by Sue Weston

3 steps to control stress

Jan 02, 2018
IT LeadershipIT Skills

Stress is an epidemic effecting over half the population. How you deal with it may impact your ability to be an effective manager.

Nerves can get to you worried anxious fret nervous anxiety
Credit: Thinkstock

When did life become so crazy?  Because technology is growing exponentially, business is changing so rapidly that employees must become lifelong learners to survive. They need to keep abreast with changes in industry and be on the lookout for the warning signs of obsolescence.

Not so long ago lifelong employment with advancement and stability were guaranteed. Today the average worker will change jobs ten to fifteen times during their career. Career instability is just one cause of stress. Stress can come from anywhere – it is important to recognize and control stress.

What is stress?

Stress is when a person feels that the demands being placed on them exceed their personal and social resources, in other word when “things are out of control.“ In Eastern cultures stress is the lack of inner peace. Stress may be caused by an accumulation of events that leave you feeling overwhelmed or a single catastrophic change.  Everyone experiences stress and not surprisingly, men and women react differently.

How do you respond to stress?

Psychologists suggest that in a stressful situation, men exhibit “fight or flight” behaviors, while women “tend and befriend.”

Imagine being approached by a stranger in a dark alley. If you’re a man, you might run or calculate the odds of winning a physical conflict. If you’re a woman, you might attempt to diffuse the situation with conversation and empathy.

Women tend to express affiliative behavior, creating harmony. In a corporate situation, stress may cause women to be more consolatory, trying to find common ground.  In contrast, men elicit their fight response to defend their position. Surprisingly, this is often considered a sign of leadership.  Neither stress-induced behavior guarantees the best outcome. Maintaining objectivity by relying on facts can provide better outcomes.

The way we act once the stressful situation is over differs by gender. Women often seek out social support. They may want to discuss the situation and through conversation to explore the situation more fully. They are seeking validation and empathy; they are not looking for solutions. In contrast, men tend to withdraw, preferring to handle the situation alone. A harmonious outcome is to understand and accommodate styles, giving women a judgment free space to share and giving men time alone.

Stress can affect your health

Prolonged stress can result in severe health issues, including heart attacks, strokes, depression, anxiety and hypertension. Historically, women report higher levels of stress than men, but this might be because women are more vocal and communicative. Women tend to internalize stress and are more apt to report depression and anxiety. Whereas men tend to report physical illnesses associated with stress and are more likely to die from these illnesses. While the effects of stress differ by person, there are common themes.  Women respond with feelings of nervousness, wanting to cry and lack of energy. Men tend to have trouble sleeping, and feel angry or irritable. Both genders respond to stress by smoking, exercising less and overeating often using comfort foods, and unhealthy snacks as a reward.  

A large portion of the population is experiencing stress.  63% of women indicated the need to manage stress, and one-in-four felt they are not doing enough.  In contrast only 17% of men indicated the need to do more to manage stress.  Women tend to control stress by reading, spending time with friends and family, religion, and shopping, while men use sports and video games.  No matter your preference, take time to connect with yourself and do what makes you happy.

Here’s my three-step approach to control stress:

1. Reframe stressful situations

  • How you would advise a friend in this situation?
  • What is within your power to change?
  • Where is the sense of urgency? [Focus on what needs to be taken care of].

2. Trust in yourself. Believe in your ability and seek qualified advisors

  • Understand your limitations and do not feel the need to act alone.
  • Do not internalize or blame yourself.
  • Look toward the future [leave the past behind].

3. Physically distance yourself from the situation

  • Find a peaceful place or a trusted friend.
  • Listen to yourself.
  • Take time to figure it out [this is not a race].

After six months out of a corporate environment, I still have difficulty relaxing but I am finally doing things that I enjoy.  When I speak with colleagues, I hear their tension, I feel their pressure and I recognize the destructive nature of the stress they deal with daily. Symptoms like hair loss, poor digestion may all be stress related. They choose to remain in the current position thinking ‘better the devil you know, then the devil you don’t’. They choose the familiar over the unknown.

While it is simpler to avoid risk, and not seek change, it is also possible that you are missing an amazing opportunity. Stress is an epidemic effecting over half the population. Deal with it head-on by prioritizing yourself, and maintaining perspective. Remember that one-day this stress will be just a distant memory.  STOP and take a deep breath [you are worth it] and follow your dream!