Human beings, like all animals in communities, are wired to feel what people around them are feeling. It’s an evolutionary trait: When a cave dweller anticipated a threat, the sooner other tribe members picked up on those perceptions, the safer they’d all be.
It works much the same today, except the threats aren’t woolly mammoths. Our stresses come from being asked to do more with less. Information overload. Fear of mistakes. Tension with coworkers. Possible layoffs.
It’s estimated up to 50 percent of employees view work as the main source of stress in their lives. That means you or the person working next to you is probably feeling overwhelmed. Inevitably one of you will start to feel it too.
There are lots of proven strategies for decreasing individual stress—meditation, regular exercise, plenty of sleep, good nutrition, taking time off to recharge.
But how can we help each other? Here are a few tips to help coworkers handle stress more effectively, using The FISH! Philosophy.
Be There: Handle it together
The human brain has evolved to process incredible amounts of information, but it’s having trouble keeping up. We take in five times as much information daily as we did 30 years ago.
When the advanced areas of our brains that govern decision-making and analysis are overwhelmed, the primitive areas of our brains seize control. We shift into survival mode, which overrides our ability to reason and solve problems. We become distracted, fearful and frustrated.
The logical response should be to adjust demands so the brain can keep up. Leaders, overloading people will cost you money in the long run through diminished focus, productivity and turnover.
However, we know demands will continue to accelerate. What’s the best response? Be There for each other. When people support and trust each other, neurochemical changes occur that allow the advanced brain to resume control.
If you’re stressed, don’t try to gut it out alone. Don’t let your coworkers do it either. Try to get some “human time” at least every few hours. Check in with people to see how they’re doing. Encourage them to share. When they do, listen totally. The more you put into relationships, the more people will Be There for you when you need it.
Make Their Day: Help them reframe
Stress causes tunnel vision. Even routine challenges start to seem like insurmountable problems. You can help coworkers regain perspective by “reframing” the situation.
Say they’re unsure how to handle their growing workload. Help them talk through what’s most important. What steps must be done first? Is there anything you or another colleague could help with?
Do they doubt their ability to do the job? Remind them of the times you have seen them achieve goals. Ask for their ideas, recognizing the best ones and gently questioning their less promising notions.
Are they clashing with a coworker? Let them share their side, then help them look past those emotions. What might the other person be thinking? Is it a case of miscommunication? Help them decide how to share their concerns with the person in a positive way.
Helping others reframe their thinking is a great way to Make Their Day. And when you help someone, you benefit too. In one study, police officers who mentored their colleagues reported less anxiety than non-mentors.
Choose Your Attitude: Stay aware
When you’re stressed, it’s easy to lose your temper, shame, blame or be sarcastic. We all do it sometimes.
You can be patient, supportive and lighthearted 95 percent of the time. But that 5 percent when you lose it can have a huge impact on others, especially if you’re a leader. It’s hard to relax around people if you are always worried they may lash out.
When you lose your temper frequently, people avoid you. They don’t perform well around you. That hurts the entire team.
When you are tempted to anger, ask yourself: How will my response affect my relationship with people I depend on? How would I handle this situation with this person if we were going out to dinner tonight?
If you’re upset with someone, and need to talk it out with them, focus on solving the problem. Get all the facts before you judge.
Ask yourself every day: “What kind of person do I want to be?” When you fall short, as we all do, apologize—then prove you mean it.
Play: Practice the Two Ls
Most babies laugh hundreds of times a day. Adults, on average, laugh just 15. And, according to Gallup, we laugh far less on weekdays than on weekends.
Research says laughter relieves stress, ignites creativity, boosts analytical skills and enhances collaboration. Why aren’t we doing more of it?
The main worry is humor feels different for everyone. It’s vital to respect every member of your community and their unique identities. Remember the FISH! guide for humor: Play works when you are being there for others, making their day and choosing a caring attitude.
That leaves a lot of room for laughter: Poking a little fun at yourself. Laughing about the craziness of life. Maybe even laughing about the problems you’re trying so hard to solve.
Laughter is closely associated with learning. A study in Harvard Business Review found spending more time learning at work reduces stress. Seeing yourself growing and developing builds resilience.
Try to reframe your short-term stresses as long-term opportunities to learn. Seek input from coworkers about your challenges. They’ll help you see a new perspective.