Managing stress

It's probably safe to say every working adult is at least a little stressed out these days. Given the interdependencies of our industries, difficulty in one causes ripples (or tidalwaves) in others, which affects us all.

"I don't know a company that isn't facing challenges in making quarterly numbers, facing stock prices well below what they were a year ago and feeling the need to cut back in one way or another," says Paula Phelan, president of communications firm Nadel Phelan and a veteran manager and executive. "Whenever a company's financials are challenged, suddenly every little mistake that happens is magnified much larger throughout the organization, and that has a lot to do with the stress level.

Nobody feels they can make a mistake."

Phelan offers the following advice for managing heightened stress levels:

* Be aware of the effects. "In a market like this people are really sensitive not to have anything go wrong," she says.

"Under the pressures people will overreact in situations. I think that happens more further up the chain ... employees don't recognize the strain their managers and CEOs are under. It breaks my heart sometimes, especially with the CEOs. They're people, too. They have to walk through those halls, and they can sense when people are on edge."

* Be kind to those around you and to yourself. Folks who are overtired, overworked or overanxious may not act like themselves.

* Remember the little things. "It's so easy to get wrapped up with all the big things not working - the economy, poor sales, etc.; it's easy to lose track of what did work today even if it was something small," she says. "Be conscious of smiling.

Looking back on the end of the day, did you smile? It all sounds so small, but it's really easy for managers to feel they're bailing water that's coming in faster than what you can bail."

* Find some joy in every day. "You have to have a little joy in everyday, you can't save it up for vacations," Phelan notes .

* Take time to recognize accomplishments. Phelan suggests you try to recognize that everything can't be push, push, push all the time. "Eventually that will burn people out," she says.

* Once a month bring people together and give them a view of the industry as it stands in this moment. "Be as honest as possible," she says. "It's easier to just say happy things, but people really need to know what's really going on because they have responsibilities in their own lives."

* The moment you're feeling aggravated, nervous or upset, don't take it out on someone else. Stop and think about a more constructive way to communicate it.

* Use the 24-hour rule. If you're emotional about a business situation, don't do anything; don't talk about it for 24 hours," Phelan suggests. "You're going to have a clearer way to approach a situation [a day later] instead of automatically responding from an emotional place."

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