Take it down a notch: How to spot and diffuse workplace stress

By Jeanne Reynolds | 

If only our co-workers were more like cartoon characters (well, some are, but that’s a story for another day). It would be easy to see who’s stressed to the max and about to blow: the wide glassy stare, hair and clothes in knots, maybe some smoke rising from the brain.

Outside the comics page, it’s a little harder to tell who’s an unexpected deadline away from becoming total toast. But there are common signs that point to a stressed employee. The key is noticing changes in normal behavior.

If you spot any of these telltale signs in a colleague, friend or family member — or maybe yourself — it may be time to step in and offer help.

  • Looking unusually tired or unkempt
  • Making mistakes or exhibiting forgetfulness
  • Being unusually indecisive or making poor decisions
  • Moodiness – tearful or angry
  • Overly sensitive to criticism (out of the ordinary)
  • Working longer hours or often late
  • Not participating in meetings or conversations
  • Missing deadlines and goals
  • Frequent colds or infections
  • Skin irritation or rashes
  • Excessive sweating

While this isn’t a complete list, and these symptoms are not exclusive to stress reactions, the sudden onset or presence of many of these could indicate an individual is experiencing difficulties that need attention.

“Being able to identify a change or sudden shift in behavior or overall mood can certainly point to a person experiencing significant stress,” Michelle Jackson said. “And often, just asking if a person is okay or if they need anything helps someone acknowledge something is wrong and they need help.”

How to help
Here are some practical steps you can take to help a stressed colleague:

  • Talk to the person privately if you feel comfortable doing so, or alert your manager. Stick to what you’ve observed and avoid assuming what’s causing it.
  • Offer your support and assistance temporarily take on additional duties if you’re able.
  • Remind the person of other resources that might be available, such as your company’s employee assistance program or HR staff.
  • Invite the person to take a walking break with you, or hold a walking meeting. Exercise is a great way to manage stress and open creative channels.
  • Laugh together. Laughter has a slew of health benefits, including elevating moods.

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