Stress of course is not peculiar to any specific industry, business, status, or type of job. We can all find ourselves struggling at work under pressures we would rather not have to deal with. Sometimes those tensions are an overhang from our personal lives. Worries that would have been better left at home but distract us in the work environment and prevent us from functioning properly.
But it’s source is notoriously difficult to pin down. When it hits us it is more likely to be in the form of one great amorphous blob like a giant black rain cloud pounding down on us. It drains our concentration, keeps us distracted from the task in hand, leaves us empty, anxious and lethargic and – just when we need to the most – unable to think straight.
The talking cure
As with any kind of mental health issues, work related or not – it is no good ignoring it. It will simply follow us around like a bleak shadow tainting everything we do and sapping the reward out of any goal reached in the future. It may be cliched to say it, but the fact is the solution is always the same: if you are stressed out you need to talk about it in order to confront it. Then something has to change.
Management can be a lonely place
And may be that is why Executive stress is an illness that we tend to set aside. People working in management don’t tend to have the support systems that employees may enjoy further down the chain. They do not perhaps have a line manger to talk through issues and negotiate other ways of working. Unlike a paid workforce, managers and executives do not tend to work in teams where the team itself can be a support and an outlet for a particularly torrid Monday.
Executives and managers are on their own to a large extent dealing with pressures that only they really understand. Often there are no peers they can easily turn to. Their life-partners may be of a huge support emotionally and they may be able to talk about frustrations generally, but it is unlikely they will be able to understand the real problems at hand. And if they are not confronted there is only further frustration which may well spill out into family life.
Then it becomes a vicious circle. Each is feeding the other, the sufferer can’t escape from the anxiety at home and the office and extra stress is placed on the family as it begins to fracture…
Set time aside to name the demon…
Stress can be quite shapeless. Especially in the days of early onset. It can be a few palpitations here or extra perspiration in team meetings. It is silent and slow and many people will suffer from stress symptoms a long time before they recognise that they have an issue. By then it may be too late and could lead to major physical or mental problems – so the first thing is to recognise behaviours which may suggest you are struggling.
If you are alone set serious time aside when you can determine what these feelings are, what has changed and what you can do about them. Make a list of feelings that are concerning you and try to track down what your worries are on occasions when your behaviour has changed:
- Do you find you heart is racing more?
- Do you find certain situations are causing anxiety?
- Clenching your jaw can be a sign you are in a state of tension
- Are you suffering from increased headaches or stomach aches?
- Are you dreading going into work?
- Do you get angry more quickly?
- Is your work pattern causing arguments at home?
- Do you feel over burdened with your work but have no-one to turn to?
This of course is not an exhaustive list. We are all different and we all react to stress in varying ways. The important point here is you need to be honest with yourself. You know what is normal for you and only you understand what your everyday behaviour is. Catch it early and you could save both you and your family a lot of heart-ache in the future.
If you are honest with yourself and can pinpoint those times when your behaviour is skewed then you can also probably track it back either to a single incident which has distressed you or an on-going issue that is constantly playing on your mind.
The key to change is doing something
Now you can actually do something. You can actually confront the problem for instance, if it is about feeling over-burdened at work, then give your time out to look at how you can re-visit the tasks that are specific to your role. This is all about streamlining and you may well be surprised at how many of the tasks you can get rid of. Are you doing work that is not really in your job role? Pass this work on to the appropriate person. But also ask yourself why you ended up doing it yourself. Why didn’t you delegate? Do you need help in this area?
Not everything can be dealt with straight away. The key is doing something to get rid of the worry which causes the stress. Worry is not doing something. Worry is doing nothing. So, if you pinpoint something that needs to change but you cannot deal with it straight away – put in your diary what and when you will be doing to change it (i.e. make a phone call; speak to the director on Tuesday etc.). Once it is in your diary let it slip out of your mind. There is nothing you can do until you act on your diary entry.
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