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All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to stress.

Helping Your Co-Workers Deal with Stress

Helping Your Co-Workers Deal with Stress

We all come across these colleagues occasionally. People who are completely stressed-out, to the point that they’re snapping at others, putting off decisions, and are just scattered. Some of these folks seem to live their lives in this state (and enjoy it?) and for others, it’s an unusual occurrence when things just pile up too much. We’ve all been there, but working with an over-stressed person presents different challenges than being said person.

At first, you might avoid them and keep your head down, hoping they’ll sort it out. But when a co-worker is stressed and unable to find a way out, it starts affecting their work, your work and the overall morale of the team. In these cases, you can take a leadership approach and help them get that stress back under control and focus properly on the tasks-at-hand.

Approaching a strained person can make matters much worse if done insensitively. There is truth to that witty social media meme that says “Never in the history of calm down has anyone calmed down by being told to calm down.” Here are a few steps you can take:

  1. Start by checking yourself that you’re not being judgmental. Everybody reacts differently and manages different emotions. Keep that all in mind before moving too much further.
  2. Acknowledge the person’s stress and ask if you can help. If they say no, respect that.
  3. Start by listening carefully. Sometimes people just need to vent and put the situation into perspective.
  4. Continue listening and asking questions to help uncover the root of the stress, as well as consequences the person may be worrying about, again, to put things into perspective.
  5. Help the person solve those root problems with practical solutions. Offer to step-in where it makes sense.
  6. Encourage your colleague to take some time to relax with a walk or meditation, giving them time to reconnect with the present moment.
  7. Don’t get too involved yourself. Stress is contagious and your own mental health needs to stay intact. It’s great to help, but don’t let it bring you down.
  8. Most importantly, remain positive and keep calm yourself. If the person refused your help back in Step 2, maintaining that approachable and friendly demeanor is what will bring them to you for assistance when they’re ready.

Stressed out team members, colleagues, clients, recruiters, or family can all affect your life and career, as they bring down both attitude and productivity. You can’t keep avoiding them so the next best step is to help where you can. But while that’s all nice, remember, you’re not a trained psychiatrist and it’s certainly not your job to deal with other people’s stress-levels. It’s great to help, but everything must be balanced. How do you deal with the people in your life who are showing signs of excessive stress?

Multitasking Isn’t Always as Bad as Everyone Says… But It Can Increase Your Stress

Multitasking Isn't Always as Bad as Everyone Says... But It Can Increase Your Stress

Multitasking is not a new concept in the workplace and much research has been done on the topic for decades. Some people are proponents of it, digging for solutions on how to optimize your multitasking to get more done. Others hate the practice and there are plenty of studies proving that it harms your productivity. One thing all sides agree on is that multitasking can increase your stress levels and you need to keep that in check.

What Is Multitasking?

Taking a step back, for the purposes of this post, multitasking comes in two forms. First, there’s the practice of doing multiple items at once. For example, checking emails and writing code while on mute during a conference call.

The other, slightly harder-to-define, form of multitasking is alternating between tasks, without finishing one first. This is also the more common type of multitasking that is a reality for nearly all office workers. Many of us are checking email every 15-30 minutes while bouncing back and forth between projects.

How Multitasking is Stressing You Out

We won’t get into the debate of whether or not you should multitask. As already noted, for some, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate it all together. It is important, however, to recognize that you need to manage it to reduce your stress and better serve your clients.

We first need to understand what the brain is doing when we multitask. Studies have shown that although we believe we’re thinking about many items at once, the brain is more similar to your web browser, going back and forth between different tabs. It can only focus on one tab at once. Each time you go to a different task, it must use energy to open the other one and reprocess what’s happening. Too much of this can cause burnout and even lead to anxiety.

If we agree that multitasking harms productivity, then we can understand how it causes more stress because you start missing deliverables, submit bad work and it can all snowball into more negativity. In addition, the result of switching between projects can deteriorate your focus and, in turn, your ability to retain information.

