumstances determine the way we feel. In doing so, we become a victim to our circumstances allowing them to control our emotions and our mental wellbeing.

To challenge this notion, we first need to understand how stress actually comes about:

  • We first experience an event, situation or circumstance
  • We then have a thought about the event
  • We then experience an emotion about it
  • It’s our thoughts about a situation that determines the way we feel.

If Peter thought the day would sabotage his success, chances are he would begin to feel stressed. Alternatively, if he thought that there was nothing he can do about the situation other than letting the parties concerned know about the delay and simply adjusting the presentation if need be, he could still remain positive and optimistic.

Stress is a feeling and what causes that feeling is what we’re thinking. Generally, we don’t have a stressful feeling without first having a stressful thought.

Here is an interesting fact. Everyday we think approximately 60,000 thoughts. That’s 60,000 bits of information, ideas, opinions, judgments and beliefs streaming through our minds every day. Amazingly, about 90 per cent of these thoughts are the same thoughts we had yesterday. So that’s about 54,000 of the same thoughts flowing through our mind every day. (And we wonder why it’s difficult to create new ideas!) Even more interesting is that most of these 54,000 thoughts are negative in nature. Managing our selves is the key determinant to how we feel and the way we impact others. Remaining optimistic and keeping stress at bay has become more relevant than ever in this turbulent environment.

The challenge of managing stress is our ability to strengthen ourselves through building resilience. The more resilient we are the less stress affects us.

Here are three Resilience Builders that can help manage are reduce stress.

Resilience Builder 1 – Transform your Thought Attacks
Whenever you are faced with a stressful situation and thinking negatively about it, you are having a Thought Attack. A Thought Attack is what happens when your mind turns on itself and attacks any possibility of a positive outlook. It does this by focusing your thoughts on the negative and threatening aspects of a situation. Once a Thought Attack enters your mind it starts to attract similar thoughts and begins to snowball. It gains further momentum until feelings of stress, anxiety and panic set in. When you experience Thought Attacks you have given permission for negative thoughts to have free rein in your mind and consequently allowed feelings of stress to enter your body.

So how do you become conscious of your Thought Attacks? The answer is the red card. In a football game, a referee will often pull out a red card from his pocket and send a player off the field. Why do they do this? The referee had deemed the player’s actions to be so negative and damaging that the player is send off the field to cool down. So how do we use the red card against our Thought Attack? Whenever you feel a Thought Attack coming on give yourself a red card and follow these three points:

Step 1 – Recognise that your Thought Attacks are harming you. The situation is not the cause of your stress, it’s your negative interpretation of it that is causing you to feel tense and this pressure is not good for you.

Step 2 – Acknowledge that you have the power to choose different thoughts. No one is forcing you to think in this particular way; you have the power to chose different thoughts about the situation. You are not a victim to your situation or thoughts. You are the master of your mind.

Step 3 – Ask yourself: How else can I interpret this situation? Start to think about the situation in another way. Search for a new meaning in this challenging circumstance. Think about the positive aspects that may arise from it. Think about what opportunities can come about because of it. Keep your mind focused on your new interpretation and what you once viewed as a stressful situation will be transformed into a worthwhile experience.

Resilience Builder 2 – Tell a different story
Often we are unaware that the majority of our communication consists of telling stories about the experiences we’ve had. What stories are you telling about your stressful experience? Are you painting a picture of doom and gloom or could you relate it in a more positive way? We so often victimise ourselves in the stories we relate to others, but there is no benefit in focusing on the problem instead of the solution. Commit to only talking about your challenges in a positive light.

Resilience Builder 3 – Keep perspective
It’s important to see things as they are, not worse than they are. In a stressful moment it is easy to turn things into a catastrophe and lose perspective. This most often occurs when we feel threatened or fearful about the consequences of a situation. In these circumstances evaluate the things you can and can’t control. Take the necessary actions that can help alleviate the problem. If you feel you have lost perspective, consult a colleague or trusted friend to get more clarity and objectivity.

Meiron Lees, executive director, InnerCents, a specialised corporate training and coaching company. He is also the author of D-Stress: Building Resilience in Challenging Times.

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