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Emotional Intelligence vs. Unrealistic Stress Reduction Tips for Work

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Over the past several years I've observed people reduce their stress by using simple Emotional Intelligence techniques. Knowing how powerful the use of these techniques can be, I've been amused as I've read a variety of suggestions for reducing stress — some of them more effective than others.

Just imagine: you’re working as hard as you can, the boss is demanding more, you had to cut your budget and staff so those who are still with you are putting in more hours than ever before, and the number of projects hasn’t decreased. And now you’re sitting in another bad-news meeting feeling stressed. Wait a minute! You remember an article you skimmed online with some stress reduction tips and suggestions. Now’s a good time to put those ideas to good use. Lets see, which one should you start with to minimize your stress right now? Should you…

  • Call a friend and chat (maybe your friend is in a meeting too — you could IM him)
  • Take a nap (that may be a good idea since you were awake from 2:00 to 4:00 last night)
  • Dance (no, this group wouldn’t appreciate your talent anyhow)
  • Take off your shoes (that one has possibilities — any holes in my socks?)
  • Laugh (humor is good but you can’t think of anything that has been funny recently)
  • Do some yoga (maybe if you do it slowly they won’t notice — downward facing dog?)
  • Just say No! (I’m sure the boss will go for that one)
  • Take a walk (maybe at lunch time, although you get enough walking when you manage by walking around)
  • Watch funny YouTube videos (now that one has possibilities too — no one will notice — Right! And then you can go file for unemployment benefits)

Binge and Purge
Actually all of those tips and suggestions are good for you to one degree or another. The problem is that at work it’s not realistic to do them (and some are actually forbidden). In fact the vast majority of ideas and suggestions on the Internet and in print about managing stress are not realistic for use at work — and that is precisely where almost everyone experiences the most stress.

What do we do? We "binge" on stress all day, loading our bodies with excess adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone), and then when we leave work we try to "purge" it from our bodies by doing these techniques. Or worse, we wait until the weekend — or worse still, we wait for a vacation to "de-stress."

If we know what really causes stress — not just the triggers of stress (deadlines, last-minute requests, multitasking, children acting up, people at work acting like children, etc.) — we can look for solutions that will really work.

What is Stress?
Stress (the bad kind) is a result of negative emotions and beliefs that occur when people are unable to cope with the demands of their environment. There is also what is known as eustress, or good stress. Eustress is the result of positive emotions and beliefs that occur when people feel capable of coping with demands of their environments. So the real difference between bad stress and good stress is the difference between negative emotions (frustration, fear, anxiety, etc.) and positive emotions (appreciation, happiness, curiousity, etc.). And that is a huge difference because negative emotions have a significant detrimental effect on important work issues such as mental clarity, decision-making, personal productivity, accuracy, relationships, teamwork, and motivation just to name a few. Positive emotions have a positive effect on those issues.

What’s Needed
If most all of the tips and suggestions can’t be used at work for one reason or another, what would work? What’s needed is a simple, easy technique that busy business people can use "in-the-moment" of stress, or better yet, right before a stressful situation such as a meeting, a phone call, a performance review, reading your e-mail, and so on. Ideally it should transform negative, draining emotions into positive, productive emotions — not simply stuff them away. And it would be great if it would actually create the motivation or guidance for more effective behavior at the same time. It would have to be something quick, and it should keep the adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone) at normal healthy levels.

Emotional Intelligence
The foundational Emotional Intelligence competencies of emotional self-awareness and emotional self-management offer an approach to address this challenge. First you need to become aware of your emotions. Start by identifying situations, events and people that trigger negative emotions. When you dwell on your negative emotions, you end up in a downward spiral, recalling and reliving the event or situation and elevating your stress levels. With an awareness of triggers, you can implement the simple technique of recalling and re-experiencing positive emotions. In doing so, you can change the negative emotions, moving into the desired positive state and relieving the stress brought on by the negative feelings. Recalling positive, fun experiences is easy to do. It's deceptively simple! You can do it in-the-moment, no matter where you are and as you start to practice using this technique, you'll find that it takes just a few seconds to transform the anxiety and stress.

