Take Action Now to Reduce End-of-the-Year Stress

Ready or not, November is already well underway. When you think about the remainder of 2021, how do you feel? If thoughts of work deadlines, family get-togethers, or planning for the holidays and new year ahead have you feeling overwhelmed or anxious, you’re not alone. Thankfully, there are practices and resources we can utilize to help us center ourselves and approach this time of year with a healthier mindset.

Consider Your Sphere of Influence

We all know allowing worry to grow uninhibited can lead to a number of negative consequences, be it with our health, work performance, or relationships. So, why do we allow our minds to spend so much time in a state of worry? In a previous blog post, Jennie Yelvington, Director of MSU Faculty and Academic Staff Affairs, discussed how worry can seem very active — spending time in that mindset can feel like you are working on something productive — but in reality, you are burning through energy that could be better spent.

When you notice yourself worrying about what might happen, stop and ask yourself, “What can I do about it now?” One way to visualize this is the Sphere of Influence.

Graphic representing one's sphere of influence. Three circles are centered on top of each other. The smallest circle in the middle represents "control," the next biggest circle represents "possible influence but no control," and the largest circle represents "no control."

Within the Sphere, there are three areas:

  • No Control. If there is absolutely nothing you can do to change or influence a situation, you can only assess whether you can learn from it, then let it go and refocus on something else. This would apply to things like the weather, supply chain issues this season, or flight cancelations. To reduce feelings of worry and improve your well-being, spend minimal time and energy regarding any matters that fall within this area of the Sphere.
  • Possible Influence but No Control. If there is a step you can take that may influence an outcome, person, or situation, determine what action you can take to maximize that influence, follow through, and then let it go. Resist the temptation to convince yourself that worrying about it means it is within your control.
  • Control. If the issue you are wrestling with is completely within your control, then you have control over your decisions, attitude, and behavior. What action can you take that you’ve been putting off? What self-care practice can you initiate to support your well-being? When you practice shifting your focus and attention to what is within your control rather than allowing what is out of your control to consume your time and thoughts, feelings of helplessness and overwhelm decrease significantly.

Make Yourself a Priority

When asked why we don’t make our well-being a higher priority, the most common answer is: not enough time. Although we can’t add more hours to the day (No Control area of the Sphere of Influence), we can take actionable steps to better manage our time and carve out space to improve our overall wellness (Control area of the Sphere).

Here are a few ideas to help you focus your energy on areas you can control when it comes to your well-being this time of year.

  • Schedule downtime. Block downtime off on your Outlook calendar like you would for a meeting or other work engagement.
  • Be selective. Most of us have an extraordinary number of demands on our time lately. This time of year often brings on even more. Before you commit to anything additional, give yourself a little time to consider: do I really need to do this right now?
  • Get back to the basics. Consider your current relationship with sleep, physical activity, and eating. What are one or two simple steps you could take to improve your physical health? Even something as small as not having your cellphone next to your bed at night or scheduling short blocks of time on your calendar to stretch at your desk can have a tremendous impact. Ensuring your basic, physical needs are met helps ensure a solid foundation for all aspects of your well-being.

Utilize Your Resources

One major goal within MSU’s new strategic plan is to support the “well-being of staff, faculty and postdoctoral research associates at MSU, focusing on creating a best-in-class workplace culture and environment in which excellence and opportunity thrive.” From one-on-one counseling to self-paced learning opportunities, many resources are available to you as an MSU employee to improve your well-being and take care of yourself this year and beyond. Recommendations to get you started are listed below, along with contact information for specialists at MSU who can provide extra support.

Health4U Programs | Register online for free courses including Chair Yoga, Increasing Your Psychological Flexibility, and Understanding Shame and Building Shame Resilience. Health4U also provides a wealth of online resources regarding emotional wellness, food and nutrition, and health coaching.

The Power of Habit Virtual Course | Next offered via Zoom on February 16, and April 13, 2022. Registration is available in EBS.

elevateU | Free, self-paced resources including short videos, online courses and books around a wide variety of topics. Highlighted topics include:

Employee Assistance Program (EAP) | Free, confidential counseling for all faculty, staff, retirees, graduate student employees, and their families.

WorkLife Office | Find affinity groups, webinars, and personalized support to help you facilitate success in your many roles and guide you in creating synergy between those responsibilities.

Tips to Establish and Maintain Healthy Boundaries

There’s much talk about burnout lately, and with good reason. Studies show that job stress is by far the major source of anxiety for American adults and has escalated progressively over the past few decades. The employees who are generally the happiest and most productive, no matter the external circumstances, are those with firm boundaries.

Although setting healthy boundaries is a crucial part of life, it’s not easy for many of us. Establishing and maintaining boundaries—be they mental, emotional or physical—is a skill set and, like any skill, it needs to be developed. If you’re not used to setting limits, you might feel guilty or selfish when you first start out. Here are tips to help you set and stick to healthy boundaries to protect your time, energy and well-being.

