by | Aug 23, 2022 | Leadership Mastery, Wellbeing at work

Stress at work

Written byNina Shepard

With 25 years of executive experience in insurance industry in the US and Europe, Nina brings a unique perspective to coaching conversations. She understands leadership challenges and uses practical approach that enables her clients to develop strategies for success, maximum impact, and greater confidence. She is especially strong at helping leaders succeed in their first C-suite role.

As we gradually approach the end of summer vacations and think about returning to a busy season in September, take a moment to revisit your relationship with stress in life, particularly at work.

Overwhelm and stress have become inevitable companions of the modern workplace. 

Recent Gallup  State of the Global Workplace Report has shown that 50% of the U.S. workforce has experienced “a lot of stress most of the day” at work. That’s the highest ever since 2009. 

It affects everyone; therefore, as leaders, we shall have it high on our leadership agenda and learn how to address it for ourselves and our team. 

The negative consequences of having overwhelmed people at work are dramatic: chronic stress leads to disengagement and burnout, leaving organizations with lower productivity and customer satisfaction levels, higher absenteeism and turnover, and, ultimately, lower profits.

If you’ve been in a leadership position for the past two years, you already know that stress at work has reached “the next level.” The hope that “a new normal” will soon reset to the familiar is gone. We operate in a radically different environment. To succeed as a Leader, you must find ways to make it more acceptable and enjoyable for yourself and your team members. 

There are several fundamental things to keep in mind when thinking about and developing your stress-handling strategy:


Understanding the broader context that employees face and adjusting communication and actions accordingly is essential. The workplace is not the only source of stress. A recent poll from the American Psychological Association has revealed that a large majority of Americans are reporting high-stress levels due to financial concerns, inflation, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Those factors significantly contribute to the overall stress level and are being “brought’ to work daily, not making things easier.

Although I’m not encouraging you to get too involved in your employees’ lives outside work, expressing care and empathy is appreciated by most people. “Even a cat likes a kind word,” – my grandma used to say. 


In my coaching practice, I focus on helping senior executives succeed in a new role. A substantial component of better preparation for success is learning to be comfortable navigating a complex fast-changing environment. The opposite is feeling overwhelmed, which is a commonly shared leadership challenge. Nowadays, on top of it, the whole team is experiencing the same and facing the risk of burnout.

Modern science has proven that, in general, stress is not bad for you; it’s a necessary component of living an active and fulfilling life. We need stress as a stimulator to perform at best, and the human body is well equipped to handle stress in small doses. However, when stress becomes the only constant way of operating, and there are no breaks for rest and downtime, it becomes a chronic condition, which is extremely harmful.

 American Psychological Association is listing the following effects of chronic stress: 

It affects all systems of the human body and our ability to move, breathe, supply oxygen, and nourish organs. Chronic or constant stress experienced over a prolonged period can contribute to long-term problems for the heart and blood vessels. The consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate, and the elevated levels of stress hormones and blood pressure, can take a toll on the body. This long-term constant stress can increase hypertension, heart attack, or stroke risk.

It’s not the stress but the absence of recharge time that makes stress so harmful. 


Chronic stress threatens well-being. 

To avoid it, we need to develop strategies for relaxation, embed them in everyday life, and eliminate multitasking at work.

Where can you start? 

A good starting point is setting basic sanity “hygiene” rules that are proven effective for reducing stress. Do that for yourself first:

  •  Engage in regular physical exercise
  • Get an adequate amount of sleep each night
  • Eat nutrient-rich food that energizes you and does not make you sick

Remember that today, more than ever, your well-being and state of mind have become your responsibility. And, as a Leader, you are a role model for your people!

So, promote those behaviors as a Leader and help your team to stay out of the most burnout-related trouble:

➨Encourage physical activities like walking breaks, standing desks, or stretching exercises. 

➨Consider providing the office with healthy snacks.

➨Never send emails to your team at night. Show respect for employees’ personal space and genuine care for their well-being. 

Need more ideas?

Brainstorm with your management team about what else you’re prepared to offer your employees.


If you are ready to substantially improve the quality of your life and erase chronic stress, consider using the approach developed by Dr. Dan Siegel, the creator of the Interpersonal neurobiology theory.

In addition to quality Sleep and Physical activity, incorporate those five practices into every day of your life:

  1. FOCUS time: dedicate undivided attention to focusing on a specific activity without distractions. 
  2. “TIME IN”: find at least 15 minutes a day for inward focusing, i.e., reflection on the day’s positives, meditation, or mindful breathing exercise.
  3. DOWNTIME: the study showed that taking time to “do nothing” allows you to become more productive and creative during your “focused work” hours. Feel stuck? Go for a walk!
  4. PLAYTIME: engage in new activities with no pressure or judgment attributed. Allow yourself to immerse in creative exploration. Come out refreshed and inspired. “Improv” is a great start if you don’t know where to look.
  5. CONNECTING TIME: expand your world by connecting with other people, other beings ( your pet is a great start!), or nature. Connect with gratitude for their being there for you and give in exchange.

Found this article helpful? Feel that you’d like to dig deeper and achieve sustainable success faster? 

➨ Schedule a chat with me at the time that works for you to find out more about how I can support you:


THE UPSIDE OF STRESS/ Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good At It by Kelly McGonigal

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