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Take Action During April’s Stress Awareness Month

Reduce stress for a happier and healthier workplace.

April is “Stress Awareness Month,” making it the perfect moment to explore how stress affects both individuals and organizations. While stress is a normal process, it can take a toll when left unchecked. Alliant National HR Director Stacy Stolen discusses the consequences of runaway stress and shares strategies for creating healthier workplaces.

Stress 101

Everyone experiences stress, but have you ever wondered what exactly it is? Stolen says that while stress typically carries negative connotations, on a basic level, it is simply the body’s response to a demand. Any change in a person’s day-to-day life can be stressful.

Here are a few more important things to know about stress:

  • Stress affects everyone.
  • Not all stress is bad.
  • Long-term stress can harm your health.
  • There are ways to manage stress.
  • If you feel overwhelmed by stress, it’s important to reach out to a health professional.

Where does stress often show up?

Stress can be anywhere, but it frequently pops up in workplaces, where it can do sizable harm. “Workplace stress has adverse effects on workers’ mental health, with an increased risk of anxiety, burnout, depression and substance use disorders,” Stolen said. “Stressed workers are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as drug abuse or poor dietary patterns.”

The negative consequences of stress affect businesses as well. “It decreases employee productivity,” said Stolen. “Interactions with co-workers may also become strained, causing conflict, complaints and grievances; health concerns; and higher absenteeism.”

Reducing stress begins with awareness

Given how serious stress can be, it must be elevated as a topic of concern for businesses. Employees must also feel comfortable talking about their stress levels and seeking help when stress becomes unmanageable. According to Stolen, recent years have brought increased cultural awareness of the consequences of stress – which is a welcome change. “It has become more acceptable to ‘talk’ about stress,” said Stolen. Yet there is still more work to do. “Companies are still struggling to manage workplace stress,” said Stolen, “and perks like onsite gyms and nap rooms are not the answer to our problem. We must go deeper.”

How can workplaces better address stress?

Addressing the root causes of stress meansdigging into the psyches of stressed-out employees. “If your employees perceive your workplace as a threat, then you cannot build the trust your team needs to collaborate and innovate effectively,” Stolen said. “Employers need to shift from individual-level to organization-level approaches for reducing stress, which can foster employee well-being while simultaneously improving business performance.”

How does Alliant National reduce stress?

Alliant National has developed a plan to reduce workplace stress. Part of this includes the Alliant National Employee Engagement Team (EET), which helps employees “feel engaged, fairly compensated, rewarded, and personally committed to and inspired by their work.”

The underwriter also tries to let all employees know that it is not only acceptable to take time off to rest and recharge – but encouraged. Additionally, Stolen is working on a mental health “challenge,” where she reaches out to managers to determine if their direct reports have large PTO balances. The intention is to determine whether team members are using the time that they have earned, and if not, to understand why.

Alliant National also runs several internal challenges driven by its EET. These focus on stress reduction, fitness and kindness, and mix in other fun challenges such as. Examples include a baby pics challenge, trivia games; and virtual holiday celebrations.

Stolen notes that many of Alliant National’s initiatives revolve around encouraging laughter throughout the day. Now, humor can’t cure all ailments, but data has proven that a good laugh can have short- and long-term benefits, including:

  • Short-term benefits – Laughing doesn’t just lighten your mental load, it induces physical changes in your body:

    • Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
    • A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
    • Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce the physical symptoms of stress.

  • Long-term benefits – Laughter isn’t just a quick pick-me-up, it’s also good for you over the long term:

    • Positive thoughts release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more serious illnesses.
    • Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
    • Laughter makes it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.

There is no magic bullet against stress, but progress is possible!

“I have no secret sauce or silver bullet,” Stolen said when asked about how she manages her own stress. “But what I have learned is that I need to unplug and be able to tell my boss when I am stressed and need help – not so I feel weak, but so I can be good to myself.” This is an effective summation of how we can all better manage stress in our lives and particularly in the workplace. Through a combination of honesty and proactivity, individuals can ensure that they keep their stress levels at a reasonable level. Businesses can also follow this approach during Stress Awareness Month and year-round to create happier, healthier and more sustainable workplaces for all.

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This blog contains general information only, not intended to be relied upon as, nor a substitute for, specific professional advice. We accept no responsibility for loss occasioned to any purpose acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material on this blog.

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