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Difficult times: Stress management techniques

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Stress Management techniques for leadership in tough times

Leading with positive psychology

Humans are more sensitive to stress when they find themselves in situations where they have low levels of control.

If you are under stress for a long period of time this could lead to post traumatic stress disorder. This occurs when you experience high levels of stress but feel a very low level of control.

You can be a good leader during tough times by employing positive psychology activities that will foster a healthy corporate culture.

Lets take a closer look at how you can implement stress management techniques in the workforce.

Ways to reduce workplace stress

Watch the video to understand the importance of focus and control in stress at work, and the activities that leaders can use to increase positive emotions and decrease stress..

Watch the next video in this series here:

Part 8 – Leadership behaviours for dealing with tough times

And watch the previous video here:

Part 6 – Stress and working from home

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript

Stress management techniques for the workforce

Welcome to video number seven in our eight video sequence on leadership in tough times.

What we’ve covered so far, we’ve talked about what the meaning of leadership is, how we define that.

We talked about stress, and stress was including the neuroscience of stress.

We talked about some of techniques to identify whether people are stressed, including ourselves.

We looked at the question of why some people are more resilient or stress-sensitive than others.

We talked about stress and working from home.

This video is about stress management techniques for leaders.

And the final video will be about specific behaviours for leaders in tough times.

The relationship between stress and control

This is an important diagram (refer to video) for leaders because it gives an understanding about the relationship between stress and control and support.

Human beings are most stress-sensitive when they’re in a situation where they have low levels of control.

The higher the levels of control, the more manageable stress becomes.

So if people are in a situation where they don’t have any have any control over this circumstances that they’re facing, they are much more likely to be stressed and uncomfortable.

Sleepy state

Now you can have, this is a quadrant chart, of course.

So you can have a situation where you’re low in stress and low in control.

And frankly, that’s a sleepy situation. It’s quite a negative situation from a developmental point of view. But it’s not a particularly stressful situation.

The worst situation really is where you are low in control and high in stress because that combination of feeling that you’re under pressure and feeling that there’s nothing you can do about it.

That is something that will lead to burnout.


Now, burnout is not an imaginary thing.

Burnout is something where if it’s severe enough, it can form a stress disorder and people can end up with post traumatic stress disorder from being under stress for long enough to the point where it starts to rewrite their neural system.

You can end up in a situation, as I explained in the last video, where stress moves from acute to chronic and that’s when you get a burnout effect.

Comfortable state

Then you can have a situation where stress is low and control is high, and that’s a very comfortable situation but it’s also not a particularly challenging situation.

As I’ve mentioned in other places, stress needs to be high enough to cause an organism to be comfortable.

Stress which is too low is bad as is stress that’s too high.

Peak experience

And then finally you have a situation where you get the peak experience, where it’s high in stress and high in control.

And maybe if you’re lucky you’ve had this in your working careers at some stage.

Maybe you’ve been pursuing a really important goal, seeking to get a particular project delivered, let’s say.

But you’ve also been high in control where you’ve had the responsibility for planning and for working with a team, and you’ve had a lot of control over the way that you went about this task. Well, that can be a peak experience.

Now, if you spend your entire life parked in peak, then yes, there are problems associated with that.

So people, even if they’re enjoying that stress, it can get to the point where it becomes a burden.

And then we can see negative things like dependence on substances, or perhaps where people get worn down.

All of those sorts of things can click over quite rapidly into a burnout situation if the stress is too high for too long and also your level of control falls, where you don’t feel that you have the opportunity to step off.

Psychological first-aid

So you see the bottom of here, levels of support also make a difference.

So when people are in stressful situations, if people are kind friendly and helpful and supportive to them, what that does is it creates a situation where they in effect get psychological first-aid.

And psychological first-aid causes them to feel safe and that allows them to start to plan how to end up with an much more favourable outcome.

And I’ll explain some of the techniques in just a second.

Focus is the secret of life

Beating stress with resilience is all about focus.

And firstly, you should recruit people who are less likely to be stress-sensitive.

But once you encourage their resilience through the right focus and the right focus is certainly a focus on a range of things can help people. And so here’s a quote, it’s actually a quote from me. “The secret of life is what you focus on.” And what I meant by that is that if you look at psychological wellbeing and health, it’s amazing how much of it is down to what an individual focuses on.

So if a person focuses on what’s wrong with their life, they’re much less likely to have a positive psychological outcome than if they focus on what can I do to improve my life?

If a person focuses on negative emotions that will actually reinforce those negative emotions.

It will actually make them stronger because emotions are like most things that we practise.

The more you practise them, the more they develop in to strong neural pathways, and it makes it more difficult for us to find an alternative.

