Managing stress effectively
By PREMA JAYABALAN
“A woman under stress is not immediately concerned with finding solutions to her problems but rather seeks relief by expressing herself and being understood.” – John Gray
Kathy and her husband hold high-paying jobs that both come with high pressure and heavy workloads. However, Kathy cannot comprehend the fact that her job seems to be stressing her out more than her husband.
On a bad day, she spends her time complaining of her fate to her husband or spending countless hours reeling angrily on the couch.
On the contrary, her husband takes a different approach. After a 10-minute vent out session, he is in front of the television, tuning in to his favourite sports channel or taking the dog out for a walk.
Shelly Taylor and her colleagues from the Health Psychology Department of the University of California conducted a study and these were their findings:
When it comes to handling stress, men adopt the “fight or flight” approach whilst women move towards a “tend and befriend” response whereby they need comfort and care from loved ones, usually family members or friends.
What stresses women?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA) in a research which surveyed 1,501 employed adults, compared to men, women are consistently reported to have higher levels of work stress and frustrations. They also tend to feel more underappreciated and underpaid at work.
The study reported that women feel more tensed at work as compared to men (37% of women vs 33% of men). They also feel that there are not enough opportunities for them to advance internally in terms of career growth (35% of women vs 43% of men).
In the same survey, 48% of women employees felt that they were not valued by their employer. While both genders felt that their salaries did not match up to their jobs, women were more likely to feel that they are inadequately compensated.
According to Lauren Weber and Sue Shellenbarger from the Wall Street Journal, the current working women’s stress levels have increased significantly over the years, in line with the responsibility to bring in more income for the family.
Weber and Shellenbarger say that today, a working woman’s contribution to the family is about 47%. This is higher as compared to 1988 when the ratio was only 38%.
Another cause of stress would be the lack of time. A study conducted by the American Families and Work Institute in 2012 found that nearly 50% of women feel that they do not have enough free time for themselves and this eventually leads to them getting stressed. This is not a good sign as increased stress levels can lead to the rise of a hormone called cortisol.
Abnormal levels of cortisol can increase the risk of acute illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. An article published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry reveals that women are more sensitive to the stress hormone corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF). This may explain why women succumb easily to stress and depression, as compared to men.
Tackle that tension
According to the anxiety expert and clinical psychologist Tamar Chansky, PhD, once stress escalates, it becomes more difficult to let it go.
He says the secret to letting it go is to counteract as soon as you feel the tension rising. It is good to nip it in the bud before it causes mayhem to one’s life.
- 60-second stress-busters
These are simple things that can be done in under a minute. Firstly, crack a joke or get someone to share a joke with you.
Laughing out loud releases feel-good endorphins and reduces cortisol and epinephrine, which are stress hormones. Another way will be to rip a sheet of paper to shreds.
“Hearing a satisfying rip gives you something to focus on, and the physical act of shredding something without causing real harm releases tension,” says Chansky.
- Prioritise on what’s important
Tight deadlines and numerous assignments tend to overwhelm, hence it’s important to stay focused. Understand your role and the company’s goals. Ensure that your daily to-do list focuses on the tasks and projects that will bring impact to the growth of the organisation and your personal development.
- Take a break and play
Washington Post reporter Brigid Schulte firmly believes that women should give themselves serious time-outs to go out and play.
In her book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, Schulte urges women to allow themselves to really unwind and not do anything that resembles work or a chore.
Instead, just do something that you find fun and does not involve you feeling like it’s a responsibility.
How can the bosses help?
Employers play a very important role in ensuring that employees do not get overwhelmed by stress as this will significantly affect the productivity of an organisation.
The head of APA’s Centre for Organisational Excellence, David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA states that employers have to acknowledge that their staff have responsibilities and lives beyond the workplace.
Here are ways employers can tackle stress among their employees:
- Talk to the employee
Practise open communication. This is critical in leadership. Update your team on goings-on in the workplace, their performance and your expectations. This helps them keep track of their progress and reduces anxiety.
Remember that open communication works both ways, thus listen to their concerns and problems and address them accordingly.
Praise your employees when they perform well or come up with fantastic ideas. It strengthens the working relationship and certainly eliminates feelings of being under appreciated.
- Flexi-working scheme
For women, a major stress inducer is the rigid working hours, especially if they have a family. Giving your employees the privilege of having a flexible work-time scheme or remote working arrangement shows that you trust them and empower them to manage their time effectively. It also takes away the added stress pertaining to family matters.
However, ensure that this arrangement is communicated well with proper outlines on parameters and expectations. Flexi-working schemes can be favourable to men who have families and are sharing the household responsibilities with their wives as well.
- Build a stress resilience
Identifying your team’s stress-related issues and helping them come up with good resistance displays an employer’s good stress management skills.
Providing employees training on assertiveness, positive thinking, stress management and time management will also enable them to deal with stress more effectively.
In addition, some of the following can be introduced: a relaxation spot in the office, a time-out zone for staff to sit and relax when they are overwhelmed with work.
To conclude, stress should not be taken lightly as it can drain you. If you are starting to feel tensed and strained, then it’s time to take necessary measures to rectify the situation before it gets worse.
Succumbing to stress will have a negative effect on one’s health, career and life.