Stress is common in work settings. We recently discussed how stress is an invisible force that can inhibit an entire organization’s growth, particularly in highly competitive industries like fintech. So, it’s vital to your company’s success and longevity to promote employee health and remove stress from your culture. While that’s no small feat, it can do wonders for your productivity, employee retention, customer satisfaction, and bottom line.
Today, we’re going to share two practical yet surprisingly simple methods for combating different types of stressors in the workplace — task stressors and acute stressors.
Method #1: Developing Strength of Mind with Stress Tests
Stress is a fight or flight reaction. It leads to defensive, accusatory, overbearing, and dominant behavior. And we consider this “normal” because our brains recognize some sort of situational threat, so they do everything possible to protect us. In reality, there aren’t many life-and-death situations in the workplace, yet our subconscious mind and stress system overestimate external stimuli and raise alarms as if we’re in peril.
Fortunately, we can reorient our innate reactions by switching perspectives and developing our strength of mind. It’s a quick technique that only requires two or three minutes to implement.
First, what are some common stressors in a corporate environment? Perhaps top employees have fallen ill, and you’re tasked with picking up the slack. Or maybe there’s an impending, make-or-break project deadline next week and your to-do list is growing faster than you can check it off.
Whatever the catalyst, tensions have risen and stress has reached a boiling point. It’s as if we’re standing at the foot of a daunting mountain and looking upward in terror. We let the tasks ahead bury us in stress.
But what eventually happens? You manage the situation and get through it. And when you look back at those obstacles in a few months, do they look like untraversable mountains? No, of course not. They’re usually reduced to mild hills in retrospect — because you were able to walk right over them.
It obviously wasn’t a matter of life and death. You’re here. You’re reading this. So, why don’t we look through this lens from the start? We can by taking a few minutes and asking ourselves a variety of questions to reframe our mindset. This works best if we answer them internally, in our mind, until we feel the tension release.
- What will I think about this situation in three to six months?
- What will I think about this situation when I’m 80 years old?
Time is a powerful perspective shifter. Similar to our previous examples, the former question helps us weigh the significance of an upcoming stressor relative to the distant future. Is it really worth stressing about something that’s likely to be an afterthought in a few months? Probably not.
The latter question may even coerce a grin out of you (which is a telling sign that you’ve bested your subconscious and that this exercise is working). What are the odds of you even remembering this stressor by the time you’re 80 years old? Would the elderly you really say, “Stress yourself out. It’s worth it. Embrace the harmful effects of prolonged anxiety and hypertension.”
Unlikely. Instead, future-you would laugh and counter with something like, “You’ve gotten through far worse on countless occasions.”
- What would I advise a friend to do in this situation?
- What would a friend advise me to do?
Relational questions give us an outside perspective, which is helpful because we have a tendency to lose our rationality when we’re facing an internal problem. With the first question, you’re essentially switching roles and becoming the advisor. How would you help a friend through a similar situation? What would you say to them? This allows us to push past the emotional struggle and think critically.
Similarly, you can ponder what a close, reliable friend would tell you to do in this situation. Perhaps there’s someone you look up to or respect tremendously. Using their perspective can also help you shirk the noise that’s clouding your critical reasoning.
You can amplify the impact of relational questions if you have kids. Imagine that you’re explaining to your child why stress is the best possible solution in this situation. Walk them through why stress is a viable strategy when they become an adult. You can’t — not without sounding crazy, which may just put another smile on your face. At that point, you’ve successfully changed your perspective and gained strength of mind.
- What’s the worst thing that can happen?
- If the worst-case scenario occurs, what then?
This is a common set of questions that most of us are familiar with. However, we’re often hesitant to ask and thoughtfully answer these ominous questions. Realistically though, the likelihood of the worst-case scenario playing out is low. Even if the worst does happen, it’s likely not the end of the world because it’s not a question of life and death — unless you’re a high-rise window washer or a crab fisherman in Alaska.
That’s why it’s helpful to think through and even write out the answers to these questions. Our stress levels rarely match the significance of the stressor. So, this allows us to set parameters for our stressors and approach the situation with a problem-solving mindset. You’ll surprise yourself and realize you have the skills and experience to conquer the situation.
- When have I faced similar experiences in the past?
- What would somebody in a much worse situation think about my problem?
We can also switch our perspectives by highlighting our personal strengths and experiences. You may have faced the exact same situation in the past, maybe on more than one occasion. Once you envision how you handled this stressor, you can ask yourself, “How can I apply what I did before to what I’m confronted with now?” Again, this applies logic to the situation and allows you to move past the internal turmoil.