So what you focus on is really important.

So if we focus on things that are do with solutions, if we focus on the positives in our life, all of those sorts of things can become more powerful.

Internal locus of control

And here’s a diagram (refer to video) that talks about a thing called locus of control.

The idea of locus of control is here is a person and here is the sense of control.

Now, this is a person with an internal locus of control because this person believes that control is within them.

Now, this is a really important characteristic for resilience. People who believe that they have a capacity to influence what happens in their life. This is sometimes called agency.

You hear that term being used by counsellors.

If a person believes that they have agency in their life, they believe that they can have a positive impact in their life.

External locus of control

Now, when a person has an external locus of control, which simply means that they believe that control is outside of themselves.

Like this diagram here (refer to video). This a person with an external locus of control.

Then what that means is that they don’t feel that they have the capacity to influence things positively in their life.

And a lot of techniques for building resilience are actually about taking an external locus of control and turning it into an internal locus of control.

Key tip for leaders during tough times

So here’s a key tip for leadership in tough times.

One of the most powerful things that leaders can do is to overtly and openly say to people, “Let’s focus on the things that we can control and let’s ignore the things that we can’t control.”

So for instance, if there’s economic downturn, no individual can make a difference to economic downturn.

But if we focus on the things, the little things, the things that we can do every day that cause us to be more likely to be commercially successful.

Then that will give people a sense of optimism, a sense of hope, a sense of we are doing something about this, but also it will give them a sense of control. “I can control the small things that contribute to my commercial success.

If I do these things well and often, then I’m much more likely to be successful.”

So that’s a real tip for leadership in tough times.

Help people to work through the question of “Alright, ignore the things that we can’t go control.

Let’s work out what we can control.”

And if you do that, that will cause people’s morale to increase and improve.

Promoting a healthy corporate culture

Positive psychology. Well, positive psychology is a recently developed school of psychology, and I’m talking about 20, 30 years.

The concept of positive psychology is about thriving.

It’s about going beyond the issue of simply eliminating illness, and to say, “We can do better than that.”

Now, leadership in tough times is a lot about positivity.

It’s a lot about changing the balance of negative experiences to positive experiences.

Research in recent times indicates that human beings value a negative about six times as much as a positive.

What we mean by that is that if they have a positive experience, that’s worth about 1/6 of a negative experience.

So to have a healthy corporate culture in an organisation, what you need is the person to experience more than six good things for every one bad thing.

And how do you do that? Well, it’s what you focus on. You focus on things that will help a person. You’ll focus on things that will be solution-orientated. You’ll focus on things that will cause them to see a sense of optimism.

Those kinds of things can make a massive difference to leadership in tough times.

Positive psychology activities

And here are some positive psychology activities that have been shown to work in a range of different settings.

One is reducing focus on the past and concentrating on the future.

Making plans about how to get there.

Focusing on the past in tough times can lead to a sort of sense of nostalgia, which can be actually immobilising.

Okay. You know, things were good back then. Well, there’s nothing you can do about the fact that things were good back then. Let’s make plans about the future that we want and let’s take steps to get there.

So if we’re in customer service, what’s good customer service? Let’s make plans about how to achieve that.

If you’re in a commercial setting, we need to bill a certain amount. Let’s make a plan about how much we’re going to bill.

And then when let’s make a plan about how to get there.

“Three Blessings”

Positive, proactive future-based plans can be really helpful psychologically.

Gratitude exercises such as “Three Blessings.” I mean, this is from Martin Seligman. Seligman identified that if people, every day, sit down, and write down three good things that happen to them, these are called the three blessings, three things that I should be grateful for, then that will increase their levels of resilience and it’ll also make them happier.

So Seligman found in research that by people doing this, it could reduce their anxiety or depression by as much as a combination of drugs and counselling.

Very simple technique. But what you’re doing is you’re building the neural pathways of being grateful for things.

“Three Anticipations”

Another technique is learned optimism exercises.

A learned optimism exercise is sort of like a three blessings exercise, except it’s devoted to the future.

And the “Three Blessings” you can do every day, and people who do it every day will often report significantly improved mood and confidence.

But the “Three Anticipations” are where you’ll sit down and maybe once a week, or even once a month or whatever, you write down the things that you are looking forward to.

If you’re in a tough time, writing down the things that are going to happen that will be good can reinforce, build the neural pathways to make you more optimistic and positive and more resilient.

Acts of generosity

Acts of generosity.

We are said to be living in very selfish times and that might be right or it might be wrong.

But did you know that undertaking acts of generosity can make you happier, can make you more confident, can cause you to be more resilient?

