Managing stress: Returning to a post COVID workplace

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With the continued slow progression toward normality, many of us are now returning to a post COVID workplace. Some people feel excited to return to comfortable routines, others are tentative about the prospect, others still are downright fearful. And COVID related health concerns are not the only stressor at work. For many there is anxiety around the prospect of returning to the pressure and expectations associated with working life. As we face a new beginning, it is important to be mindful of our stress levels, and do what we can to manage them.

In fact, a global pandemic has an enormous impact in each of the four major stressor categories; significant life change, catastrophe, daily hassle, and ambient. Much could be said in each of these categories, but for the sake of brevity i’ll leave you to fill in the blanks!

The problem is, all this added stress is not good for our mental and physical well being.

Your heart is a lot like the internal combustion engine. They both have valves and pressurised chambers, and in the same way the engine of your car provides the energy to make all of the technology run, your heart is responsible for the performance of all other organ function. It provides them with blood and nutrients, enabling them to do their job.

Now a car has the capability to accelerate pretty quickly when it needs to. This is sometimes for fun, but it also serves another purpose; safety. If you pull out on somebody at a roundabout and you only notice them once you have already joined the roundabout, you will increase the revs and accelerate out of the way of that person to avoid a collision. So this is a safety feature, and the human body has a similar capability.

Your heart and blood vessels respond to stress by kicking things into overdrive. Your heart rate and the force of contraction increase, and the blood vessels tighten up in order to provide more blood and nutrients to the needy organs and muscles. And this is a very positive thing, indeed a very necessary thing if we are responding to a challenge or a threat, because it enables the organs, tissues and muscles to perform at a higher rate.

But here’s the thing. It would be damaging to drive around at maximum revs in your car all the time, you would blow the engine up. In the same way, it is damaging to maintain the physical conditions of a stress response continually. Having our heart running on overdrive constantly is not a good idea.

So as we re-enter the workplace under unusual conditions with added anxiety, I want to give you two tips to help you manage and cope with stress.

The first tip when returning to a post COVID workplace is to trim the fat. There are always ways in which we can cut away unnecessary stress in our lives. I’m not suggesting that we shrug of all responsibility and give up every challenging aspect of our work or home lives, but there may be one or two small areas which we could surgically remove. It could be as simple and painless as delegating a portion of your work to somebody who is able to absorb it. This happened recently here at iManage. Bob who is the ships captain at iManage is often extremely busy, and was struggling to find time to fit CRM tasks into his daily workload. So, to take some of that pressure away and relieve some of the stress of a large workload, I was able to absorb those CRM tasks. This was a small and simple way of trimming the fat for Bob, and making a seemingly small adjustment that reduces workload based stress like that could have really positive effects.

But what if you simply can’t delegate the tasks that are causing you stress? Or what if you do find a specific task stressful, but actually in order to progress in your career you want to address the root causes of this stressor so that you can carry on with the task but find it less stressful? Well this brings me nicely on to my second tip which is to ask for help.

If you are in a situation where you need or want to get past the stressor rather than remove it from your life, then you would be wise in seeking help. This could be as simple as doing some research and getting your hands on some useful books. Maybe you will find that your perspective is transformed through reading helpful on the subject of your stressor (most stressors are not unique, there is probably at least 5 books on how to handle your particular stressor!).

Another approach would be to ask for help at work. Maybe some coaching would be beneficial, some guidance from a more senior and experienced person who you trust in your organisation. We shouldn’t feel nervous about asking for help in this way at work. In fact, you can be sure that an attitude that says, “yes I really struggle in this area but I am ready and willing to learn and overcome the challenge” is going to be very warmly received and commended.

The last approach to asking for help which I will mention is getting some outside help from someone who is trained in psychological healthcare like a councillor or a therapist. In the UK, all that is required to get some support in this way would be to schedule a visit with your local GP. Be honest about your issues, and you will be referred to the appropriate free service from there. On top of this there is of course the option to seek private sessions with a professional.

So two tips returning to a post COVID workplace; trim the fat, and ask for help.