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Written by: Jen Gutfriend
5 Tools to Help You and Your Company Thrive
Deadlines. Pressure. Expectations. According to Business News Daily, companies spend $300 billion in stress-related health care costs and missed work each year. Is your company one of them?
Stress is a common experience. Everyone is either stressed or has had stress in one form or another in the recent past. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize the effect it has on their health and work.
Do you suffer from any of the following symptoms?
● Chest pain
● Stomach upset
● Sleep problems
● Anxiety or restlessness
● Irritability or anger
● Overeating or undereating
● Anger outbursts
The above are only a few of the common symptoms associated with chronic stress exposure, and if stress isn’t addressed, it can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, obesity, and diabetes.
A study done by the Center for Disease Control shows 1 in 4 deaths are the result of heart disease (cdc.gov/heart disease/facts.htm). Interestingly, more heart attacks and other cardiovascular events occur on Mondays. Many researchers believe this phenomenon is related to work stress.
Stress negatively impacts health, but it hurts your bottom line, too. Employees suffering from high stress have significantly lower engagement, are less productive, and have a higher absenteeism rate according to research from the professional services firm, Towers Watson.
Companies like Google are taking the lead on improving their employees work atmosphere. If you look at pictures of Google headquarters, it looks more like a playground than an office building. They also have staff whose sole job is to keep employees happy and maintain productivity. Some of the perks staff receive to make sure they are their most productive self are: free organic healthy meals 3x a day, free health and dental care, subsidized massages, nap pods, video games, foosball, Ping-Pong, and on site physicians. This culture has paid off for Google who consistently ranks as one of the best places to work.
However, you don’t have to spend big dollars like Google to improve your employees’ work experience. My clients report less stress with simple changes that can be done on or off-site. So, let’s take a look at 5 tools that help reduce employee stress levels and improve workplace productivity.
Tool #1: Mindful Breathing
There is a technique I teach at all of my speaking appearances. It’s so effective that people repeatedly contact me afterwards to tell me how much this one little tool improved their life.
Think back to the last time you felt stressed. Did you feel frustrated? Perhaps you breathed a little heavier as your mind raced, trying to come up with a solution? That’s a common experience when stress triggers what’s called a fight or flight response.
Flight or fight is a perfectly healthy response and it can save you in a bad situation. Imagine walking along a seemingly deserted street at night when someone with a gun suddenly walks around the corner in front of you. Recognizing danger, your body automatically goes into flight or fight mode—you breathe faster to get more oxygen into your blood, your heartbeat quickens to move blood to your muscles, your muscles tense up in anticipation of running or fighting, and your digestive system shuts down to divert the blood flow to more immediate needs.
That’s awesome when you’re in physical danger and need to get away. But if stress never goes away because it isn’t something you can fight or run from, can you imagine how it will cause health problems?
You’ll be happy to know that you can shut off the stress response and return to normal, even if the stressful situation isn’t gone. And it’s as easy as breathing!
Mindful breathing is very simple to do and can be done anywhere and at any time.
Simply breathe in as you count to 5, hold for a count of 5, and breathe out to a count of 7. Repeat this until you feel calm, which typically takes anywhere from 1-10 minutes. The more often you practice, the faster you’ll get results.
Deep breathing serves as a signal to your brain that you are calm, otherwise you wouldn’t be breathing so easily. Once it gets the message that you are calm, it shuts off the fight or flight response.
Obviously mindful breathing doesn’t prevent stress, but is a great tool to help manage it and keep the damaging effects to a minimum.
Tool #2 Sleep Routines
While you sleep, your body repairs itself from the damages and stressors of the day. In order for most people to fully heal, they need 8 hours of sleep each night. But the quality of sleep is just as important as the amount.
Quality sleep means going to bed and waking about the same time each day. The amount of sleep you require depends on each person, but you should wake up feeling refreshed and energized for the day, usually after 7-9 hours.
One of the big mistakes people make with sleep is trying to skimp on hours through the week thinking they can make it up on the weekend. Sleep doesn’t work that way. Once you miss sleep, it is gone. You may be able to get some extra hours on the weekend, but it will not make up for the sleep you missed.
Why does it matter?
When you’re sleep deprived, you’re more likely to make mistakes and have trouble thinking clearly. I bet you can think of a time when you felt tired or exhausted and it resulted in you making a mistake or several of them. There are many notable historic catastrophes that have been tied to lack of sleep, the Exxon Valdez and Chernobyl disasters being two very well-known ones.
The easiest way to improve your sleep is to create a routine—a series of steps you go through every night before bed. As you create the habit of this routine, your body will recognize it and work with you to go to sleep quickly when your head hits the pillow.
You should also turn off all electronics and bright lights an hour before bed. Your body’s sleep hormone, melatonin, has a hard time kicking in with all those lights that it mistakes for daylight. This includes TV, phone, and computer screens!
My client, Sandra, used to only sleep 6 hours a night or less. She was always exhausted and her work suffered for it. She’d find herself drifting off in the middle of a project, making her work take twice as long to complete. She would fall asleep on her couch for hours every night when she got home and then not be able to sleep through the night. Now she has a regular sleep routine that leaves her energized and clear headed.
