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How to Cope With “Secondhand” Stress

We all know the saying “smile and the world smiles with you”. If you work with people who are cheerful and optimistic, you’re more likely to feel the same. Unfortunately, it’s equally true that if your colleagues are unhappy and stressed you’re more likely to suffer.

The good news is there are many specific skills you can learn, behaviours you can practice, and changes you can make in your environment that will be helpful in dealing with secondhand stress. Here are some strategies.

Before you tackle secondhand stress, acknowledge that some stress can be good. Life is full of stressors. You don’t achieve a successful career, raise a family, lead, or make changes in an organisation without some level of stress.

If certain members of your team are strained, try to understand what’s really going on rather than stressing about their stress. Ask them to describe what they’re experiencing. Find out what they are anxious about. When people accurately label their emotions, they’re more likely to identify the source of their stress and do something about it.

Talking to an overstretched, stressed-out colleague might make you feel nervous yourself. You can keep your emotions in check by being empathetic. By expressing compassion for this person’s concern and then engaging them in positive conversation — either to generate a solution to their problem or shift their focus away from it — we often positively influence them instead of letting them negatively affect us. Ask your colleague, “Is there anything I can do to help you move matters forward? Is there a conversation we should have that might lead to a more constructive outcome?”

It’s not always easy to be compassionate toward your office’s Eeyore. If you feel the negativity of a colleague is starting to take its toll on you, try taking strategic retreats and limit your contact with anxiety-inducing colleagues.

Another strategy for coping with secondhand stress is to surround yourself with positive people. Positive emotions can be just as contagious as negative ones.

Make an effort to promote optimism in the ranks, too. Help to create an environment where people feel confident about the organisation. You don’t want a situation where one individual’s stress is the only voice in the room.

Even if your job is manageable, it can quickly become a source of anxiety if everyone else around you is stressed and vocal about it. People often talk about their ‘have-to’ goals (as in ‘I have to go to this meeting.’ Or ‘I have to be on this client call).

Complaining about a large to-do list is seen by some people as a badge of honour, and the complaining often catches on. But that’s dangerous. Turn your “have-to” goals into “want-to” goals.

One of the best ways to ward off stress is to take excellent care of your health. Eating well and getting plenty of exercise and sleep are critical to keeping stress at bay. So, too, is practicing gratitude.

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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2019 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.

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