Managing Stress at Work with Chantel Banus

As a corporate wellness coach, Chantel Banus knows a thing or two about work-related stress, a response many people have when the demands and pressures of their job challenge their ability to cope. So we sat down with Chantel to learn more about this type of stress and how it can be managed!

Firstly, Chantel, can you tell us what causes work-related stress?

Common causes of work-related stress include an increased volume of work (perhaps it's a particularly busy time of the year with lots of deadlines or someone is out on vacation), a desire to perform well, and a lack of boundaries.

What happens when someone experiences it?

When speaking with clients about work-related stress, I encourage them to identify the physical, mental, and behavioral ways stress manifests. Common responses include an inability to focus, changes in sleep patterns, changes in appetite (stress eating or loss of appetite), difficulty making decisions, and changes in sex drive. Often, health-promoting habits will be put aside for work and associated tasks. For instance, it's tempting to give up a workout or sacrifice an hour of sleep to prioritize work and “feeling” better via accomplishment. 

Has remote working impacted work-related stress?

Of course! Remote work, depending on who you ask, can have a negative or positive impact on work-related stress. I like to view working remotely as an opportunity to promote wellness goals, especially in ways that weren’t possible before. For example, time can be saved from commuting and instead spent on things like meal prep, exercise, or an appointment with a counselor. Similarly, a 15-minute walk after a long series of calls or a meditation session before an important presentation may be more accessible from a non-office location.

How can someone recognize when they’re experiencing work-related stress or burnout?

Physical indications of stress include headaches, breathlessness, jaw clenching, changes in sleep or libido, or palpitations. One might also notice difficulty concentrating on and completing a task, or an inability to focus in general. An overall sense of paralysis or withdrawal might also occur. Decision-making can become impaired, and memory lapses or confusion may arise. Some people might experience panic attacks. Teeth grinding, nail-biting, fidgeting, or an inability to sit still can all be clues that stress levels might be exceeding someone’s coping abilities.

Behavioral and physical clues can be more subtle. Some people might feel fully functional, but racing thoughts or anxieties can be looming in the background. The next time a person has a hindsight thought of “Wow, that was stressful,” they should consider asking “How would I handle that differently?” Or if they can identify increasing stress levels as they're happening, they can ask “How would I prefer to respond right now?” 

 

There will always be stressors in life, and that’s OK. Acceptance of stress and befriending ourselves when we feel stressed is important.

What are some tips you can give employees to help them prevent work-related stress and manage it when it arises?

First, I always tell clients to think of stress as a constant. There will always be stressors in life, and that’s OK. Acceptance of stress and befriending ourselves when we feel stressed is important. There is also physiological stress that occurs within our body when we don’t get enough sleep or wait too long to eat. Our body releases stress hormones when internal (lack of sleep) or external stressors (big work projects) arise. This is our body’s way of protecting ourselves and it's both OK and natural to experience this. Stress can even be motivating at times but it can become problematic if not managed properly.

Having healthy habits is a great preventative measure for work-related stress. For example, having a consistent bedtime each night and a good sleep ritual sets you up for quality sleep so you have more patience, energy, and decision-making abilities the next day.

Having healthy boundaries and communication at work is also important. Do you take a lunch break? Do you get outside? Can you ask your manager or team member for help if you need it? Do you take time off? It can be tempting to keep working so that the stressor can be “resolved" but stepping away from a task or stressful work call can help you come back feeling refreshed.

When you’re actively in a high-stress situation, you can try doing a mindfulness exercise. Draw your attention to your sense of sight, touch, sound, smell, and taste. This will avert your attention from the stressor, and ground you back into the present.

What can employers do to make their workplace a less stressful one?

Employers should consider how they support their staff and how they uplift their employees. Do you make healthy food and drink choices available? Do you have mental health resources or referrals available? Do your employees feel they can take time off when they are sick? Do those in management positions set an example when it comes to stress management? Greater awareness around stress and self-care at the executive level gives supervisors the tools to better manage their own stress, as well as pass those skills onto their teams.

 

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