On the other hand, if we subscribe to the belief that multitasking has benefits and improves productivity, studies continue to show that stress is inevitable. Interestingly, one study found that even when multitasking makes you more productive, you’re still likely to feel as though you weren’t productive which, you guessed it, leads to stress! Being a master multitasker also creates habits of needing to check-in. This causes stress when you find yourself in situations where you suddenly can’t regularly check emails or work on multiple items.

Taking the Stress Out of Multitasking

Certainly, if multitasking isn’t for you, the best solution is to eliminate it. Monotasking takes more discipline, but as noted a couple times already, many productivity experts swear by it. They say it allows you to be present in the moment and complete tasks faster.

To make it more of a reality in your job, you can monotask by creating sub-tasks and mini-goals. For example, rather than saying, “I’m going to focus on writing my resume and will not do anything else until it’s done”, you would say “For the next hour I’m going to focus on writing a summary of my Project Management experience in the Oil and Gas sector.”

If you want to continue multitasking, that’s great too. Here are a few quick tips that will help you get to where you want to be, and reduce your stress:

  • Use the right tools. There are plenty of apps to help you out with this and the most basic tool is a pen and paper. Write to-do lists and take notes on where you’re at with each task before switching. This prevents you from using energy when picking up where you left off.
  • Limit distractions. Multitasking is fine, but sometimes it’s toxic. Turn off your notifications so you control when you check email, not the other way around.
  • Know what requires your full attention. Sometimes you cannot multitask. Especially with more complex items or in subjects you’re still new and need all your brain power. Turn off the music, close out your email, and save all other projects for another day.
  • Practice! Like everything, practice makes perfect and multitasking is no different. Set your own routines and processes until you find a system that works for you.

Managing Your Stress and Anxiety Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

Managing Your Stress and Anxiety Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is causing drastic amounts of change and reaction from government, businesses and individuals. The unknown brings plenty of stress and anxiety to everyone, and that’s alright, as long as we deal with it in a healthy manner. While over-reacting and panicking has terrible consequences, under-reacting and denying the situation can also have tragic outcomes.

As the famous Serenity Prayer says “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the thinks I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It’s easier said than done, but a step towards eliminating anxiety is to identify what’s stressing you out, and then decide if you can even control it. If you can’t, then let it go.

6 Things Within Your Control to Help Reduce COVID-19 Anxiety

The most uplifting news you need to remember is that you have full control over a number of actions. Taking control helps you rid anxiety because you know you’re doing your part. The most obvious example relating to the Coronavirus is that you can follow all recommendations that have been handed down from health professionals so we can flatten the curve. Here are six other suggestions, completely within your control, that will help reduce anxiety and help others while you’re doing it:

  1. Control the Information You Take In. The first step is to replace irrational thoughts with facts, which you can do by staying informed. But there is such a thing as being too Depending too much on articles from your Facebook feed or allowing yourself to go down an Internet rabbit hole is going to inundate you with information and much of it will not be valid. To prevent anxiety from over-information, find 2 or 3 credible, trusted organizations and stick with them for information. Only review the sources a couple times per day, and aside from that, stop yourself from being exposed to any other information related to COVID-19. The World Health Organization recently launched a service on WhatsApp so you can get information direcetly from them.
  2. Stay connected with people. Social distancing, quarantining and isolating does not mean you can’t have any social life. Make extra effort to maintain contact with friends and family. We can guarantee that the Coronavirus does not spread through text, social media, and phone calls.
  3. Take Care of Those Around You. Deliver groceries or take a moment to call somebody who you know is probably alone and worried themselves. Simply put, be kind to others. These are already stressful times and petty arguments are extremely unproductive. Making other people’s lives easier also just feels good and improves your mental health.
  4. Keep a healthy routine. Working from your home office for 8 hours, eating an greasy meal and then sitting on the couch until it’s time for bed is going to deteriorate your mental health. You probably have extra time, so experiment with new, healthy meals and fix up that sleep schedule. You can also help your mental health by getting outdoors, continuing (or starting) an exercise routine, as well as making time for relaxation and mindfulness, such as reading, taking a hot bath, practicing meditation or doing yoga.
  5. Help Your Kids Cope. Anybody who has kids is probably already going crazy. On top of trying to entertain them and split up fights every 10 minutes, you might be getting blasted with questions about what’s happening in the world, and that increases your own anxiety. Remember to stay calm and stick with brief facts. Allow them to ask those questions, but limit responses to what they need to know and especially limit their exposure to news sources that spread fear.
  6. Seek Help When You Need It. Most importantly, understand that there will be times when you don’t have the answers and coping alone isn’t going to cut it. Whether that means calling a friend or a professional, know when it’s time to reach out. Below are some links with information from credible organizations that can help you get started.