1) Audit Your Existing Boundaries

Start by taking some time to examine your existing boundaries, or lack thereof, to help provide clarity around where you need to set different or stronger limits. Take note of when people or situations cause you stress and anxiety. If you find yourself feeling angry, resentful or guilty when you interact with certain colleagues or perform specific aspects of your job, that’s a red flag that you may need to set a firm boundary or communicate it more clearly.

2) Redefine Your Boundaries

Once you’ve examined your existing boundaries, it’s time to determine your new and improved boundaries and top priorities. Think about what needs to occur to best protect your time and general well-being. Consider your priorities both at and outside of work. Whether you’re trying to advance at work or just get through your to-do list by the end of the week, prioritize the tasks that will help you get there. This can help you become more aware of situations in which your existing boundaries are not working and allow you to discover how you can better allocate your time and energy.

3) Communicate Your Boundaries

Boundaries can vary greatly from person to person, so it’s important to set clear expectations and confidently communicate them with your team. Easy ways to better protect your time could include putting a note in your email signature stating the specific hours during which you answer emails and blocking off time on your calendar to ensure you can get to your top priorities.

4) Set Consequences

Once you communicate and start to stick to your established boundaries, don’t be surprised or disheartened if you find others initially respond negatively. This is usually a sign that your boundary is necessary and working effectively. Prep for these situations by visualizing your boundaries being crossed and imagine how you’ll react. Then, when a moment like that arises, you’ll be able to handle it rationally versus emotionally. When a boundary gets violated, address it immediately. Calmly reinforce your limits in the moment rather than wait.

5) Say “No”

Are you the type of person who says “yes” to every request at work, regardless of your existing workload and capacity to take on more? Learning to say “no” is a powerful skill that helps you enforce your boundaries and keep your goals a priority. Saying “no” can be a challenge for many of us because it seems negative—something that may bring harm to our career or alienate us from our colleagues—but “no” works in the opposite way. It allows for clarity and communicates your top priorities and commitments to others. If you say “yes” when you do not mean it, you will follow through with resentment, often leading to poor work quality, weakened relationships with colleagues, and feelings of stress and overwhelm.

Setting healthy boundaries that are right for you will help define your individuality and show others situations for which you will and will not hold yourself responsible. Remember that it’s equally important to respect the boundaries that others have set for themselves. Take small steps to set and maintain boundaries and respect the boundaries of others by communicating clearly and consistently, gaining clarity for yourself and holding firm to your areas of focus. The process will become easier and easier as you practice these skills.

Find resources below to get you started, and know there are many additional services available to you as an MSU employee if you’d like further assistance, including Organization and Professional Development, the WorkLife Office, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), and Health4U

Upcoming OPD Courses (Live, Online Format)

Everything DiSC: Behavior Styles at Work | September 22

Identify and Maximize Your Strengths | October 28

The Power of Habit | October 20

SourceLive Articles

Burnout: How to Avoid It and What to Do if You’re Experiencing It

Unplugged: How to Disconnect from Work and Enjoy Your Vacation

Sources

https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolinecastrillon/2019/07/18/10-ways-to-set-healthy-boundaries-at-work/?sh=4628a9267497

https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2021/04/06/how-to-set-professional-boundaries-to-protect-your-time/?sh=2890f032e36b

https://mint.intuit.com/blog/early-career/setting-boundaries-at-work/

https://positivepsychology.com/great-self-care-setting-healthy-boundaries/

Leadership Blog Series: Recognizing and Managing Stress During Times of Change

Written by Sharri Margraves, HR Associate Director for Organization and Professional Development

Based on some of my behavior choices over the past year (e.g., purchasing 50 lbs. of flour — why?), some might say I did not handle the stress of the pandemic very well. I’d have to agree. Personally, it was terrifying last spring when the threat of economic collapse seemed imminent. Those fears lessened but were then replaced by worries of illness, death, and the safety of my loved ones as the pandemic doubled down in Michigan and throughout the world.

Many of us are now preparing for a new kind of stress that reflects more unknowns, such as potential changes in work location, expectations, tasks, and what that all means to us as employees and colleagues. We are collectively experiencing unprecedented change across the organization by virtue of budget impacts and changes in senior leaders — both of which have a way of cascading through an organization and challenging the status quo.

Check Your Stress Level

One thing the pandemic did not do was ease the “normal” stressors in life such as divorce, familial issues, debt, and job change, to name a few. Consider taking the Life Change Stress Test, a self-assessment scale developed as a predictor of an individual’s well-being and the likelihood of illness. Where are you currently on the life-change stress index?