My More Extensive List of Tips/Suggestions to Reduce Stress
Below, I've listed some more “tips and suggestions” I’ve collected from articles for reducing stress. Unfortunately not many of them are practical for use at work in-the-moment of stress, but if you can fit them outside of work, they may help. Many of them are actions aimed at helping you move toward a positive state of mind and some of them can be a positive, fun experience you can add to your repertoire of experiences to recall in-the-moment.

  • Play with your children (you remember them, they are the people who are either asleep when you get home or the ones asking you to help them with their homework)
  • Get organized (then you’ll know when your stress will show up)
  • Hold hands with a loved one (not a good idea at work — fine if you work from home)
  • Spend time playing with your pet (a pet rock does not qualify)
  • Give yourself a mini scalp massage (I actually sat behind a guy who did it in church)
  • Squeeze a rubber ball (be sure to switch hands — resist the urge to throw it at someone)
  • Dab lavender oil on your wrists and smell it (anyone allergic to strong scents?)
  • Make a detailed "to-do" list (go from thinking there were only 15 things you had to do to knowing there are actually 23)
  • Delegate your work to others (maybe you can call the laid-off people to help you)
  • Get enough sleep (I had a boss who fell asleep in meetings — does that count?)
  • Reduce the number of hours you spend at work (right, work at home after the kids go to bed — maintain the façade of efficiency)
  • Eat well/healthy (that lunch at your desk while you work may not qualify)
  • Eat breakfast (that’s what granola bars and Starbucks are for)
  • Ask yourself, "What’s the worst thing that could happen?" (Answer: being fired, getting a low performance appraisal, being given more and more to do)
  • Ask yourself, "Will this matter in 20 years?" (at this rate of stress no one will be around in 20 years)
  • Chew gum (surprise — this came from a study done for Wrigley’s)
  • Don’t take work home with you (worry about it at home instead)
  • Make new friends (the people at the unemployment office are very nice)
  • Engage in activities that make you feel confident (mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, etc.)
  • Count to ten (why not one hundred, it will take your mind off the stress longer)
  • Enjoy the moment (No, not the moment of panic)
  • Take a vacation (surely someone will cover your work while you're gone — it won’t pile up)
  • Make time for yourself (remember when you actually used to have a hobby and do things YOU liked to do?)
  • Spend time with supportive and caring people (You can’t bring your spouse to work because s/he’s working too)
  • Make Christmas cookies with a friend (put lots of chocolate chips in them for the sugar high)
  • Smoke a cigarette (oops, can’t do that within 50 feet of the company property, besides, it’s 95 degrees Fahrenheit outside)
  • Take a pill (eight of the top ten selling prescription drugs are for — stress!)
  • Consider seeing a doctor (see above — Big Pharma will love you)
  • Have a massage (not at work, the company frowns on touching)
  • Go rock climbing (holding onto the ledge outside your office window by your fingernails doesn’t count)
  • Write down your worries before you go to bed (that way you will know exactly what will be keeping you awake)
  • Ask for help (screaming at your boss doesn’t count as asking)
  • Go to a movie (just don’t get caught watching it on your computer at work)
  • Smile inwardly with your mouth and eyes (it will make everyone wonder what you’ve been up to)
  • Reset your expectations (you didn’t really want this job anyway)
  • Take a long hot bath or shower (or, just stand out in the rain for a while)
  • Write a list of your strengths and keep them with you (is job hunting one of them?)
  • And a few that can have an impact in-the-moment…

  • Pray
  • Meditate (don’t close your eyes during the meeting)
  • Take slow deep breaths (helps balance your Autonomic Nervous System as long as you continue it)

I hope you've found this information helpful as well as enjoyable.

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