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Keeping Stress Levels Under Control in the Downturn

Marielena Sabatier, CEO, Inspiring Potential

2009 looks certain to be a year of job cuts and salary freezes. HR is a tough field to be in right now, with the responsibility for delivering bad news to employees falling often to HR Directors. These situations can lead to conflict with angry staff which can cause a great deal of anxiety and stress.

HR workloads may have increased too with budgets cut and longer hours demanded. This could upset previously well balanced work lives and lead to potential conflict at home. Let's not forget too, the impact of the recession and the bleak economic outlook may also be increasing anxiety and feelings of stress.

Stress comes from feeling overwhelmed. It's a feeling of not being able to cope with the responsibility or emotion faced at the time. It doesn't mean a person can't, it just means they feel they can't. It is a feeling of being stuck, depressed, anxious and panicked. But how can HR directors manage their own stress at a time when they are so focused on the welfare of others?

NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), the study of the structure of subjective experience, the modeling of excellence and the art of modeling provides a number of excellent tools and concepts which could help HR Directors cope with or change negative stress into positive action.

It can empower HR professionals to feel in control of their own emotions and help them address the root cause of the problem, the thing making them feel stressed.  Its techniques help to break down seemingly impossible workloads into 'do-able' chunks, create workable action plans and to manage stress by using techniques such as meditation and anchoring to generate feelings of calm. It can also improve communication with others and reduce isunderstanding.

NLP focuses on understanding people's intentions and motivations - quite literally putting people in the other person's shoes and learning that their values and beliefs are unique and different to their own.  This technique can be used successfully by HR professionals to communicate more effectively, show more empathy and avoid conflict when they are having difficult conversations with employees.

It also teaches people that they are only responsible for their own feelings and actions and not the actions and feelings of others. This is an important thing to realise because it helps people not taking things personally. If an employee is about to lose their job and they have a family to support, they will be angry, much of which may be directed at the person delivering the news. Not taking things personally in this situation will help to eliminate feelings of stress and conflict is likely to be avoided.

Here are some simple tips and techniques that can be used to cope with stress.

1. Accept that you are stressed

Denial of the stress will only worsen the symptoms. It is important to be honest with yourself that you are in a situation that needs to change.

2. Know what is causing the stress

This is not necessarily as easy as it sounds but good coaching can usually get to the heart of the matter fairly quickly. You can also try to sit still and contemplate your feelings deeply to understand the sources or chat with a friend who gives you space to think.

3. Identify what needs to happen to change the cause of the stress.

It is important not to place too much emphasis on reducing the symptoms without acknowledging the underlying causes. Changing the cause might include looking for a more suitable job. Other examples of changing the cause might include arranging for some of your work to be delegated to others. It could also include improving your organisation skills so that things don't get so out of control.

4. Get clear on how you would like things to be.

Instead of dwelling on the problem, ask yourself 'How would I ideally like to be feeling?' Or 'What is my ideal desired outcome here?' Too often we get stuck thinking about a problem without considering an alternative.

5. Set an action plan in place for what you will definitely do to resolve the situation.

Without actions you are placing your destiny and possibly your demise, in the hands of others. Don't blame others for your problem, but instead take responsibility to make the situation different. You will be surprised at how much better you will feel by simply knowing that you are taking steps to alleviate the problem.

6. Spend more time doing the things that energise you.

It is easy to overlook your hobbies, friends and interests when you are feeling stressed. This might also include exercising. As mentioned above, this should be done alongside your steps for addressing the cause of the stress.

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