Learning how to cope with stress essential

February 2, 2013 

We are working with a very successful entrepreneur who wants to expand her business. She is a single parent of three and has two chronically ill parents. Of course, she has hit the wall. She cannot begin to focus on work and her sales are slipping, rather than growing. She knows that stress is impacting her health and all elements of her life.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have identified critical elements in studying stress. First, stress is linked to both physical and mental health. Some of the physical consequences of too much stress are lack of sleep, higher blood pressure, back or shoulder pain, fatigue, and upset stomach. The emotional consequences of too much stress are depression, substance abuse, anxiety, memory problems, and feeling overwhelmed. Stress manifests in our bodies in one way or another.

The study of stress discovered that the job burnout experienced by 25 to 40 percent of our entire workforce is caused by stress. Depression (stress-related) is predicted to be the lead

ing disease for lost workdays, more than any other illness. It is estimated that the United States is spending $7,500 annually per employee on stress-related illnesses. Stress not only harms staff, it is very expensive.

Part of the increase in stress in the workplace is the need to process so much more information. Just think back 20 years, of how much correspondence you had with others, as compared to today. Think of how many activities you and your staff are involved in and the amount of increased job insecurity. Face it: Our lives have become more and more complicated and stressful.

By stress, I am talking about the feeling we experience when the demands of the job exceed our ability to get the job done. Stress increases when we feel we are put into a situation where we feel that, no matter what we do, nothing is adequate or acceptable. Just think how the entrepreneur at the beginning of this article feels!

One thing entrepreneurs (or managers) can do to minimize the effects of stress in the workplace is to make sure they manage the stress in their own lives, therefore, acting as role models. If you can manage your stress, others will model their behavior after you.

By far, without exception, the best thing to help you deal with stress is physical exercise. Many, many years ago, when I was working on my Ph.D. dissertation, I remember going to the YMCA gym to exercise. As I exercised, I imagined stepping on the faces of all the faculty members who were giving me a very difficult time through this process (I hope my students are not reading this). After I did this, I felt so much better.

Much stress therapy involves just expressing your feelings. While stress is normal, without the capacity to vent, stress builds and builds. But venting your feelings has been shown to help over and over again. Try to find someone who will listen to you non-judgmentally, someone who will not try to fix the problem. It took me 30 years of marriage to master this technique.

To reduce stress, there are a couple of neat tricks you can do to help your breathing. When stress starts to build up, just take 10 deep breaths with a count of two on an in breath and four on an out breath.

Sometimes, when I have been sitting for more than two hours, I go outside and walk around the building for just five minutes to get some fresh air. A change of scenery and fresh air are so therapeutic.

Finally, I encourage all entrepreneurs and managers to bring stress reduction workshops to your staff. Stress reduction is one of those things that must be learned. You must deal with stress in the workplace because there is such a high cost for failing to do something.

Now go out and ensure that you are dealing with your stress in a positive fashion and that you are offering some type of help to your staff.

Jerry Osteryoung, the Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship emeritus, can be reached at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.

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