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Dealing with Workplace Stress

Michelle Lambarena shares tips for how to cope with workplace stress.
Dealing with Workplace Stress
Featured Speaker:
Michelle Lambarena
Michelle Lambarena is Director – Leadership and Organizational Development at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital.

Melanie Cole: It's Your Health Radio, a special podcast series presented by Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. Here's Melanie Cole. This is, It's Your Health Radio with Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. I'm Melanie Cole and today we are dealing with workplace stress. Joining me is Michelle Lambarena. She's the director of leadership and organizational development at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. Michelle, it's a pleasure to have you on. What a great topic we have with us today. Let's talk about workplace stress. What are the kinds of stressors that people generally experience in the workplace?

Michelle Lambarena: Well, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it, the kind of stressors that people find in the workplace can vary. They can be burnout. You know, if you're overwhelmed with work and you might not see the end in sight, it can be fear, fear of retaliation or being written up, maybe even laid off. It can also be acute stress, less damaging and more of the common type that we experienced throughout the day. It's, it ends quickly. It's not necessarily repetitive. Could be a job interview or a speeding ticket or just a single episode of an event that happened throughout your day. The problem here though with the acute is that if it's continuous and over a long period of time, it really can take a physical, mental, and maybe even emotional toll on the individual.

Host: Well, that's certainly true. I think we all experience that from time to time. You need to get a project done for that acute stress that you're talking about. You've got deadlines. All of these things play in. You mentioned how it can affect you physically and even mentally or emotionally. Tell us what that does physiologically to us when we're feeling those kinds of chronic and acute stress in the workplace.

Michelle Lambarena: Well, absolutely, so it's physically, mentally, and emotionally. Physically, the nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, adrenaline, cortisol, and these stress hormones prepare your body to react. In case of an emergency, your heart is pounding and your muscles, tighten your blood pressure rises, your breathing might get quicker, your senses become sharper. It's that mentality of fight or flight, right? Am I going to run out of this or am I going to fight my way out of it? It's the shutdown or the showdown, as they call it. Emotionally, individuals can feel all range of emotions. It can be sometimes even anger. It can be frustration, anxiety. The range of emotions can vary depending on the individual and the severity of what the stress might be that's happening for them at the moment.

Host: Well, stress is usually thought of as a negative experience, but it can be a positive one. Is that true or false? I mean sometimes if you've got that deadline, if you've got that acute stress, it makes you focus more or work harder. But the chronic stress, the fear of retribution or dealing with other employees or bosses, that kind of thing can be negative, but it can also make you motivated. Is that true?

Michelle Lambarena: It depends and I know that answer can go both ways. So if the experience is a traumatic one and one doesn't seek the appropriate support or appropriate care, this can manifest itself in other forms, behavioral health, a whole array of different things. Now, for example, on the other end, I have been through many stressful situations throughout my professional career, but it's also how I choose to look at them. Do I choose to look at them as lessons learned that have helped to shape me and take me where I'm currently at today or do I choose to look at them as why did this happen to me? Why does this always happen to me? Instead of looking at it from the viewpoint of, well, this happened, I learned something from it, and now I'm going to move on and take those lessons learned to where I'm headed to in the future.

Host: That's really interesting and chronically stressed people are more likely to do what? If we feel that kind of stress are we more likely to go home and slug a bottle of wine followed by some bourbon? Are we more likely to not sleep well or forego our exercise? If someone has that chronic work stress, what toll is it taking on them?

Michelle Lambarena: It can take everything that you've just talked about. It can be manifested itself in the family home life. It can be at work. You snap at your peers, or worse even, your leader, it can manifest itself in a whole array of performance issues. Maybe perhaps you're not meeting your deadlines, maybe you are not meeting your deadlines and you're also snapping at individuals. It's all about, and I'll digress a little bit, so it's all about really knowing what the individual's baseline is. If it's something outside of the norm, this is a great opportunity for them to check in with you and make you aware of what it is that's happening. Of course, in a very loving and caring way to check in and say, Hey, I noticed that the following keeps happening. What's going on? Let's talk about it.

Host: Well, that's really great advice and certainly the buddy system at work, recognizing that workplace stress in the people that you work with and work for. Give us some of your best tips, Michelle, because I think that's really what everybody wants to hear. Is there anything we can do? I mean, we've got our role in the organization. Our workload could be overwhelming for us or feeling a lack of preparation or running late for things, meetings and jobs. All of that kind of thing. Mistrust. How can we fix some of these? Is there a way?

Michelle Lambarena: First and foremost, it starts with awareness and knowledge of one's own stress levels. We can be aware before we have it escalate to a level where it's very difficult for us to come down from, and what I mean by that is if you know what your stress, how it manifests itself. Is it I start to get headaches or do I have trouble sleeping? Do I get chest pressure or tightening, do I become withdrawn or do I get a little extra loud? Really being aware of one's own stress and how we show it is extremely important. The other part of it is understanding what is your circle of influence as opposed to your circle of concern. The circle of concern is where individuals really just focus on blaming others, not taking action or not taking ownership and really just complain.

Whereas the circle of influence is. Our decisions determine our life, not our circumstance. We have influence over our own attitude, our skills, our habits. The other part of it is who are you surrounding yourself at work and at home? Do they add more drama and more stress in your day to day life? Then you actually need to have? And what does that mean? Do they support you and helping you find a solution or do they actually take you down an even further path of stress? Do they ask you, okay, so what are you planning on doing or how can I help you through this? Or do they actually add fuel to the fire by giving you the, Oh no, they didn't, right.

