I think it’s safe to say that we are all stressed these days, to one degree or another. Certainly there are “official” seasons for stress, such as around tax time or during the holidays. Or, when a health or other unforeseen crisis strikes. But, for most of us, stress is just always there, like those pesky five pounds you are always trying to loose.
We know that constant high levels of stress are unhealthy, causing neck or low-back pain, ulcers, hypertension and diabetes, and can lead to strokes and heart attacks. But they can also affect job performance, relationships with co-workers, even your employer’s bottom line. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 40 percent of employee turnover is due to job stress, and health care costs are 50 percent greater for employees with high stress levels.
The good news is that while you may not be able to change your work environment or the amount of traffic during your commute, you can manage how you react to them. The key is learning “resilience” in your personal and professional life, developing strength in the face of what you define as stressful situations, and, above all, not letting it get the best of you.
Of course, applying these principles takes practice and patience. And, exercising and eating well will boost your effectiveness. I’m also a big believer in three coping mechanisms that work for me: remembering to “be here now,” giving back and laughter.
Recently, our Employee Engagement Committee sponsored a “Be Here Now” challenge. We encouraged each other not to multitask in meetings or on the phone. We promised to help each other quiet our busy minds. When I think about a meaningful change I've made in my life over the past six months, the ability to “Be Here Now” looms large. I can’t say I never multitask, but now I catch myself – and stop -- a lot faster. While it used to feel natural to have a busy mind, now it just feels wrong. I know my performance is better and my relationships are stronger. This challenge helped free up space for creativity and innovation, and helped us to better focus on our core values.
Giving back also always helps me to keep my stress at bay. Next month, in an effort to raise money for Habitat for Humanity, I’ll be a “celebrity scooper” -- I’ll be at Reading Terminal scooping up the newest Basset Ice Cream flavor, PBJ, in honor of the Philadelphia Business Journal’s 30th anniversary.
Although it might sound simplistic, keeping a sense of humor during difficult situations is a common recommendation from stress-management experts – because it really works. Laughter not only releases the tension of pent-up feelings and helps keep perspective, but it has been shown to have actual physical and psychological benefits, from reducing stress hormone levels to improving self-esteem.
If you want to get a head start on your stress reduction, check out “Laugh Rx” comedy segments at www.uhc.tv. And then let me know some of your favorite ways to minimize the stress in your life.