We may not share a common experience to change. What one person feels is a great idea might feel like an unnecessary and stressful change to another. You might find exhilaration in tackling new systems while others might find the same experience overwhelming. How leaders navigate these next few crucial months is expected to impact employee stress and, therefore, employee motivation and satisfaction — essential aspects of building a healthy and positive culture for our students and colleagues.

Are You Languishing?

The fact is there are many unknowns still surrounding the pandemic that, when combined with our everyday stress to navigate, can lead to even fun activities like weddings and graduations causing an increase in stress and a decrease in motivation.

In the work context, the continuous change we have been experiencing along with ongoing uncertainty can lead to what Adam Grant of The New York Times recently described as languishing. People may not be considered depressed, but they’re not flourishing either. After months of being on high alert, our bodies and brains are likely tired, stressed, and burned out by this state of hypervigilance.

Reduce the Impact of Stress

Keep in mind that stress does not need to be negative to have an impact on you, and not all stress needs to be immense to add up. Often, it is the compounding of little things that have a large impact. Recognizing your typical and atypical stressors — be they “positive” or “negative” — and how they impact you personally and professionally can better prepare you to successfully manage your stress and move out of a state of languishing. Engaging in reframing your situation, learning new coping strategies, exercising, or seeking services through Health4U Stress Reduction, your healthcare provider or EAP are all places to begin.

Take some simple steps to help yourself and your team get through this period of continuing uncertainty with improved stress management strategies and increased motivation. Here are a few additional, self-paced resources you might find helpful:

elevateU Online Resources

Additional Resources

Grant, A., May 5, 2021. There’s a name for the blah you are feeling: It’s called languishing. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/19/well/mind/covid-mental-health-languishing.html

Holmes, T.H., and Rahe, T.H. “The Social Readjustment Rating Scale,” Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 11:213, 1967. https://www.dartmouth.edu/eap/library/lifechangestresstest.pdf

Challenge Your Ways of Thinking to Transform Negative Stress

Written by Andrea Williams, Organization and Professional Development.

Stress affects each of us in different ways. For some, it provides the motivation to finish a difficult task, but for others, stress has an extremely negative impact. Part of why this occurs is because our reaction to stressors is based largely on our own perception of the stressors rather than the stressors themselves. Since our perception helps determine our level of stress, we can change our reactions and help lower our negative stress levels by adjusting our thinking.

One approach is to utilize the ABC model to help reframe how we experience and manage stress.

  • A: Activating Event — the actual event that causes a stressful reaction
  • B: Belief — how the event is perceived based on your thoughts and feelings
  • C: Consequence — the feelings you have or the actions you take in response to the stressful event that are related to your beliefs about the situation

Put the ABC Model to Work

When you experience a stressful event — anything from a tight work deadline to an argument with a colleague to a major life change — keep the ABC model in mind as you go through the following three-step process to manage your reaction:

  1. Identify your beliefs. Ask yourself, “Why did this situation happen?” Keep in mind that if your beliefs aren’t accurate, you may be overly negative or irrational in your thinking, leading to an even more stressful response.
  2. Challenge the negative thoughts causing your reaction. For example, consider:
    1. Are my thoughts based on fact or opinion?
    1. Am I sure the event happened for the reason I think it did?
    1. Can I view the event in any other way?
  3. Replace your negative or irrational thoughts with positive, rational ones. Determine the aspects of your thought process that led you to react negatively — perhaps you tend to overgeneralize, take things personally or place blame. Checking your beliefs in response to a stressful event can lead to a more resilient reaction to the stressful situation you face, lowering the overall level of stress you experience.

Challenge Your Irrational and Negative Thoughts

Inaccurate perceptions of events, particularly irrational and negative thoughts, can lead to elevated stress and make situations worse than they already are. Common irrational or negative ways of thinking include:

  • Thinking in absolute terms
  • Assuming you know what others think or know
  • Assuming you know how a situation will turn out
  • Assuming similar situations will always turn out the same
  • Making excuses

When you find yourself experiencing negative stress over an event or situation, change your perception of the event by challenging your thinking. Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • Is my understanding logical?
  • Is there any evidence to support my understanding?
  • Am I overreacting?
  • Are my expectations realistic?
  • Am I taking things too personally?
  • Am I wrongly blaming myself or others?

Although we can’t always avoid life’s stressors, we can manage our negative stress when we understand how it affects us. Taking deliberate steps to examine and transform negative stress can help improve everything from your job performance to your physical and mental well-being. For additional stress management assistance, take advantage of the many resources available to MSU faculty and staff, including the Employee Assistance Program (EAP)Health4U, and the MSU WorkLife Office.

Source:

Skillsoft Ireland Limited. Take a Deep Breath and Manage Your Stress. Retrieved April 22, 2021 from https://elevateu.skillport.com/skillportfe/main.action?path=summary/COURSES/pd_30_a03_bs_enus