Tool #3 Movement
You know that exercise is good for your health, but did you realize that it’s also a great stress reducer. Exercise releases endorphins. They’re what I like to call “the feel good hormones.” These little hormones put your brain into a natural high that makes you feel great and forget about all the worries of the day. It also has a lingering effect that stays in your body long after your workout is over.
It can be hard to think about exercise when you’re stressed. But remember the fight or flight response we talked about earlier? One of the things your body does is to tense up your muscles for a fight or dash to safety. All those tense muscles lead to soreness, aches, and pains. By incorporating exercise into your routine, you can fight back against the stress. Plus, your body is stronger and better able to cope with the negative effects of chronic stress.
If you don’t want to run or lift weights, there are other options. In fact, yoga is the king of exercise for highly stressed people. The big benefit is that it combines exercise with mind relaxing activities. After an hour on the mat, you feel invigorated, happy, and relaxed. I highly recommend regularly incorporating yoga into your weekly routine.
Another great way to use movement to help manage stress through the day is to take walking breaks. Had a stressful morning? Before you start on your lunch get up and go for a 15-minute walk. This can be done alone, but it’s even better to go with a friend and talk about something happy and good going on. Not only will you release some wonderful endorphins, but chatting with a friend will help you forget about what was stressing you out to begin with - even just for a little while.
When my client, Kayla, incorporated movement into her routine, her life changed. She felt happier than she ever had and had more energy. You can feel that way too!
Tool #4 Food is fuel
Think about your body like a fancy sports car. Let’s get really fancy and call you a Ferrari.
If you owned a Ferrari you would probably put the best gas available in it, wash it regularly, and store it inside. Your Ferrari would look amazing and probably last you a very long time.
Now imagine if you treated your Ferrari like a teenage boy sometimes treats his first vehicle. Use cheap fuel, drive it like you stole it, and don’t change the oil ‘til it’s smoking.
Your body is more valuable than a Ferrari. If you take good care of it and use high quality fuel, it will last a long time and perform better. If not, you can’t replace it the way you can a car.
Think about the last time you hit the McDonald’s drive through. How did your body feel afterward? What about your energy?
There have been recent studies done that show there is actually a connection between your gut and your brain. When you hear the phrase, “listen to your gut,” consider it wise advice.
When you feel highly stressed or worried, does your stomach start to feel off? Or when you eat lots of poor foods, do you notice that it gets harder to think clearly? If so, that’s your gut-brain connection at work. These two organs are very closely connected.
That’s why fueling your body with healthy foods is very important. Digestive-related medical diagnosis has more than tripled in the last 25 years, and the #1 reason is the accessibility of poor quality food. Are you one of the millions that have been diagnosed with IBS, IBD, ulcers, heartburn, Candida overgrowth, or leaky gut? Or maybe you just always have an upset stomach or issues such as going too much or not enough?
All of these stomach-related issues cause trouble with your brain. The most common symptoms are being easily irritated, brain fog, depression, and the inability to concentrate. If any of these sound familiar, consider upgrading the food you eat.
We’re all susceptible. When I was at my lowest point with my health, I don’t know how I functioned! I lived in a constant fog. Improving the quality of food I ate was the biggest catalyst to becoming the happy, healthy person I am today.
Tool #5 Improved Office Dynamics
While many of the above can be done at home or the office, this final tool is one that companies need to implement for maximum results. The other tools are very important for individuals to use and make part of their routines, but this final tool helps reduce overall stress in the workplace.
Start by looking at workplace dynamics. Do people feel like they are team members? Is there a mutual respect and camaraderie among employees? They don’t have to be best friends, but staff who enjoy working together will be less stressed and more productive.
Now let’s look at management style. Do you rule with an iron fist by barking out orders and expecting results, or do you work with your team to create goals and help support them in the achievement of those goals?
How you interact with your staff has a huge impact on their stress levels and long-term productivity, which ultimately impacts your stress levels, too.
Do you feel like you need to do it all or have too much on your plate? If you feel like you have to bear the weight of the company, you may be at extra risk of heart attacks.
Instead of shouldering everything, it’s important to look at other opportunities. Can you bring in your team more on the issues that stress you most? Can you hire an assistant or intern to help with the small stuff? Remember, no job is worth dying over.
Finally, explore ways your company can help manage employee stress and decrease workplace stress load. Here are some tools other companies have had success using:
● Lunch time yoga at the office
● Flex days for staff when they feel like they truly need a break
● An available masseuse for appointments at work
● Scheduling meetings outdoors or walking for meetings that allow it
● Having a psychologist or counselor available
● Enforcing work life balance by not allowing people to work extra hours all the time
● Increasing vacation time or enforcing vacation time
● Having support staff available for those who need it
● Behavior and rewards that help people feel valuable and a part of the team
Putting It All Together
The above 5 tools will help get you and your staff on the road to stress free living. Implement 1-2 of them at a time, gather feedback, make changes if needed, and then implement 1-2 more. Stress can show up unexpectedly, but stress management and reduction is a habit that takes time and patience to grow.
If you’d like help coming up with solutions that are specific to your company, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to help create a workplace wellness program or offer an individual strategy session.
Jen Gutfriend is a Certified Health Coach and founder of Balanced Business Body (www.balancedbusinessbody.com). She helps female entrepreneurs and executives become high energy, low stress, vibrant, strong, and healthy.