While we’re doing what we can to protect our physical selves from the Coronavirus, we can’t forget about our mental health as well. It’s normal to experience extreme amounts of anxiety due to the uncertainty; however, being able to cope mentally is a necessity in moving forward and getting through these unprecedented times.

Resources

Let’s Talk About Mental Health in Tech

Let's Talk About Mental Health in Tech

Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day. A day when Canadians are encouraged to speak out about their struggles with mental health and breakdown the stigma often associated with mental illnesses. In the last 10 years, mental health awareness has taken a front-seat in many organizations around the world and we’re becoming increasingly aware that we’re all impacted by it.

A 2018 study by Sunlife Financial revealed that nearly half of Canadians have experienced a mental health issue, but the reality is that 100% of us have. Mental health issues go beyond more talked-about illnesses like severe depression, addiction, and schizophrenia. They include work-related stress, burnout and anything else that prevents you from being completely present. When not treated, each of these can become more severe and lead to negative outcomes.

Bell Let's Talk Day LogoIT contractors are not immune to mental health issues and, in fact, many believe they are at higher risk. According to the BIMA Tech Inclusive & Diversity Report 2019, tech workers in the UK are at least 5 times more depressed than average, with those in web design and development, admin and project management most likely to experience symptoms. These findings make sense given the nature of the tech industry and many IT jobs. It is not uncommon to hear about developers working late into the night, depriving themselves of sleep, which has severe long-term effects on one’s mental health. But even without that common stereotype, technology-related positions are often isolated and high-stress. They regularly have tight deadlines, implementations lasting hours longer than they’re supposed to, and a lack of ability to “wait until Monday” when things go wrong.

The nature of contracting also has elements that are known to lead to mental illness. A study by the University of California found that 72% of entrepreneurs experienced mental health concerns. They coined the term “Founder’s Blues.” That’s because on top of having to excel at your own position, you’re also dealing with running your own business and always thinking about the unknown as you search for the next gig. Adding to the problem is that independent contractors don’t have the same support systems as an employee. There is no HR department with resources and programs, nor is there an option to take a Mental Health Day without giving up pay.

Improving Mental Health Issues in the IT Industry

Many are already recognizing the increased risk of mental health issues in tech. Open Sourcing Mental Illness (OSMI) is a non-profit organization that is created specifically to help those in the tech sector. They conduct regular studies, share data, and provide access to resources around mental well-being. Another organization made up of tech professionals around the world is Prompt, which encourages conversation of mental health in the IT industry. An initiative of the Travis Foundation, Prompt connects speakers on the subject with conference and meetup organizers.

Of course, you do not need to be part of a non-profit organization to help tackle this issue in your industry. Being aware of your own mental health and knowing when to take action and care for yourself is the first step. You can also look out for others and encourage them to take a break when they need it. Watch for symptoms like headaches, being withdrawn, taking time off, missing deadlines, letting work slip, sudden weight loss or gain, and lack of care over personal appearance.

When you take a cough drop and get some extra sleep because your throat is a bit sore, you can prevent a cold that may have knocked you down for a week. Similarly, recognizing symptoms of a mental health issue and acting upon them quickly will prevent it from snowballing into lost work and damaged relationships.

Tips for Beating Stress and Burnout

Tips for Beating Stress and BurnoutIt’s not unusual for IT contractors to burn the candle at both ends while juggling multiple clients and balancing their personal life. Everybody is human, though, and living such a lifestyle will only last so long. Eventually, stress catches up and burnout is inevitable, leading to a crash and all productivity being lost. While there is nothing wrong with taking on a lot to get the most out of your day, it’s important for your personal health to both recognize the signs that stress is building up, and then act on those symptoms before burnout sets in.