Or it's just one of those things we have to be aware of who we have in our life and are they adding to the stress or are they actually helping us cope and helping us through the process. In addition to that, the organization here at Henry Mayo as well as their community education classes, they have fantastic, fantastic courses available with regards to nutrition and diet and mental health. They have a healing circle. They have NAMI, which is national Alliance on mental illness, family to family or peer-to-peer. They practice mindfulness. They have a session on taking care of your body. There's also fitness and health to have all sorts of different opportunities and offerings to be able to find what works for you. Everyone is so different. Everyone is unique and so the way that you help to deal with that kind of stress will be just as unique as you are.

Host: Well, you've given us some really good questions to ask ourselves and things to think about, and I love healing circles. I think that's fantastic that Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital is offering these things to their employees, when it's the employer that's causing you stress. When you feel little recognition for a good job performance or you feel that it's not organized or there's a lack of systems in the workplace available. You obviously have just pointed out that Henry Mayo has a lot of systems in the workplace to help, but if someone is not there, what can they do if it's their employer because you're afraid to go above them to discuss that, what can you do?

Michelle Lambarena: One of the things that can be done is understanding that everyone is different. Sometimes the stress that we feel is also because of stories that we have told ourselves about the situation at hand, but what we can do to get ahead of those stories is communicate. If for example, you are overwhelmed with work and you don't see the end in sight going to your higher up and saying, you know what, I have the following things on my desk and you might know something that I'm not aware of, and I just wanted to check in to see if what is the immediate priority right now? And what would follow after that? Communicating in a way that really helps to draw in your leader and let them know, Hey, I'm a bit overwhelmed but you know what? I'm a team player and I can do this, but I just need some guidance. It's about communication, communication, communication, setting clear expectations.

If the leader or the organization isn't providing you with the why or they don't share the vision or the goal of where it is that you're headed, it's okay to ask, Hey, so what does the big picture look like here? I'm a big picture person or I'm a visual person, what does this look like for my own understanding as to how I can help impact this project or whatever it is that you might be working on. It's understanding that everyone is different. Understanding that everyone communicates differently and sometimes because we misunderstand different communication styles as something that we take personal. That's where sometimes a lot of the stress can come from. And then of course in an organization, if you have other leaders that help support, for example, my role I help to support frontline all the way to executive level, is having an individual that you know, is a safe place that you can go to to be able to bounce these ideas or concerns off of and you know that they're going to give you sound advice.

Host: That's great advice. And I'm a master at telling my bosses when I feel overstressed. So you know, they're a little afraid of me in that respect. But before we wrap up, what can employers do to minimize and address that workplace stress? You've mentioned what Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital does. What can other employers do to help round it all out so that everybody feels included and everybody feels listened to and heard? Give us your best advice.

Michelle Lambarena: I would say for organizations and leaders to listen, to understand, not to respond, including individuals in decision making process that's going to affect their day to day work is very important. And not just including them for the sake of including them, but including them to ensure that you have their insight. They're the ones doing the work. So of course they would be the most important people to get insight and guidance from as to what it is that's actually going on in the front line. So inclusion is extremely important. Recognizing people in different ways. There's a book called the five languages of appreciation in the workplace. This is a fantastic book that I recommend to all leaders, for you to be able to understand that there are different ways of recognizing individuals. And just because you like to be recognized in a certain way doesn't mean that your direct report also likes to be recognized that way. So understanding that and understanding that we have different communication styles. And so flexing your communication style to be able to really get the buy in and build relationships with direct reports is extremely important.

Host: Well, with all this great usable advice, now give us your best tips for ourselves if we feel like we're under that workplace stress and all of the symptoms you've described, whether we should be exercising, looking at our nutrition, meditation, yoga, communication, sleep, all of these things tie in together. Tell us what you'd like us to know about dealing with it in a healthy way so we don't deal with it in an unhealthy way.

Michelle Lambarena:So finding what makes you happy and finding what brings you joy. I share this with leaders all over the organization. I said, you are always giving and giving and giving, but you also need to take time to refuel, what I call the joy tank, and I'm sure I took that from a book somewhere and I don't remember where I got it from, but it's about refueling your energy tank. Being stressed and being stressed and overwhelmed takes a lot of your energy, mind, body, and soul, and so we need to stop and refuel ourselves, getting plenty of sleep. I personally, if I do not get a certain amount of sleep, I am a different person, a person that people do not want to be around, so I for the benefit of others, make sure that I get plenty of sleep every night. And then taking advantage of these free community education classes offered by Henry Mayo at Fitness and Health and they are free, which is fantastic.

College of the Canyons also has free career skill classes, one of them being navigating mental health issues in the workplace. It's an actual certificate that one can go and take. There are so many different things and resources that are available to us. Of course, there's also extremely important, crucial conversations. Sometimes when we're stressed, we have a really hard time communicating, so having that, those tools under our belt is extremely important. And remembering that the happiest people don't necessarily have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything.

Host: Absolutely. Great advice. What a great segment. Thank you so much, Michelle, for coming on and sharing your incredible expertise with us today. And that concludes this episode of It's Your Health Radio with Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. Please visit our website, for more information and to get connected with one of our providers. You can also visit the free health information library Please remember to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast and all the other Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital podcasts. I'm Melanie Cole.