Stress. We don’t talk about it enough in the workplace, but all of us are impacted by it.
Research indicates stress can sharpen our ability to assess our surroundings, motivate us, and even briefly boost our immune system. In other words, stressors can prepare us to meet the demands and challenges of our environment. That is, until they don’t anymore.
Our stress system can become overloaded or stay activated for too long. When that happens, stress makes us less empathetic, short-sighted, and cognitively impaired. As if those issues aren’t enough, an Ohio State University study found that dealing with persistent, long-term stress (e.g., toxic working relationships, caring for an elderly parent, dealing with a global pandemic) alters our genes, leading to an increase of inflammation that sparks a variety of health issues.
To live and lead well, we should prioritize practices that help us address stress. Three foundational habits we can cultivate are to get plenty of sleep, eat healthful foods, and exercise. It’s amazing how different our minds and bodies perform when they are well-rested, well-nourished, and well-prepared. While we believe in those tested methods, we want to share two lesser discussed strategies that also work.
In times of stress, we often drift toward people who offer comfort and support. COVID-19 has upended that practice by demanding that we separate from our communities, shelter in place, and keep our distance. While we support these measures, they can have drastic effects on our mental and physical health if left unchecked. That’s why we practice social distancing, not isolation. We need each other now, perhaps more than ever. Let’s take opportunities to truly connect. Tell friends and family members how important they are to us. Send messages of appreciation to coworkers. Make a list of people who’ve made a difference in our lives and call them to say “thank you” for their investment. We are all in this stressful moment together, and we can help each other cope through connection.
While some of us know that we are living large purposes right now, others of us may feel like we are contributing very little. At Ethos, we struggled with that at the beginning of this crisis, as our calendars were stripped of speaking engagements, team trainings, and executive coaching sessions. We experienced what Victor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist who survived four concentration camps, summarized by recording, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, only by lack of meaning and purpose.” We all feel better about our lives when we have hope and purpose. While it may be difficult for some of us to see at this moment, rest assured that we all have a high purpose right now. Each time we cooperate with CDC guidelines, we are flattening the curve and saving lives. When we check on an elderly neighbor, we are building bridges of humanity. As we donate stimulus funds to community agencies that are serving on the front lines, we are providing essential services to those in need. Every day that we get up and play our part in the larger fabric of our families, our organizations, and our communities, we are living with purpose.
Final Thought: Stress is unavoidable. What is avoidable is whether we are abused by it. Let’s use the benefits of this stressful time to help us live our purpose and motivate us to connect with others.