I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to coach many leaders throughout the year and have seen a very common trend in many of our business and government leaders – burnout, stress and fatigue. For me it usually comes across in the early part of exploring their 360 feedback or arises in a group workshop. In our 363 for Leaders Program the symptoms come through from raters and common comments include: “I want my leader to maintain their composure” “She often takes her frustrations out on others” “It’s pretty obvious when he’s stressed”

We all want the kind of mindset that allows us to be calm while driving to work in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Or the calm that allows us to act responsively rather than reactively when a colleague or family member wants to argue. Or the calm that helps us to stop ruminating about the past or worrying about the future so we can sleep well at night.

While stress is an important part of productive workplaces, our days are often spent racing the clock, we rarely pull away from our digital devices, and end up feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated. We’re so focused on ‘the next thing’ that we regularly miss what’s happening in front of us. Our bodies are awash with cortisol, the stress hormone that can cause us multiple problems, from muscle tension to exhaustion.

The following strategies look at a holistic view of managing stress in the workplace and take a proactive view on building reliance

Thinking strategies – Having control over your thoughts is a key part to emotional intelligence. One of the most effective ways of managing emotions is to think about emotions from different perspectives. For example, exploring the benefits and consequences of them, causes of them and different ways to respond to them. Thinking strategies include:

  • Mindfulness (See below and our mindfulness info sheet)
  • Guided imagery
  • Cognitive reframing
  • Meditation
  • Reflect on why I am feeling the emotion

Physiological strategies – Our physiology can have an impact on the way we feel and manage stress. Changing our physiology though exercise, diet, sleep and other like activities can help us manage emotions more effectively and build our resilience. Strategies include:

  • Breathing activities
  • Yoga
  • Review diet and nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Flexibility
  • Having breaks during the day and taking a walk

Relationship strategies – Connecting and sharing with others provides us with the opportunity to express and explore our feelings and get someone else’s input or support for them. Expressing how we feel can help us manage our emotions and feel differently about them. Strategies include:

  • Talking to others
  • Venting emotions
  • Building a support network
  • Engaging a mentor
  • Dealing with conflict or poor relationships
  • Dealing with ‘unfinished business’
  • Asking for what you want and being assertive
  • Understanding styles of others

Environment strategies – Factors external to us can impact how we feel at work, like deadlines, too much work, or simply the environment we are working in. Changing our conditions and /or our working environment can help improve the way we feel and our resilience. Strategies include:

  • Modify work hours
  • Clean up work space and decluttering
  • Prioritise projects
  • Control emails
  • Burn scents
  • Get into nature (plants in your office etc)

Becoming more mindful

The foundation of a calm attitude is mindfulness, a practice that offers us the ability to wake up and become present in our everyday lives. Taught in our mainstream University management programs, mindfulness is now an important part of leadership philosophy. It helps us to develop the skills to pull ourselves out of autopilot, and teaches us how to respond, rather than habitually react to people and external events. It gets us to notice what’s actually going on within our minds and bodies – a key part of emotional intelligence.

Mindfulness training isn’t about zoning out, or withdrawing from the world. It’s about deepening awareness in your everyday life so that calm, clear thinking replaces habitual reactive patterns.

Much like exercising or learning a foreign language, mindfulness takes practice. Much like exercising we will sometime sabotage ourselves and say that we don’t have time. Like with any skill setting time aside each day will be important for success. It involves setting aside time for practice – time when you can literally practise being mindful by brining your mind back, again and again to a particular object of attention. In mindfulness practice you may use one or more of these as your focus:

  • Your breath – the physical sensations of breathing
  • Your body – in stillness or in movement
  • Your senses – such as hearing, seeing and tasting
  • Your thoughts – which may include your emotions
  • Your experience – whatever arises in your awareness in this moment, including any of the above.

Mindfulness can be practiced formally and informally:

  • Formally – such as sitting meditating using the breath as a focus
  • Informally – such as making a cup of tea with full awareness.

Schedule some time each day to undertake an activity. Take your time. See if you can resist the urge to rush through to get somewhere quickly!

Contact us for a Mindfulness Activity Sheet with 10 Mindfulness Activities to get you started