Fast Company recently published a series of articles on the topic of stress and burnout. In this post, the author researched medical professionals’ tips on recognizing four physical signs of stress:

  1. You’re tired in the morning but unable to fall asleep at night – chronic stress causes cortisol levels to become imbalanced so they’re low in the morning and then rise at night.
  2. You have a nervous stomach – stress makes it easier for bad bacteria to fester than good bacteria, plus it threatens your gut’s permeability. Those who are more stressed end up getting digestion difficulties, inflamed pores and acne breakouts, IBS symptoms and more.
  3. Your heart is in panic mode – Also known as “fight or flight mode” this increases blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and respiration which are supposed to be for short-term emergencies.
  4. Your mind is scattered – Stress causes people to have trouble accessing memories or information and minds have difficulty focusing.

Another Fast Company article continues to highlight the importance of recognizing these signs. In fact, its top tip for avoiding burnout is just that. It states that if you’re feeling like you’re coming down with a cold, it’s a challenge to get out of bed, you’re less interested in hanging out with friends, it’s hard to pay attention and/or if you’re grumpy and irritable, you may be on the verge of burn-out. Acting on these signs early is crucial to avoid it from getting out of control. In addition, the article suggests you can prevent burnout from taking over your life by:

  • Regularly assessing your vitals such as heart rate and cortisol levels
  • Getting out of the house and connecting with friends to build social support
  • Volunteering for an organization that you connect with
  • Adjusting your outlook on life, focusing on projects and items you can control, rather than factors beyond your control
  • Getting quality sleep by cutting out TV and other screens before bed and setting the room temperature to be a bit cooler

Finally, one other Fast Company article referenced a University of Michigan study to beat stress. It says that just 20-30 minutes in nature can cause cortisol levels to drop and will continue to drop for up to 60 minutes. The good news is that “nature” does not have to be the middle of the woods, but simply in your own mind. For example, relaxing by a tree on the street can have those effects.

Of course, many other websites and blogs discuss stress and burnout reduction techniques on a regular basis. Inc recently dug up a video of 28-year-old Bill Gates, claiming the secret to avoiding burnout is to add variety into your day and keep doing different things. And Glassdoor has this list of 9 tips to beat anxiety and stress in the workplace:

  1. Be Prepared – know what you get anxious for and prepare yourself before those situations
  2. Exercise – you feel less stress and anxious when you’re healthy, plus it helps clear your head
  3. Be with Friends – have a support network of people you can call to calm you down or tell you jokes
  4. Eat healthy – It keeps you healthy (see #2) plus junk food makes you feel tired and weak
  5. Relax – take a few minutes for yourself to listen to music or play a quick game and re-focus
  6. Hydrate – Drink plenty of water, not coffee as it will make you jittery
  7. Pace yourself – Set reasonable deadlines for projects and leave wiggle room so there is time to relax
  8. Meditate – Guided meditation, sitting in meditative poses and yoga help all ease anxiety and stress
  9. Professional support – Therapists and councillors will help guide you through tough times

Failure to manage your stress, anxiety and burnout symptoms means you are a train wreck waiting to happen. In addition to the tips above, it is recommended to plan for vacation and/or time between contracts where you can re-energize. Otherwise, it will not be long before your productivity and service begins to drop and you put your reputations as a quality IT contractor into jeopardy.

The Science of Relaxation and Stress

Everyone has felt stressed at some point in their life, but too much stress (aka chronic stress) can have several negative effects on our life. The problem is that sometimes this stress becomes so routine, you stop noticing it.

This can be prominent in the IT industry, just as much as others. As an independent contractor, you may find that constantly seeking new contracts and entering new working environments adds additional stress points to your daily life. If that’s the case, then it’s time to find a method to de-stress!

TheBackStore.com makes it easy with their infographic on how to discover your type of stress and reduce it.

The Science of Relaxation and Stress #infographic

Get More Positive Stress at Work

Positive pressures create a way to balance out anxiety and worry

This post by Mark Swartz was originally published on the Monster Career Advice Blog.

