This week I facilitated a Happy Healthy Nonprofit workshop for nonprofit professionals hosted by CVNL in Marin County. Before focusing on workplace strategies and culture change, participants go through some reflective exercises, including taking the nonprofit burnout assessment, identifying stress triggers and reactions before creating a self-care plan.
As a group, I have participants take an online poll, answering the questions, “What are your workplace stress triggers?” As the word cloud appears on the screen, we discuss the triggers and reactions.
A “Stress Trigger” may not need to be defined, but it is something or someone that causes you to have a impulsive reaction that may not be the best response to the situation and create more stress. If your stress is being triggered repeatedly at work (or elsewhere) this can lead to burnout. And sometimes, we are not even aware of the symptoms, let alone changing the situation. Anne Grady, in a recent HBR blog post, describes the harm that repeated stress triggers can create in the workplace:
“When you are triggered, the emotional part of your brain takes over. You are flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, the same neurotransmitters and hormones that have evolutionarily protected us from threats like bear attacks (freeze, fight, or flight). Your logical brain temporarily shuts down, and you lose the ability to solve problems, make decisions, and think rationally.
When this happens, you have been emotionally hijacked, and it is difficult to see things as they really are. You go into protection mode, and until the perceived threat or trigger has dissipated, you will remain there. Over time these reactions can lead to acute anxiety, depression, irritability, fatigue, and other health problems from heart disease to lowered immune response.”
As the above word cloud indicates, sometimes stress is triggered by other people at work, leadership, board, or co-workers. One of the ways to reduce handle this stress, is to flex your emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. (Daniel Goleman who coined the term “emotional intelligence” brought it to a wide audience with his book of that name, and it was Goleman who first applied the concept to business with a series of HBR articles.)
These qualities may sound “soft”, but Goleman found direct ties between emotional intelligence and measurable results. With regular intelligence, you are generally as “smart” now as you ever are going to be. People learn new facts but their intelligence, or their ability to learn, remains largely the same. Emotional Intelligence is a flexible skill that can be readily acquired and practiced. People can actually increase their emotional intelligence by working on the skills – and manage their stress better.
1: Make Time Everyday for Reflection: Keep a Journal
The first step is self-awareness and that happens through tracking and observing yourself in work situations that trigger stress. One way to do this is to build in some reflection time into your day and maintain a journal. Self-care and managing your stress is all about establishing and maintaining good habits, and writing it down helps you change and commit to the good habits.
There are also many other benefits to writing a journal. Reflective writing has also been shown to improve decision-making and critical thinking. It also helps you keep track of progress made towards goals.
If people at work are triggering your stress and challenging your emotional intelligence, use these journal prompts to help you reflect:
- How is it impacting me physically, emotionally, and psychologically?
- What triggers these feelings and emotions?
- What action can I take to manage the situation and my emotional response more effectively?
2: Track Your Moods
The above is an example of how to do this with pen and paper, another way is to use apps called Mood Trackers, journals that let you chart your emotions and thoughts and test different self-management techniques.
I tested a number of those apps and found the best one for me was “Moodnotes,” you can track your emotions in different work situations and it prompts you to reflect on the situation and how to manage it. Having this self-awareness lays the groundwork to help you effectively manage your stress triggers at work.
How you manage stress triggers at work? Do you keep a journal? What is your favorite journaling technique?