So much has been written about stress and anxiety, and how to manage it — in your everyday life and the workplace. And that’s because it’s important. How you approach your work, your team, and your stakeholders can help you better manage your stress and anxiety, and the stress and anxiety of everyone around you.
It’s no wonder so much has been written about stress and anxiety and how to manage it. It’s pervasive and managing it is vital to your health and to being fulfilled and successful as an employee, as a manager, and as a person in general. Let’s start with the workplace.
Managing stress and anxiety for your team
This is an absolute: your stress and the stress of your team will play off one another.
We are social creatures who are wired to be attuned to the feelings of others, so it’s no surprise that stress is catching. If you’re stressed out and anxious, odds are your team is too. Conversely, you have the power to put people at ease by… being at ease. As a team leader, controlling how you show up and doing what you can to reduce your own stress and anxiety will reduce your team's stress and anxiety.
A healthy team is less prone to stress and anxiety. So, create an environment where stress and anxiety have less opportunity to foment and grow in the first place. Start with the basics. Ensure your team has developed psychological safety, established healthy communication, and created cohesive alignment. Each of these three fundamentals reduces ambiguity and restlessness while also giving people the opportunity to express themselves and their feelings — lowering anxiety.
Fostering that environment is central to your responsibility as a manager. A team that’s clicking and in flow, communicating well with each other, and engaged in their work will be less stressed and therefore will generate less stress. Getting in front of the stress and anxiety cycle will return benefits exponentially over time.
Your leadership style can drastically affect how stress and anxiety influence the efficiency of your workplace and team morale. Learn more about how your leadership style may be a larger culprit than you think.
Managing stress and anxiety for stakeholders
Stress management and workplace anxiety for stakeholders is often encapsulated in the phrase “managing up,” and it’s another incredibly important responsibility for new managers.
Here’s one of the challenges: stakeholders include more than your boss or your CEO. They can also be your customers, partners, investors, other teams and their members… the list could go on and on. There are many people who you and your team will interact with to accomplish your work, and all of them can cause stress and anxiety. The way to cut through it? Prioritization.
|| It’s your job to determine how a requested task fits
into the larger goals of your team and your organization. ||
Too many team leaders, especially new ones, fall into the trap of treating every request that comes their way as critical and urgent. After all, you’re trying to do the best job you can! Unfortunately, the more you do, the more you’ll be asked to do. To paraphrase Jonas Salk, “the reward for good work is more work,” and the more you show people that you can “handle it all,” the more they will give you to handle.
Maybe you’re thinking, “but I can handle it all.” Believe us when we tell you that, after a certain point, no one can. And the stress, anxiety, and burnout that comes from trying will only become more difficult to overcome if you’ve worked for weeks, months, or years to meet unreasonable expectations. So, prioritization and alignment with all the stakeholders outside your team should be the topmost goal.
That means when a new request is made, it’s your job to determine how it fits into the larger goals of your team and your organization. If the task seems incongruent with one or both, get clarity about why it’s being asked to get done.
Determine if priorities have changed or if this task fits in a way you can’t see. Once that’s clear, put it in writing. Creating a document that can be shared with stakeholders, following up meetings with an email, that documents what you agreed to, or reviewing notes with your boss before you leave a meeting can all be effective ways to do so. No matter what medium you choose, this process should be a constant working norm. And it should prevent you from the stress and anxiety that comes from working on the wrong things, working on things in the wrong order, or just plain working on too much.
Finally, remember that being busy is a decision. If you’re too busy for something, you’re really just saying it’s a lower priority — and that might be true. Before you say “I’m too busy for that,” be clear about your priorities, for yourself and your team first, and then your stakeholders. Success is less about doing more stuff, and more about doing the right things, the right way, in the right order.
Managing stress and anxiety for yourself
As we said above, when you reduce stress and anxiety for yourself, you reduce stress and anxiety for those around you. Not only will you be happier (and healthier), your team members will be too. But the picture is even bigger.
|| Consider that 75 percent of employees say the most stressful part of their job is their boss. ||
It's more important than ever to be a low-stress boss. Consider that 75 percent of employees say the most stressful part of their job is their boss. And that toxic corporate cultures (i.e., bad bosses) are 10 times more important than compensation as a factor in determining turnover, according to MIT. It’s an old adage, but it’s true — people quit bosses, not companies. And in the era of the Great Resignation, no one wants to be a boss that causes people to quit.
Sometimes, reducing your own stress is about time management and increasing productivity. But quite often it’s more than that. It’s about having confidence that the work you’re doing matters, and that even if it takes a long time, it’s the right thing to do. David Allen calls this the art of “stress-free productivity,” which allows you to get beyond organization and structure, and recognize that what you’re doing is what you’re supposed to be doing in that moment — even if it’s taking a break or chatting with your co-workers.
|| When we get our tasks out of our mind, they instantly seem more manageable. ||
When we have multiple tasks on our mind at the same time, that stressful productivity can be difficult to achieve. The fact is, stress is biological. We get stressed because of how our brains work. In an interview, Tim Ferris explained how your mind thinks you should be doing everything you’ve told yourself you ought to do right now. It could be something as simple as needing to buy cat food, or as complex as planning a wedding — our brain considers all of the items on your to-do list as the same priority level. It thinks you need to be doing more than one thing at once, but also knows you can’t physically do that. That conflict generates a feeling of failure before you’ve even begun. But don't despair! We humans are also super adaptable and resilient. At Lead Belay, we’ve found these particular tactics helpful:
1. Get things out of your mind.
Stress is caused by simply trying to remember all the things we have to do. As David Allen says, “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” Capture your To Do items on paper or another sharable format that you can use to prioritize. You may have heard of weekly “brain dumps” or felt better at the start of the day after making your to-do list — this is why. When we get our tasks out of our mind, they instantly seem more manageable.
2. Use the Eisenhower Matrix.If you haven’t heard of this, you must try using this super helpful decision-process matrix. Use it to the letter or just follow the general principles — divide tasks between urgent and not urgent, important, and not important. Creating matrix documents in sharable formats can be helpful, and will allow you to get and consider feedback from your team and stakeholders.
3. Check in on how you’re doing with others.Regularly gauge how you’re doing as a manager. This will help you develop confidence in your role. Identifying where you’re succeeding and where you’re working to grow is liberating. If you know, you don’t have to stress about it! You'll find yourself in a much better place to manage priorities. It can be a difficult proposition for a new manager, but that’s what strong leaders look like. They are confident in their priorities, and they defend them for others.
4. Be mindful of your rhythms and motivators.It’s important that you are in tune with what gives you energy and what drains it, what time of day you’re most productive, and what activities give you the mental space to take on new challenges.
5. Watch out for the perfectionism trap.
So much about stress and anxiety is linked to perfectionism. We’ve written blogs on this before, but it’s worth repeating: setting standards that are too high, micromanaging, and stepping in to do your team’s work rather than trusting and delegating it to them contributes to overwhelm and stress. Give yourself and your team permission to try, while accepting you might fail a few times first.
So what’s causing you stress and anxiety in the workplace? Is it your team? A stakeholder? Maybe it’s your ability to prioritize and delegate? Regardless, getting to the root of your stress and anxiety is the first step to finding a tool to reduce it.
Are you looking for more tools to help you be less stressed and anxious at work? We’re here to help. Please contact us!