The final question is typically the most uncomfortable — it diminishes the severity of our problems by positioning them alongside the issues of less fortunate people. Impoverished individuals aren’t worried about a project deadline or public speaking, they’re focused on where they’re going to stay tonight or what they will eat. Naturally, our work-related stressors don’t even remotely compare, which can help us actually feel grateful for them.
The answers don’t really matter
The exact wording of your answers isn’t very important. The purpose of these questions is to flip a switch in our minds so that we can better handle stress. Once we address and overcome stress, we can take action and work toward accomplishing the task at hand — whether that’s running a high-stakes meeting or pushing back on a client deadline.
Method #2: Stress Resilience Training
The first method addresses broader, task-based stressors. But what if we’re in an acute situation in which someone applies pressure to us in real time? Such as a customer blankly rejecting your proposal in a meeting or a colleague questioning your timeliness on a call. How can we stop stress in the moment?
Our immediate reaction is to answer quickly and prove the person wrong. And if we succumb to that reaction, that usually translates to firing back aggressively. In most instances, that’s not very productive for anyone.
So, how do we not only prevent that internal combustion but also reconfigure our minds to be resourceful, calculated, and solution-oriented? Let’s look at a three-step method.
Once you recognize that stress is building, you can use a technique called anchoring to overcome the urge to respond sharply.
Have you ever been in the middle of a thought or conversation when, suddenly, a loud bang occurs nearby? Maybe someone slammed a door or dropped glassware. What happened to your train of thought or attention? It stopped. Your brain reoriented to assess the sudden outburst. You may have even forgotten what you were thinking about or saying before the distraction.
We can leverage this automatic mental process in stressful situations. Obviously, we can’t stand up in a meeting and slam our coffee mugs on the ground whenever we disagree with someone — that would be socially unacceptable, and we’d spend a fortune on mugs. But we can simulate the “bang” in a more subtle way.
There are pressure points across our body that will elicit the same mental reaction. For instance, one of the easiest spots is on your thumb, between your thumbnail and knuckle. If you press your other thumbnail into this spot for a couple of seconds, you’ll trigger that reorientation process. Your brain will prioritize that sensation and you can resist the urge to retort aggressively or defensively.
Now that you’ve thwarted any immediate hostility, the next step is characterizing. Think about two or three characteristics that you want to exemplify in this moment, such as calm, interested, analytical, assertive, friendly, or receptive. By emphasizing your choices in your mind, your brain will adopt these characteristics in not only your response but also your tone and body language.
Naturally, different situations require different responses, so it’s best to proactively select your desired characteristics. For instance, if you know a key client can be rude and abrasive, you may want to have “calm” and “direct” in the back of your mind ahead of a meeting.
Finally, it’s time to take action. Characterizing primed our response, now it’s time to deliver. Similarly, we’ll now pick two or three actions to implement. For instance, let’s assume someone’s blaming your department for a project miscue or delay. Instead of attacking, you’ll anchor yourself to the situation, choose characteristics to embody, and react with two or three actions — such as asking, understanding, and answering.
Using imagery to simulate triggers and build stress resilience
Our stress reactions are automatic. These methods are designed to reorient our minds to think positively and build resilience to stress. However, reversing a lifetime of conditioning takes time and repetition — and there are only so many day-to-day situations that trigger stress.
That’s why it helps to simulate triggers using our imagination. Pick a major stressor in your life, such as handling a complaint while you’re leading a meeting. Picture everyone sitting down around the table, perhaps engaging in small talk while they take their seats. You clear your throat, and everyone turns their attention to you. You proceed through your agenda – but, before you can finish, an aggravated co-worker interrupts you, voicing their disgruntlement.
Once stress starts to build, use the anchoring technique to control your emotions and then proceed through the remaining stages. By practicing this routine 5-10 times per day, you can reprogram your subconscious to automatically follow these steps when the real stressor occurs.
Employee Wellbeing and Team Development Must Be a Priority
When leadership and employees are equipped to handle stress, the company benefits immensely.
Productivity levels rise. Work satisfaction permeates throughout the organization. Creativity skyrockets. Collectively, these chain reactions carry over to product and service development, which ultimately stimulates sales and customer satisfaction.
It’s a beautiful, cyclical phenomenon that benefits everyone from shareholders and executive management to junior employees and the end-users.
Gain the Lead helps payment providers and other fintechs cultivate stress-free work environments through team development trainings and resilience toolkits. Contact us to learn more today.