Get More Positive Stress at Work (Positive pressures create a way to balance out anxiety and worry)Here’s some sunny news about stress: certain types can actually be good for you. A bit of pressure and nerves gets you focused.

But too much of what happens at work creates “distress” (negative tension). Like lack of control. Or not enough resources to do the job well. That can lead to ailments of the body and mind.

Creating more positive tension, also known as “eustress,” takes a conscious effort. A number of techniques are available to turn this into a healthy habit.

Good Stress Builds You Up

We all know the symptoms of stress. Over time the bad kind can lead to health problems, or play havoc on emotions unless dealt with.

Eustress does the opposite. There’s still tension and pressure involved. Only it challenges you to try harder, reminds you to concentrate on what’s important, and generates results that improve self-confidence.

Good stress is a great antidote to negative tension. There is less wear and tear, more drive toward accomplishment.

How Eustress Is Experienced

You know that feeling of butterflies in your stomach? Not the kind that makes you violently nauseous, or leaves you paralyzed with fear.

It’s more like the nervousness you feel on the way to a job interview you’ve prepared for, or before making a presentation in front of your colleagues.

The adrenalin is flowing. Your heart pumps faster and louder. All of your senses seem amplified. This fight-or-flight response makes you more alert and ready for the tasks at hand. It seems like whatever is about to happen will be within your coping abilities.

When the challenge you’re facing is completed, relative calmness returns. Eustress tends to be short-term and event-specific.

Typical Good Stressors At Work

There are lots of examples of positive personal stressors on the job. These may include:

  • Starting a new job or career you’re excited about
  • Receiving a desired promotion or raise
  • Relocating for work after asking to be re-assigned
  • Getting ready for a much needed vacation when things are busy
  • Preparing for retirement

 

Big events such as changing jobs or relocating don’t arise frequently. So you’ll have to produce your own eustress on a more regular basis. Consider the examples below.

Learn a new skill

It can be stressful to try and pick up new knowledge or skills. Yet it ultimately brings about self-improvement and increased personal marketability. Those are the hallmarks of eustress.

Set Firmer Boundaries

Have you said “no” recently when the boss asked you to work nights and weekends? Standing up for yourself takes gumption. It often creates tension at first, which encourages you to take care and do it respectfully.

Volunteer To Do A Presentation

Few things boost your profile like giving a well-prepared talk. Yet few things are as nerve-wracking as public speaking. The secret is to know your stuff, cater to the needs of your audience, and rehearse till it hurts.

Deal With Workplace Conflicts

It is risky to confront an annoying colleague or supervisor. However if something must be done, proceed in ways that are likely to generate eustress. Plan your approach carefully. Try to propose win-win solutions. And do your best to keep emotions in check.

Take On A Stretch Assignment

Step out of your comfort zone every so often. Offer to work on a committee that puts you in a leadership role. Attempt to solve a problem that no one else has been able to.

Eustress Versus You Stress

Worry and strain are among the many aspects of working life. They need to be balanced with positivity in your daily routine.

Eustress is beneficial pressure that ignites your resolve to succeed. Insert more of it into your overall activities. At first you may feel increasingly vulnerable. But as you learn to manage the fears, you can harness those butterflies to fly in formation.

Mental Health: Important for Independent Contractors

And What They Can Do To Improve It

Why Mental Health Is Important for Independent Contractors and What They Can Do To Improve ItTaking steps to de-stress and manage your wellbeing is important for both your own happiness as well as your performance at work. Being an IT independent contractor can sometimes be more stressful than working full-time – a lack of surety about future work and regular changes in workplaces and colleagues aren’t easy for everyone to handle. But that’s okay – here are 4 simple tips for improving your mental health.

