Here's a stat that is both hardly surprising and yet staggering all the same: Eighty percent of Americans say they're stressed at work, according to a recent study by Nielsen. Low salaries, intense workloads, and taxing commutes are some of the biggest contributors.
Of course work isn't the only source of stress in life, as you surely know all too well. Pile on the anxiety induced by your job, your family, and simply your daily comings and goings, and you've got a situation where the pressure can really start to fester.
"People walk into work already laden with stress," Maria Gonzalez, the founder and president of Argonauta Strategic Alliances Consulting and the author of Mindful Leadership, tells Harvard Business Review.
Gonzalez warns that to be mentally and physically productive and to preserve your longevity, you need to learn to manage your daily doses of stress. If you don't, the damage can hurt your effectiveness as a leader, your relationships with employees, your self respect, and how people perceive you.
Below, read how you can better control your stress in the moment.
Recognize your body's signals.
Gonzalez says you first need to recognize the physical manifestations of stress on your mind and body. Your chest may feel tight, your may fists clench, or your back muscles may get stiff. These physiological signals should alert you to your stress in the moment and you can take a second to think about why you're stressed and understand the root cause. "The minute you start to experience stress, your pulse races, your heart beats faster, and hormones [including cortisol and adrenaline] are released," she tells HBR. "This compromises your immune system and your ability to experience relaxation."
Alter your perspective and reaction.
When stress chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline are released, either you can be scared stiff and nervous or you can be focused and motivated. You can train your body's fight-or-flight response to react to stress positively. "Most often the reason your blood pressure rises at work is because you're being asked to do something important," Justin Menkes, a consultant at Spencer Stuart and the author of Better Under Pressure, tells HBR. "The stress symptoms are telling you: This matters." To start training your body to respond to stress the way you want, start with your mind. He suggests you stop looking at piles of work as stressful and start thinking about it as "an opportunity to move forward that you want to take seriously," he says.
Stay positive and calm.
When a colleague rushes in and starts panicking about how much work needs to be done, don't give in to the negative outlook. When you get stressed, you get angry, irritable, and pessimistic. Gonzalez says you should tell yourself to remain logical, calm, and positive. Sound stupid? Maybe, but your internal dialogue is constantly going anyway so try to steer it in a productive direction. Focus on your breathing because when you're stressed your breaths get short and shallow. But if you take multiple deep breaths while focusing on your stomach expounding and contracting, you'll elicit your "parasympathetic nervous system, which induces a relaxation response," Gonzalez says.
Find a friend.
Every successful leader needs someone she can trust and who can be a sounding board for her troubles and worries. "Select this person carefully: You want it to be somebody with whom you have a mutual connection and who, when you share your vulnerabilities, will respond in a thoughtful manner," Menkes says. Venting your stress will prevent you from bottling it up. If your confidant is trustworthy, he or she will give you a positive perspective that can help you get over the stressful moment.
Don't spread your stress.
As a leader especially, your employees mimic your behavior. If you're stressed out and nervous, so too will be your colleagues and employees. So make sure you try to "modulate your emotions," Menkes says. Make a conscious effort to keep your body language, voice, and behavior unemotional and rational. Whatever you do, don't let stress make you act irrational and belligerent.