Buffering Stress – the role resilient leaders play

Talea is tense a lot of the time. She performs at a high level and always pushes herself to be perfect in what she does. But her stress, coupled with a frequent sense of urgency, panic and pushiness, seems to project onto other people she works with. They get irritated and tense too.

Talea also has  a tendency to get  irritated quickly  if things don’t go  her way  and  she often has

Male Coworkers Whispering Behind Back Of Unhappy Businesswoman In Office

run-ins with people as they arc up and spark back at her perturbing petulance. 

She’s known to be a ‘stress magnet’ around the team and often seems to be coincidentally connected to setbacks, which can really send her into a tailspin when she encounters them. She can be moody for weeks, smouldering over the situation and telling everyone that it’s always her bad luck…

Resilient leaders act like stress-buffers for their teams whether it’s ameliorating the impact of a disturbing team member like Talea, or handling strings of severe setbacks or the workload overload endemic in ever-busier work cultures. They relieve or diffuse pressure where they can, and assist teams to traverse tough patches that drain resilience and threaten to intensify the stress-load.

To do this, leaders need stress-buffering tools and strategies to help teams retain those precious reserves of resilience critical for well-being and high-function.

Our Resilient Leadership at Work program can help you care-take your team’s resilience better and look after your own too.

Resisting Stress is the fourth of 5 Resilience-Builders we cover in Resilient Leadership at WorkWhile all stress isn’t actually bad, it looks at what we can all do to manage and insulate ourselves from the ill-effects of over-stress at work.

Resilience Builders & Drainers

» Just as resilience is a buffer for stress, resilient leaders act as stress-buffers for teams «

Stress buffering is vital to support high-performing teams and leaders need to cultivate stress-resistance in themselves first in order to model for others how to be more positive and focused, and less worrisome and pressured.

Let’s get one thing straight about stress. It is a natural part of work and life – a normal reaction to things we find threatening, fearful, uncomfortable or pressured. And a little bit is good for us short term. 

  • Good stress – or ‘eustress’ as it’s called – spurs us on to confront challenges and put in a top performance.
  • We feel lively, energetic, on the ball and it motivates us. It keeps us younger, sharper, more focused, makes our brains work better and it inspires us to ‘get out there and do things’.
  • Coping with stress in a positive way, says a recent Harvard Health article, is essentially what resilience is, and it has many health benefits.

Long-term, chronic stress is, however, bad. It’s more insidious and riddled with fear, anxiety and negative health effects for us. It drains most of the elements that make up resilience and takes a physical and emotional toll on our bodies, brains, behaviour and self-belief.

  • Long term, stress drains energy. We get exhausted, anxious, irritable. And since stress-feelings are infectious, they can spread quickly so a whole team ends up having a stress outbreak.
  • Toxic effects of stress slowly penetrate our bodily defences. Why? Well for a start, our immune system links to our emotional circuitry. Toxic emotions you generate or contract from others, leave a build-up of toxic chemical deposits in our body.
  • Repeated adrenaline and cortisol bursts wear down immune systems, lower resilience and result in ill-health and potential burn-out or trauma.

» We need to prevent stress overload creep – to emotionally insulate ourselves from its toxic effects, before stress fatigue sets in, and starts making us more vulnerable to work-trauma and burn-out. «

Not everyone reacts the same way to stress. Some seem to handle stress better than others. They’re more resilient, positive, robust, calm and controlled while those who are agitated and have a negative outlook, often struggle.

The revelatory work of Kelly McGonigal shows those who see stress as helpful not harmful  who cultivate a ‘stress helps me’ mindset  also manage it better and may have less anxiety, higher energy levels and be less stress-impacted in longer-life stakes.

But prolonged exposure to ill-stress, coupled with a ‘stress is all bad for me’ mindset, plays havoc – not just with our health and well-being but also with our sense of purpose, focus and self-worth.

  • It pollutes our experience of work, robs us of vitality and drains personal productivity.
  • We feel exhausted, distracted, forgetful, hopeless, confused and out of control – even depressed. And all this affects the way we behave and how we cope.

In contrast, the more resilient we are, the more likely we are to be able to manage most stress in our stride and resist its toxic effects that threaten to take over our lives and reduce our ability to relieve it.

» There are things leaders and teams can do together to avoid stress-overload creep, retain resilience and emotionally insulate ourselves from stress-effects  «

We can all learn and practise de-stressing strategies individually and as a team to shore up our reserves of resilience.  These could include…

  • A mindful breathing, Tai Chi of appreciation session we do together at the start of the work day
  • Acts of kindness that soothe us while showing compassion, respect and gratitude towards each other
  • Developing coping skills and accepting help and support from those who care about you
  • Eating healthfully, sleeping well and practising stress management activities such as yoga, walking or meditation.
  • Making and maintaining social connections that are nurturing and supportive
mindful walking
  • Taking small steps regularly toward achieving goals that matter to you
  • Being decisive in taking actions to help get through adverse situations.

Leaders who stress-buffer for their teams create a supportive and psychologically safe culture, where there’s a sense of belongingness, a strong connection to team identity, a vivid sense of purpose and relationships where people can flag when they’re feeling stressed and need some help.

They also monitor stress levels closely, keep an eye out for stress-creating factors and unhealthy work behaviours; and work together with their teams on stress management strategies and techniques.

That’s where our Resilient Leadership at Work clinic can help. It’s for leaders who want readily actionable tools and strategies to try out with their teams to keep resilience reservoirs topped-up, build fortitude and the capacity to take setbacks in their stride.

This clinic has tons of tips and tools to re-charge yourself and your team’s resilience to buttress wellbeing, resist stress and remain emotionally balanced, mentally fit and functional. It looks at:

  • What resilience is and the role resilient leaders play in supporting teams
  • 5 Resilience-Builders to stay afloat, resist stress and function effectively
  • Helping teams stay positive, focused and high-performing
  • Resilience-drainers: how to sense signs your resilience may be waning
  • Emotional balance and how to curb negative emotional outlooks
  • Personal and team tools to maintain mental fitness and well-being

For upcoming course dates and locations of scheduled clinics, see our online calendar and give me a call or get in touch by email to talk over ways we can help with in-house delivery or individual coaching.

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What is Stress Overload Creep?

stress to distress stages

Stress overload creep sneaks up on us. As it’s gradual, we ignore wake-up signals that this is happening. As this chart shows, we go from stress to dis-stress. Here’s how…

1. Instead of recognise stress overload, we strive to work harder to stay ahead of the game. What we once handled in our stride, now trips us up.

2. Behaviour becomes dissonant. As we start to snap on the inside, we snap at people on the outside. We get irritable often. We clash and grate.

3. We now do defensive routines to justify our scratchy ways. We ignore, deny, rationalise or blame others to distract from our erratic behaviour.

4. Stress now fires-up more feelings. We’re off-balance. We’re knocked out of our Resilience Zone and see threats or attacks everywhere. To combat stress, we withdraw into our shell and give-up, or waste time and energy railing about the pressure we’re under and feeling hard-done-by.

5. Stress fatigue sets in. Confidence crashes. We focus even more on how tired, behind-the-game and demanded-of we feel.  That disconnects us from – exactly the opposite of what we need to do since it’s important to seek support to relieve stress.

We’re now in Mark Knopfler territory – dire straits – and we may not even be fully aware of it. We may burn-out, lose productivity, or get mentally and physically ill.

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