I’ve read a few articles and seen TV news segments all recently detailing the same phenomenon, namely workplace burnout. One study estimates that as high as 78% of workers are experiencing some level of burnout. This is hardly surprising. For years, the rate of burnout has been on the rise as workers strive to deal with the impact of rapid change and uncertainty in the workplace.
Add the cherry on top of the 15 months of dealing with a worldwide pandemic and it only accelerates this trend. I have had many conversations over the past year with clients about their COVID experience. At first the shift to work at home setups while stressful, did allow many to have the gift of spending extra time with family. However, in time it has felt like a poisonous chalice as many reported that the boundaries between work and home have become so blurred that it feels there is no down time.
Benjamin Franklin once famously said that the only two things that were certain in life were death and taxes. Workplace stress should be added to his list. The impact of stress is felt physically, emotionally, and mentally and this seriously impacts our workplace performance. In dealing with workplace stress, two elements of emotional intelligence are critical.
The first element of emotional intelligence is the self-awareness to recognize and understand the stress we are under. There is a need for self-awareness of the physical signs like:
· Sleeping Problems
· Change in appetite
· Episodes of fast and shallow breathing
· Pounding heart
Then there is self-awareness of the emotional and mental signs such as;
· Loss of motivation, commitment, and confidence
· Being withdrawn
· Feeling overwhelmed or frustrated
· Excessive worrying
· Having racing thoughts
· Memory problems
· Being irritable
· Losing confidence and being indecisive
· Negative thinking
The second element of emotional intelligence are practical tools to manage the stress we are under. As I reflect on how I deal with work stress, I am drawn to a lesson I was taught in grade school that has impacted me through the years. I was in fourth grade and one day when we entered the classroom, the teacher had set up five different areas. She told us that we were going to spend the day exploring our senses. The first area had jars with different scents, some were sweet and pleasant, and others were pungent. The second station had pictures of nature and we were asked to focus on all the details of the picture. The third station had five boxes and we were invited to put our hand thought a hole in the box and feel what was inside. At the fourth station we were blind folded and asked to taste three different things and guess what it was. Finally, there was a tape recorder and headphones. It played five different sounds that we had to guess.
I learned that day that my dominant sense was sound. It was an important lesson as I use that sense often to help reduce my level of stress. When I feel my tell-tale signs of stress which are an increased heartbeat, tense muscles, and a growing agitation, I turn to sound to help me refocus and reduce my level of stress. For me, it’s a small table fountain. I turn it on and concentrate on the gentle sound for a few minutes. I shut everything else out and I find it calms me down and helps me refocus. At other times I turn on some gentle music which has the same impact.
For others, a different sense may work. I have a friend who when stressed, goes to a window and focuses all her attention on a tree. She looks at how it’s shaped and the number of branches and leaves. It might sound strange, but it works for her and helps in reducing the immediate feeling of stress. There are endless possibilities – smelling a favorite scented candle or squeezing a ball. All it takes is a little experimentation to find what works for you.
Stress is a killer which left unaddressed, can consume us. Maybe it’s time we all devote a little more time to exploring our senses so we have another weapon in dealing with stress.
For this week’s EQ workout, I prepared an exercise to help you engage your senses to help with stress reduction. The method is called the 5..4..3..2..1..Stress Reliever.