Conditions in our teams can sometimes add to our negative stress. You might be in a difficult season or have a tricky personality in the team. There could be a clear misalignment. Perhaps you need to make a major strategic shift and you’re concerned about the impact on the team. Perhaps your team members are doing it tough and you feel powerless to support them.
The impact on you as leader
You might wonder about the effect of this stress on your health and wellbeing. As a health professional in my first career, this is something I’ve thought about a lot. Lying awake at night thinking about a stressful situation – this can’t be good for your health.
As the leader of your team, your stress and wellbeing has a major impact on the stress and wellbeing of your team members. If you want to improve the wellbeing in your workplace, one of the first places to start is to improve your own wellbeing.
An alternative viewpoint
I remember in my early 20s I was talking with a successful IT professional about his work and life – he was busy, with family, friends, work, being in a band and community commitments. But something he said stuck with me, it was so different to the prevailing view. When I asked him about being busy, he said “Life’s great. I’m super busy but it’s great.” So I pressed the question, asking if the busyness was stressful and he said “No, I am not stressed actually, I love everything I do, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
The ‘positive winter mindset’
I was reminded of this while reading an article in New Scientist recently (the December 5 edition). A health psychologist conducted research in Norway, in the middle of winter. She looked specifically at the mindset that copes with stress.
Did you know that in Norway, rates of seasonal affective disorder, or ‘wintertime depression’, are quite low – even though people experience some of the coldest, darkest winters on Earth? There people thrive in winter, despite the extreme temperatures and two months of darkness.
This scientist’s research showed that people in Norway have a more positive mindset about winter – they view it as a cosy time, with lots of opportunity for recreation and being part of the fascinating changes happening in nature. Basically, they love the winter.
The power of our view on stress
Research shows when we view stress as being useful for our health and performance and mental wellbeing, it actually creates a self-fulfilling prophecy – in other words, it actually becomes useful for our health, performance and mental wellbeing.
One study in the US – a survey of nearly 30,000 people – found that those who experienced a lot of stress but didn’t think it was bad for them had better outcomes than people who experienced less stress but perceived it as damaging.
So it’s not the circumstances you experience that decide whether you’ll be negatively stressed by them, but whether you believe they are bad for you.
The difficult circumstances are still there, and mindset doesn’t solve everything, but it changes how the circumstances will impact you personally.
“Understanding that mindsets exist and you can control them is tremendously powerful.” Kari Leibowitz, Health Psychologist (New Scientist, 5 December 2020)
So what can you do?
Steps you can take
You can be an incredible influence on the people in your team with some subtle reframes.
1. Hold back on the moaning. Moaning reinforces a negative mindset, and affects your mood and because emotions are contagious, it also affects others. Instead, hold back on the moaning. Look for things you can control and embrace the small wins.
2. Be an ambassador for good stress. You don’t want to discount your team members’ own personal experiences of stress, but when you talk about your own experience, be an ambassador for good stress – difficult situations present their own opportunities. There’s usually an opportunity to reconnect with what is important with you, to learn a new skill or to do something differently. Talk about the opportunities.
3. Take some positive initiative. And take some initiative to love your team that little bit more – deciding to do something positive will mean you’ll be less stressed by the circumstances in your team. “Remember that if you don’t take initiative, the status quo will persist.” Adam Grant, Originals.