Tips for managers on keeping stress at bay

Tuesday 13 April 2021
Stress can quickly turn from feeling under pressure to burnout and needing time off and struggling to cope. How can we reduce stress in our day-to-day working lives?
Woman rubbing her neck at her desk

The Mental Health Foundation estimates that in the UK, 70 million days are lost from work each year due to mental ill health, such as anxiety, depression and stress-related conditions.

More than six in ten UK managers have experienced burnout because of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a fifth considering quitting their job as a result, according to research from healthcare provider Benenden Health.

Stress is a common part of working life, and a certain degree of stress is required to challenge and motivate you, but it can overwhelm you if it becomes unmanageable. It’s why managers need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of stress and develop techniques for keeping it under control.

Write your thoughts down

Downloading your thoughts from your mind to paper can be helpful in times of stress. A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology in 2018 found that positive emotional writing was effective at stress management.

Cathy Hayward, chairman at communications consultancy Magenta Associates, says the writing doesn’t have to be complicated.

“As simple as it sounds, writing a list creates a lot of brain space. Prioritise what you’re going to tackle first, and then tick things off. It’s very cathartic,” she says.

Get a mentor

It’s easy to suffer in silence when you’re stressed. Sharing your thoughts and feelings can help alleviate it, through delegation or asking for advice.

Domenica Di Lieto, CEO of marketing consultancy Emerging Communications, says: “Mentoring is one of the most effective ways to relieve stress. The causes of stress that managers face have nearly always been experienced before, she explains. It is usually possible to find someone who has had the same or similar situation and is prepared to give help and advice.

“I needed help. I was establishing an office in China for the first time, and while I fully understood how it would function in terms of serving clients, I had limited knowledge of local operational company structuring and team dynamics. I recognised I had weaknesses and I needed guidance. With additional work pressure, mentoring helped to get a fresh perspective.”

CMI’s Management Mentoring service can be accessed here and is included with CMI membership.

Disconnect and set boundaries

Constantly ruminating over work is a recipe for stress. Breaks can help restore much-needed energy and help productivity in the long run. The Mental Health Foundation suggests even a few minutes can be enough to reduce stress.

Rachel Martin MCMI, founder of accountancy business Accountant She and director of accountancy firm StriveX, says creating clear boundaries is so important for minimising stress.

“As a business owner during Covid-19, it can be very difficult to segment your time. I try to have very clear boundaries between work and not work. I run an Instagram platform so my phone is always going off, even if I try and limit my notifications or limit my time on the app,” says Rachel, who now turns her phone off nearly every weekend. “The first half hour I’m like: ‘oh God, what if someone tries to ring me?’ But after that half hour, the anxiety has gone and it’s a really lovely feeling.”

Boundaries aren’t just useful for scheduling time off work. She also finds it useful for managing her working days. “Tuesdays are always my meeting days. Mentally that helps me segment my time,” she says. “I don’t have my email on, calendar notifications on, I don’t have WhatsApp on, I’m just present speaking to clients, getting the proposals, quoting for the work, and then when I come back on Wednesday it’s back to normal. Only taking the meetings when it’s best for the client becomes counterproductive for you and the client.”

Prioritise yourself

Sometimes the best way of ensuring your own resilience when it comes to stress is to make sure you’re taking care of your own wellbeing.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup,” says Marissa Pysarczuk, head of outreach at digital marketing agency Glass Digital. “The most important thing when it comes to managing stress is to know you have to look after yourself first in your personal life.”

Rachel Martin agrees; she gave up alcohol to try and improve her mental wellbeing. “I’m teetotal and that completely changed my perception of stress. I thought I was an anxious person and was just lumbered with that. But I tried dry January two and a half years ago, and within 30 days, I found it had such an impact on every aspect of my mental and physical wellbeing that I haven’t had a drink since then.”

If you don’t drink any alcohol, your sleep rhythm and quality increases and anxiety generally decreases. It might not work well for everyone, but it could make a difference.

Libby James, co-founder of independent advisory and brokerage service, Merchant Advice Service, says it’s also about being kind to yourself. “It’s okay to be selfish. Take time to prioritise your own mental health and wellbeing because this will make you a better manager and enable you to handle difficulties in the office with more ease.”

Don’t be too hard on yourself, she says; you’re only human. Set realistic expectations and then you will be more likely to achieve what you have set out to do. If you’re really struggling, and stress-busting techniques aren’t helping, then do seek advice from a GP.

For more advice and insight into stress, read our deep-dive on stress management. You can find this and other resources on our Mental Health and Wellbeing hub.

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