  1. Healthy Eating
    Pay attention to your diet – it’s important not just for your physical health but your mental wellbeing too. Nutritionist Naomi Mead suggests that you carry healthy snacks around with you, such as fresh fruit and raw nuts: “This takes away the element of choice when you are out and about and faced with temptation. It also gives you something to snack on and distract you if you get a craving for cake!” Taking a lunchbox to work can be both a cheap and healthy option – you can pack enough to keep going throughout the day, and it will help you to resist the temptation of a visit to the vending machine. Fruit-based snacking or ‘grazing’ is particularly good for getting you through a long day, while still allowing you to eat healthily!
  2. Gardening and the Great Outdoors
    People experience varying levels of stress depending on their access to outdoor space. Gardening at weekends or even for half an hour after work can help you de-stress and recharge after a long day in front of the computer. You could also have a go at rearranging your garden furniture, using ideas of feng shui to encourage a sense of peace and wellness in your garden.
  3. A Support Network
    Creating and maintaining a social network of other independent contractors specializing in information technology can be highly beneficial to your mental health. If things become particularly stressful and your mental wellbeing suffers due to your work, having a group of like-minded people sympathetic to your situation can be a great support. Maintaining strong relationships with other friends and family will also improve your mental health, but having people around you who understand the specific pressures of working on tech projects can be especially helpful!
  4. Yoga
    Ever tried yoga? Popular reasons for taking it up include stress relief and the improvement of physical/mental health according to Harvard. The majority of practitioners report a strong sense of mental clarity too. Another benefit of yoga is that you can do it pretty much anywhere! If you have a spare 20 minutes in your lunch break, try and find a nearby green space – it’s the perfect activity to do outside, relaxing your mind and body as well as getting you out in the open air.

About the Author
Irma Hunkeler works for BlueGlass.co.uk, a digital marketing agency. Her experience includes working for clients in different industries such as travel, retail, recruitment, technology and charitable institutions. Meeting professionals from different fields allows her to collaborate with industry experts for her writing.

How Stress and Anxiety Hurt Your Health

Stress is evident in almost everybody’s lives, but tends to be stronger for those who are busy, including independent contractors.  Just this past week in the Talent Development Centre we showcased common challenges such as handling large projects, making tough decisions and learning new things – all of which can come with high pressures.  Are you aware of the consequences high stress levels can have on your health?  Do you know how to manage that stress so you can live longer?  This quick video from Business Insider summarizes it all.

When the Stress is High, Slow Things Down!

We all go through periods of time when the stress levels are a little more than normal. Sometimes things are so tense that they really test your limits!  If you live life to the fullest then you are continually making commitments in both your personal and your professional lives (which are invariably intertwined) and every now and then you find yourself stretched beyond your comfort zone.stressed out person

When you find yourself in that position you really need:

  1. A stress management plan; and
  2. Good time management skills!

It is your time management skills that will help you to take control in identifying everything that needs to get done, prioritizing contracts, delegating wherever possible, and creating a series of tasks to accomplish all of those projects.  Once you have that plan in place and start to knock off the tasks, you will invariably feel better.

Before you get to that point it is likely that your brain will go into overdrive, you will feel out of control, you will lose sleep and be short tempered and that is when you need to manage that stress.

We are all a little different, but there are some basic principles that you can apply:

  1. Breathe!  You need to pay attention to your body, and if you do you will notice your heart rate is up, you are having trouble focusing on any one thing and your breathing is quite shallow.  You have to physically slow things down, breathe deeply, take charge of your mind and focus on the task at hand.
  2. Look after yourself.  It is important that you don’t succumb to the natural tendencies of eating and drinking to excess, cutting back on sleep and not exercising!  All of that is the exact opposite to what will help you!  Take time to work out and get those endorphins flowing through your body.  Eat a healthy diet, don’t overdo the alcohol and get your full night’s sleep!  Looking after the body will always help the mind!
  3. Don’t take it out on those around you!  Your temper will be shorter than normal and as long as you recognize that, you can control your reactions appropriately. Remember the old adage, “engage brain before opening mouth”!  You will need to be just a beat slower in what you say, to avoid the inevitable “foot in mouth” syndrome.

If you can manage to do all of the above, without it being obvious to people that you are under extreme stress, then you will be mastering techniques used by great leaders everywhere.  Not a bad skill set to cultivate!

Do you have any other stress management techniques that you use? Share them with our readers in the comments below!