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  • Dr. Brian Kleinberg

Stress Management Strategies: Awareness and Application

“You can’t always control what goes on outside, but you can always control what goes on inside”. - Wayne Dyer

In my previous blog post I highlighted the increased amount of stress that people are feeling in the workplace today. It’s not hard for people to succumb to feeling overwhelmed with all that’s going on in their daily lives. It can lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety and even depression. It’s also important to recognize that there are a lot of things that employers and employees can do to help reduce the impact of the pressures of work and the stresses of personal life that people feel every day. Ignoring all this stress is not an option. The healthcare implications are seen in absenteeism rates, presenteeism, reduced productivity and a negative corporate culture. Here are some ideas that companies and individuals should consider discussing and implementing:

1) Promote a healthy work-life balance: A Forbes Magazine article in March 2018 describes work-life balance as, “an important aspect of a healthy work environment. Maintaining work-life balance helps reduce stress and helps prevent burnout in the workplace.” Employers must first understand the needs of their employee demography. Baby boomers and millennial's will require different approaches and solutions. One of the most effective solutions can be a flexible work environment. Flexible work environments can reduce stress and enhance job satisfaction by allowing for flexible hours and the ability to work from home. The article goes on to say that beyond allowing for creative hours strategies, “employers should also strive to improve the overall workplace experience for their employees. Prioritizing a healthy culture and cultivating a happy workplace environment promotes work-life balance. When employees are happy in their roles, work will feel more like a second home, and less like working for a paycheque. Employers should prioritize competitive compensation, comfortable office conditions, opportunities for professional growth and opportunities for social connections”. Employers must get on board and work together with their employees to tackle this chronic stress epidemic in unison.

2) Create awareness of the stress sources in your life: Are you aware of what causes your stress? Are you aware of the impact that the stresses are having on your well-being and your ability to function effectively? Helping to reduce your own stress levels starts with awareness. You have to set aside some important time to do a kind of personal accounting list of all the stressful things that are affecting you. Armed with this knowledge, you can then consider how to specifically manage your life in a less stressful way. For example, how much are you responsible for? Are you taking on too many tasks that could be assisted or done by others so that you can reduce your workload? Have you discussed this with your employer at work or your significant other at home? It’s common for people to say: there’s so much going on I don’t know what to do first. Addressing the sources of your stress whether they are time management issues, financial burdens or interpersonal conflicts will help to reduce your sense of being overwhelmed. The more you can clear space in your mind for focusing on what’s important, the better your mental health will be. It starts with awareness!

3) Create a stress-busters toolbox: People who experience the burdens and symptoms of chronic stress may often feel like they are in a rowboat without an oar and going upstream. Feelings of helplessness and despair can create a slippery slope into depression. It’s important for you to know that there are so many things that you can do to help offset the impact of your daily stressors. Your work and personal stress may vary from time to time or may be at high levels almost all the time. No matter the source of your stress, you must have a strategy in place to maintain balance in your system. I often compare this to a teakettle at the boiling point. Excess steam is relieved by the spout. Without the spout the steam will build up and the kettle will explode. The same is true with you. You have to let off the negative energies created by excess stress and there are many things you can do including:

· physical exercise including walking, yoga, swimming and Pilates

· deep breathing exercises

· mindfulness meditation

· taking a walking break at the midpoint of your workday

· getting a full night’s sleep

· increasing regular social connectivity

· working with your co-employees to create on-site wellness initiatives

· increasing personal growth opportunities including lifelong learning

· personal entertainment including music, theatre and comedy

· taking time off as often as you are able to

Continue to build your personal stress-busters toolbox every day!

4) Don’t hesitate to seek help: When it comes to chronic stress and the terrible symptoms it can lead to, ignorance is not the path you want to take. If you are regularly experiencing emotional upset, frustration with work and your employer, ongoing emotional challenges in your personal life, feelings of helplessness and anxiety and diminished energy, you may be at high risk for falling into depression and you should seek help. Many corporations have in place a mechanism to seek out help through an EAP. If this is not available to you then you should speak to your family physician and get a referral to a psychologist, social worker or psychiatrist depending on the need. Seeking help for mental health issues had a stigma in the past and people would shy away from talking about their mental health needs. It’s easy to go to a doctor to talk about tendinitis in your shoulder but it seems a lot more difficult at times to bring up issues of anxiety and depression. But these needs are no less important and must be addressed with the same equal effort. I always counsel my patients who come to me for their physical concerns to make sure to address their mental health concerns as well. Please be proactive!

Chronic stress in the workplace has become a real buzzword. Everybody’s talking about it. Start creating awareness about the stress in your workplace and work together with your employer to develop strategies so that everybody benefits. Apply awareness in your own life so that you can start tackling the issues that need to be managed better. Create and apply your unique stress-busters toolbox and use it daily. Finally, seek help to ensure that you are dealing with the health issues created by stress in your life.

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