But effective leaders know how to keep unnecessary stress out of the workplace
2021 was the most stressful, sad and worrisome year in more than 15 years, according to Gallup’s 2022 Global Emotions Report. As if we needed confirmation, right? The report also found that working women in the US and Canada were among the most stressed employees globally.
What does this mean? It means that there are a lot of stressed out people trying to manage equally or even more stressed out people.
People don’t feel safe when they are stressed, and as a result, they lapse into a fight, flight, or freeze mode to ward off threats. But this is the wrong reaction. We’re not fending off a serious threat, we’re just feeling on edge.
Unwarranted fight, flight, or freeze behavior is unpredictable and thus, by its very nature, erodes trust and builds toxicity. Consequently, people’s decisions are informed by fear and their actions by self-protection. Employee well-being suffers, and businesses become more vulnerable as fewer employees are motivated to act for the greater good.
Effective leaders diffuse stress
Amy Edmondson, author of “The Fearless Organization,” writes, “Psychological safety is not a personality difference but rather a feature of the workplace that leaders can and must help create.”
Leaders, you have an important role to play! Creating a climate where employees feel safe to speak up will lead to fewer errors and higher-performing teams. And it all starts with you developing continual self-awareness and immediate emotional choice to regain control of your brain.
While our protective instincts are meant to help us survive, our survival these days depends more on our ability to think than to react. But resisting the urge to react as if we are under attack is more difficult than you’d think.
Your brain wants you to feel safe, so it is always searching and seeking security. As a result, it scans for danger every fifth of a second, below your conscious awareness. When it senses a threat, it sounds the internal alarm.
But herein lies the problem. The part of the brain called the amygdala is responsible for keeping us safe, and it cannot tell the difference between real and perceived threats.The amygdala will prompt a reaction before our higher self has a chance to intervene unless we learn to discern when we are orienting to a threat.
Differentiating is crucial
Increasing your Somatic Awareness can help you notice when your amygdala might be ready to go into overdrive. Emotions appear first in the body before the brain can interpret what is happening. The first step is noticing you are having a fight, flight, or freeze reaction. The quicker you notice it, the faster you can shift your emotional state. But doing so takes practice.
First, you must practice listening to your body. Do you hold frustration in your stomach, shoulders, or jaw? When you’re anxious, does your heart beat faster, or do you get hot under the collar? These are all signs that you are orienting to a threat, and calming your nervous system would be the best next course of action.
Calming the nervous system can be done in a variety of ways. Taking a breath and counting to ten are possible options, but there is a tool that many leaders miss. Somatic Awareness is an exciting new leadership tool that helps leaders take control of their emotions and quickly shift back to feeling curious, appreciative, and caring.
Leaders set the emotional tone of the workplace and work culture. It’s not about the absence of conflict but rather an openness and willingness to engage in safe, productive conflict to learn from different points of view.
Understanding how people feel is a prerequisite for leaders who strive to create thriving workplaces. Before you understand how someone else feels, you must first know how you feel; what signals your body is sending and how you can diffuse the amygdala.
The best way to help your team and your organization is to help yourself first. Begin by getting curious and asking yourself at regular intervals during your work day: What am I feeling and why?