And the reason for that is two-fold. One is that human beings like to bond with other human beings.

Doing something generous to other people is something that’s part of what we call the tend-and-befriend response.

You know, we talk about the fight-and-flight response. The tend-and-befriend response is where we develop psychological confidence by virtually partnering with other people.

So being generous to other people, partners with them.

But you know what? Being generous to other people is also a very strong thing.

It’s a very confident thing. I mean, how can I be a victim? How can I be a loser if I’m actually doing something generous for other people? So doing generous things reinforces us that we have agency in our lives.

Signature strength exercises

Signature strength exercises. This is another Martin Seligman idea.

But the signature strength exercise is where you sit down and you identify the several things that I’m really good at. Maybe 2, 3, 4, 5 things that I’m really good at.

The reason that Seligman called them signature strengths is because they’re so much part of me.

They’re like my signature.

They’re my unique and individual strengths. And Martin Seligman on his website, the website’s called Authentic Happiness, also has some questionnaires where you can complete this questionnaire and find out what your signature strengths are.

But identifying your signature strengths can make you more resilient.

But then using those signature strengths, planning how to use them in your day-to-day life can also increase your levels of agency in your life, your confidence that you can do things.

Mindfulness activities

Mindfulness activities, including meditation.

And we use the example here of the brief mindfulness activity called “54321.”

And it’s a simple, quick thing to do.

But mindfulness is really about being in the moment because if you are in the moment, it will cause you to be calmer.

This has been demonstrated by a range of researchers.

Mindfulness activities where you focus on being in the moment can reduce anxiety and it can reduce depression.

So “54321” is where you’ll sit in a room, look around the room, and you’ll notice five things that you can see.

Then you close your eyes, and you open your ears, and you listen out for four things that you can hear. And then you might focus on three things that you can feel.

So it could be the feel of the desk, or it could be the feel of your feet on the floor or whatever.

And then two things that you can smell, two different smells.

And then finally, one thing, the taste in your mouth.

Now, if you do these mindfulness activities, what you have to do is practise and cultivate the idea that thoughts will come to intrude in this mindfulness activity.

You don’t fight the thought. You notice it and you let it go. And you go back to the task that you were undertaking.

In other words, it could be noticing the smells or the sounds or whatever.

This is a very quick activity which is used often in early, in childhood counselling.

And the reason that it’s works is because it’s something you can do anywhere.

It’s what’s called an ambulatory method of mindfulness.

In other words, you don’t have to sit down and meditate. “54321 “can be done really quickly, and it works.

It may not be quite as effective as sitting down and meditating for 15 minutes, but a lot of people mention that they get a big mindfulness centring sensation by virtue of doing this activity, a sense of belonging.

A lot of people will find that using “54321” wherever they are will make them feel much calmer and much more centred, and therefore more resilient and better able to cope.

Collaborative work groups

Forming collaborative work groups to work together to create an ideal future.

So that’s kind of like what we said in point number one here.

We’re reducing focus on the past, but we’re causing people to come together as a work group to create a better future.

And that’s good for people’s levels of confidence.

Now these are all techniques that can work at the individual level, but they can also work at the group level.

And we recommend that leaders consider adopting one, two, or more of these techniques and run them with your work groups.

And what that will do is it will cause people to build the capacity to be more resilient at an individual level and at a group level.

And that’s a really powerful development technique.

Creating an environment of kindness


Now, we mentioned earlier in the diagram that showed the set of stress and control, there’s another dimension which is about supportiveness.

And basically supportiveness is about providing employees with an environment where they experience kindness.

They experience supportiveness and understanding generally.

Things like flexibility of work practises can be really important in tough times because it reinforces to people “You are important.

You are more important than the task, and so we will provide you with the flexibility to be able to accommodate that need that you have in your own life to get something done, or to show care to some family member,” or something like that.

That can be really powerful.

And psychological first-aid, as I mentioned earlier, such as EAP.

So there are times when you’re leading in tough times that a situation goes beyond you.

Send for the experts. Don’t feel that you have to bear that burden yourself.

Send for the experts in your EAP program and provide the employee with that professional assistance.

So there are some stress management techniques for leaders.

The last in this series of videos is about leader behaviours for tough times.

So what we’ll be doing in that video is talking specifically about the types of behaviours that leaders can personally exhibit to cause their leadership to be more successful in tough times.

Join us to find out about this fascinating topic.

Watch the next video in this series to find out more about leadership in tough times:

Part 8 – Leadership behaviours for dealing with tough times

And watch the previous video here:

Part 6 – Stress and working from home

And if you’d like some help with developing your leaders to better handle challenging times, contact us about our Wellbeing and Engagement Survey.

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