stress management for leaders

Managers need to be aware of and manage stress at work, especially during change

I have written several articles about leading and managing change.   And by now, I’m sure you know, change can be emotional and sometimes chaotic.  I speak from experience, having been a Manager during a lot of change.  As managers (much like parents!), we tend to focus on our responsibility to others.  We want to help others manage stress at work, often failing to acknowledge that we ourselves may be suffering from stress as well.  But how can we take care of others if we don’t take care of ourselves?

Why Managers are at risk for stress at work during change

As I have pointed out in other articles – middle managers are particularly pulled in many directions.  Not only do you need to manage staff, but you are often engaging with executive to both take direction and report on results.  Even during “regular” times, you probably feel you are juggling too many things.  But change can add a whole new dimension!  Depending on the scope and complexity of change – the number of balls you are juggling could increase exponentially!  And some (most!) change initiatives take way longer than expected.

And I’m sure you already know that you can’t be effective in helping others unless you are at your best.  I’m sure you have already heard (and rolled your eyes!) about the importance of taking time for yourself.  And trust me, I have been there and know how impossible it seems to find the time for that!  So I’m going to try to provide some practical and achievable tips on how you can manage stress and avoid burn out during organizational change.

4 Strategies for Leaders to Manage Stress at Work

Recognize and accept that you are human!

While this seems obvious, we often set ridiculous expectations for ourselves.  We learn how to help others with resistance to change.  And since we “know better”, we may be hard on ourselves when our own emotions pop up.  So rather than be critical of yourself, recognize that your body and mind is asking for help.  Tune in to what you need and help yourself just like you would help others.

Manage your stress during the work day

I know it is often difficult to find moments for yourself, but try to at least “check in” with yourself periodically to see how you are doing.  Being proactive, and catching the stress before it consumes you, will save you much time and grief.  Perhaps start with my previous article on managing stress in the workplace.  And try some simple techniques you can do at work, such as visualization for reducing stress.

Take good care of yourself outside of work

Once again, I’m sure you know the importance of getting enough sleep and proper nutrition.  But it is especially important when dealing with stress!  That’s often the time we have trouble sleeping.  And we end up grabbing sugary snacks and caffeine to try and keep our energy levels up.  Which sets the cycle of poor sleep and bad nutrition.

Moving your body and calming your mind will help with sleep and with your energy levels and focus during the day.  So be sure to build in some physical activity every day, if possible.  Even walking a few blocks to and from work, or on a lunch break will help.  Not only is it important for the health of your body, but exercise improves our mood and helps with concentration.  I am a big fan of yoga, because the combination of physical movement, breathe awareness and focus also calms my mind and emotions.

Additionally,  you can incorporate meditation or mindfulness techniques on their own.  And while many feel overwhelmed at the idea of finding 20 minutes to meditate – even 5 minutes a day can have a big impact on calming your mind.  Find a time of day when you can do it consistently – whether it’s getting up 5 minutes earlier in the morning, or locking yourself in your office for 5 minutes at noon.

And don’t forget to nourish yourself with something joyful!  Whether it’s a walk in the park, playing with your kids (or dog!), painting or gardening.  Try to do something once a week that makes you feel great and energized!

Have a support network

Knowing that we need to be strong and confident with our employees and supervisors, we need people that can help support us during difficult times.  The nature of that support will really vary for individuals.  While some might want that friend that we can tell all our troubles too, others might just want a racket ball partner to help release their stress on the court!

In the workplace, perhaps it’s a colleague from another department or a mentor that we can bounce ideas off and work through problems.   It needs to be someone that we can trust to have honest discussions.  Perhaps book a weekly meeting with that person?  Perhaps you can meet outside of your workplace, thus providing you with some “space” from your work?  This is often where we get the best perspectives and insights.

This too shall pass

We can sometimes feel overwhelmed, like we are in the middle of an ever increasing storm.  But remember that each change initiative does (ideally) have an end.  In larger/ longer change initiatives, that’s why it’s so important to break it down into smaller, achievable pieces.  Take a break after each piece, congratulate yourself on making it, and slow down for a much needed break!


Debbie Narver (BSc MBA MScIB) is a Strategic Management Consultant and Leadership Development Instructor with NMC Strategic Manager. 


Follow NMC (Narver Management Consulting) Strategic Manager on LinkedIn for regular articles, videos and slideshares.