Why you should think twice before bringing holiday stress to work
This time of year, it's so easy to project your stress onto colleagues. A new study shows just how damaging that is – and how to stop.
How often do you carry your stress from one area of your life to another? From work to home, from home to work, from home to vacation and back again, around and around until you're dizzy and exhausted and life is unmanageable?
This time of year especially, it's so easy to give in to stress. Despite all of our best intentions, we can't always help it when it starts to seep into other components of our lives.
Now, a new study out of Tel Aviv University in Israel shows just how our psychological mindsets affect others, specifically in the workplace. Namely, it found that people often project their own relationship to stress onto coworkers, causing miscommunication and, in some cases, missed opportunities.
And if you work for someone else, it could mean the difference between getting that promotion and getting passed over for another, less-stressed colleague. Research conducted by Professor Sharon Toker and researchers Daniel Heller and Nili Ben-Avi, of TAU's Coller School of Management, found that if a manager is stressed, it changes the way he or she perceives an employee's health, productivity and degree of burnout.
"This study is the first to show that our own psychological mindset determines how we judge other people's responses to stress – specifically, whether we perceive stress as positive or negative," said Toker.
If a manager thinks Employee A doesn't get stressed out as Employee B, for example, he might consider A more worthy of promotion than B, Toker explained.
So what, if any, is the solution? The researchers say it's all about how we, as individuals, look at our own stress. Do we see it as a negative? Or can we flip it, and use it as a tool for motivation, or discipline, or reinforcement? Or can we figure out a way to multitask better, or let go of some responsibilities, or find some relaxing or meditative practices, to make our lives less stressful?
"Your stress mindset will affect your judgement of other people's stress responses," Ben-Avi said. "But we have shown that even if stress affects you positively, it can distort the way you see your colleagues, your employees, your spouses, even your own children. We should be very careful about assessing other people's stress levels."
Though being consumed with stress may be inevitable this time of year, it's certainly not insurmountable. There are plenty of things you can do to reduce and prevent stress, and keep a clear head when things get really hectic. We asked Doron Libshtein, a well-known meditation expert from Israel, for his top tokens of advice:
- Set aside a few minutes every day, ideally twice a day, to meditate.
- Focus on your breath, using four counts on your inhale and eight on your exhale. Repeat as needed.
- If your mind wanders, don't criticize or worry yourself. Just bring your attention back to your breath.
- Use a mantra, like "I am loved" or "I am at peace," for something to focus on while meditating.
- Try guided meditation, using videos from The Mentors Channel or another online resource of your choice.
- Seek out tools to monitor your stress levels, like a wearable gadget called WellBe, which monitors who and what activities in your life trigger emotional stress, gives notifications when stress levels rise and provides real-time solutions in the form of meditation, focused breathing and mindful exercises.
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