Recently, the world has seen a dramatic overhaul of our usual ways of life. People are suddenly working from home and many children have cut their school year short. Needless to say, what the future holds is uncertain.
It’s no wonder that 69% of employees consider the coronavirus pandemic the most stressful point of their entire career. This heightened stress can have serious ramifications for not just your health, but also your business. Luckily, experts have come up with some research-backed techniques for effectively managing your stress.
Before alleviating its effects, how exactly does continued stress impact our health along with our businesses?
The physical effects of distress
From keynote speeches and negotiation meetings to doctors’ appointments and first dates, life presents an endless number of potential stressors.
The moment we encounter a stressor, our “fight or flight” response kicks into gear. The body releases the tag team of stress hormones—cortisol and epinephrine—and these, in turn, cause various physiological changes: The heart beats faster, your pulse quickens, your blood pressure rises, and your breathing speeds up.
It may feel unpleasant, but these reactions are actually an evolutionary survival mechanism that enabled people to flee from dangerous situations throughout history. You know, in case that saber-toothed tiger was lurking outside the cave.
The trouble starts when those same responses are triggered repeatedly in response to situations that are not necessarily life-threatening.
According to neuroscientist and author of The End of Stress as We Know It, Bruce S. McEwen, when stress persists for too long or gets too extreme, our normal protective mechanisms become overburdened. Our feedback system is disrupted and over time is damaged.
Furthermore, research has shown that chronic stress can contribute to a number of health problems, chief among them are high blood pressure, formation of artery-clogging deposits, and brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction. Some research even suggests that chronic stress may directly and indirectly contribute to obesity.
Unsurprisingly, chronic stress can be the Achilles’ heel for even the most successful entrepreneurs.
How chronic stress hurts your business
For starters, stress is literally contagious. One study found that spending time around a stressed person has the power to make a person demonstrably more anxious. Though the effect was more pronounced between loved ones, researchers discovered that even witnessing a stranger in distress can increase our anxiety.
What’s more, a leader’s stress can impact the emotions of her entire team, as well as her own effectiveness. As Harvard Business Review’s Kristi Hedges writes, “People avoid stressed-out colleagues for their own psychic protection. If people don’t want to be around you, if they don’t find you energizing or rewarding to work with, you will be far less effective.”
The snowball effect of stress can be especially harmful during times of widespread negative news, such as during a global pandemic. These days, it seems that even the most benign conversations ultimately lead to COVID-19. On Zoom coffee breaks with my JotForm team, a chat about movies can quickly devolve into a discussion of the most worrisome headlines.
The best we can do is try to be proactive about managing our worries.
Techniques for managing stress
At this point, you’re probably wondering, “So what are the solutions to stress?”
There’s no silver bullet for eliminating stress, particularly at a historically stressful time, since many of the events that impact businesses are uncontrollable. That being said, a combination of stress-busting behaviors can enable you to lead your team through turbulent times. Here are some of the techniques that experts recommend:
- Practice the relaxation response. When stress strikes and your heart starts racing, certain activities can help your body return to a state of calm, also called the “relaxation response.” These include deep abdominal breathing, quietly repeating a soothing word (like peace or calm), visualizing your favorite relaxing place, or even praying.
- Break a sweat. Exercise is proven to counteract stress in various ways. It not only diverts your attention from whatever’s bugging you, but it also relieves muscle tension, promotes the brain’s feel-good neurochemicals like serotonin, and helps to regulate your emotions.
- Try journaling. Oftentimes, we know we’re stressed but avoid taking the time to figure out why. Committing your thoughts and emotions to paper can aid in pinpointing the root of your anxiety. Explains HBR, “By uncovering what’s causing you stress, you can develop workable solutions to address the sources and not just the symptoms.”
- Share your coping techniques. In times like the present, when all of your colleagues are dealing with an exceptional amount of stress, everyone wants to talk about their experience and that’s okay. But instead of just sharing worries, open up about how you’re managing stress, too. “By sharing strategies you’re employing, you model for others that it’s acceptable to push back against stress instead of accepting it,” writes HBR’s Hedges.
- Give back. Close your eyes and imagine the last time you performed a random act of kindness for someone. This warm feeling is a powerful sensation, because genuine kindness leads to happiness, which in turn relieves stress. To harness that, find ways to volunteer in your community. According to The New York Times, “not only does volunteer work lower the risk of depression and give participants a sense of purpose, it also may reduce stress levels.” If that’s not practicable right now, something as simple as reaching out to a coworker to see how they’re doing can have a surprisingly positive effect on your mood.
It may be a while until the economy bounces back. In the meantime, prioritizing behaviors of self-care will go a long way toward keeping your mind—and your business—operating strongly.
Aytekin Tank is the founder of JotForm, a popular online form builder. Established in 2006, JotForm allows customizable data collection for enhanced lead generation, survey distribution, payment collections, and more.