Is There a Vaccine For Stress?

While we can’t manage anyone else’s stress, only our own, there is a lot we can do to make sure we don’t “contaminate” our workplaces by spreading stress. I think that stress is more contagious than a virus. I refer to some people in workplaces as Henny Penny in the old fable, sighing heavily and mumbling the work equivalent of, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”

So here are some things that YOU can do to manage stress in your workplace (and maybe even in your household!):

Show more gratitude. Colleagues feel so much better when their work is noticed and appreciated. Remember to thank the colleagues you meet, to begin and end emails with appreciation, and to demonstrate thanks. Make sure your body language matches your appreciation, which is a sign that you can be trusted. What more can you do to show gratitude?

The more specific, the more terrific. Work on telling a peer, “I really think you captured the essence of our message here.” Or, “When you cut off the dominating voice in the meeting, and asked to hear from others, you had full control of the room and you gained respect. Well done.” The reason we all like specific gratitude is because it tells the recipient, “I am truly paying attention to the great work you are doing.” And no one can feel stress at the same time they are feeling appreciated.

You encourage others to show appreciation when you are a role model of specific gratitude.

Model reframing. Remind colleagues to seek out things to be grateful for, such as their job, its benefits, its environment, coworkers, etc., and to focus on what is right, not just what needs attention.

Be aware that this attitude will sometimes be met with eye rolls and sighs. No one likes to hear these things, but we know from research that no one can feel stress at the exact same time as appreciation, and those who feel less stress are terrific at reframing situations.

Add phrases such as these to your lexicon to model reframing challenges into a more positive light:

“I understand that person is challenging. When I work with her, it helps me to think that she is bringing up the issues others are thinking, but just too polite to mention.”

“This is a good problem to have.”

“All we can do is one thing at a time.”

“What can realistically be done with our existing resources, since they aren’t likely to change?”

“How can you pace yourself?”

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

“All I ask is for you to do what you can do with the time you have.”

Notice that some of your peers may wear stress as a badge of honor. “I have so much to do. I worked all weekend.” If the work can wait, maybe it should.

Don’t respond to emails at night or on weekends. When a workmate receives an email at night or on a weekend, their thoughts shift back to work. He or she may have been emptying the trash (mindless activities allow our brains to rest), or watching a great game on TV (distracting activities allow us to disengage), or having a quiet moment with a loved one (connecting with a loved one is the best stress antidote on the planet).

If you want to write emails at night or on weekends, that’s fine, but consider holding off sending them until work hours. Most email programs have a delay feature that is easy to use.

When you receive a work email at night or on the weekend, evaluate whether the message could have waited. If it could have waited, definitely don’t respond until work hours. If this is a trend from a few employees, encourage them to respect others’ down time.

If you are a leader in your organization, role model going home on time and taking vacations. Your employees are watching you. If you don’t take vacations, they won’t. And, in the long run, resentment will lead to a loss of productivity.

Laugh. Encourage laughter. Work is a social situation. Small talk a bit. Laugh a lot. When someone cracks a joke, be the first to laugh, and on occasion say, “Thanks for setting the tone,” or “Thanks for reminding us all to laugh.”

And most of all, manage your own stress. Practices such as meditation, prayer, yoga, Tai Chi, exercise, and healthy eating can all help alleviate stress in the office and at home.

Please share with me, how do you manage stress?

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  • Darlene T. Carver

    I release stress by reading your messages each week!!! Loved this one on stress. Will be using some ideas in my classes.

    • Karen Snyder


      You are too kind! I am so delighted to hear that there are parts you can use in your classes and programs.


  • Reply

    The Chief of Staff at our Army recruiting brigade had created a toxic leadership environment and was stressing out the entire staff. We all commiserated among ourselves and complained about him. But I realized that doing so was perpetuating the negativity. I resolved to stop complaining and to not spread any negativity to my staff. When the CoS yelled at me, I would stop in the stairwell before I returned to my office and shake it off. Then I would find something that needed his signature and go right back to his office with the next thing. Eventually, he had me stand in for him with our higher headquarters, and I got a top block rating and a Meritorious Service Medal from that assignment. Years later, we crossed paths in Afghanistan and he gave me a big bear hug. I beat stress by opting out of nurturing it.

    • Karen Snyder


      Thanks so much for taking the time to write. YES, occasionally, one is rewarded for working with that person no one else can work with. I am glad that was the case for you! Still, more often when people are difficult to work with and “share their stress freely” the best way to honor ourselves and our career is to find a less toxic environment. Thank you for sharing your story of incredibly positive engagement!


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