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Friday, June 14, 2024
CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Briefing - How to recognize the signs of stress in yourself, your colleagues and your team

CEO Briefing

How to recognize the signs of stress in yourself, your colleagues and your team

Petra Velzeboer

Firstly, let’s remember that stress is not actually the problem. Stress is a normal part of life and in fact, can help us achieve our potential. The World Health Organisation (2023) defines stress as: a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation. Stress is a natural human response that prompts us to address challenges and threats in our lives. Everyone experiences stress to some degree. The way we respond to stress, however, makes a big difference to our overall well-being.

Therein lies the problem and the solution. When we want to assess our wellbeing and that of our teams sometimes we’re simply asking the wrong question. We’re likely to experience stress however, how many of us have an open conversation about our response to the stress or assess our own wellbeing through this lens?

Firstly, as a leader it’s crucial to learn to lead by example. Our team is more likely to emulate what we do rather than what we say. This doesn’t mean getting it perfect, but it does mean having some openness and vulnerability about what helps you perform at your best. Wellbeing isn’t just about bubble-baths and self-care, it’s about investing in your physical and mental health proactively so that you can sustain success long term – and bring your team along with you.

This includes the basics like sleep and nutrition but also learning to emotionally regulate and have an outlet for stressful situations such as talking to a friend, partner or coach, physical exercise and making sure to keep alcohol and other unhealthy stress relievers in check.

When we focus on our team it’s less useful to say ‘how stressed are you?’ and more useful to say ‘how are you managing your stress these days?’ This alludes to the responses that are more in our control and can help open up a conversation about what’s in our control vs what isn’t.

Here’s some questions I might ask people in my team to support them during a stressful time:

  • Are you able to invest in yourself during this stressful time? If so, how?
  • One thing that helps me is…. what kind of things help you manage your stress?
  • Are there any stressors that we could change to help us focus on the key task?

So often things like being in pointless meetings, micromanaging, conflicting or confusing demands, distractions from the core goal etc. can be adding on layers of stress that are unnecessary and not useful. Collaborating on ways we can manage unnecessary stress in order to focus on the key task can be a useful conversation to have with our teams.

So often we are reactive and fire–fighting simply because we are in survival mode and it’s the way we’ve always done it – but taking a minute to reflect on our work practices can have a massive ROI for future progress – not to mention reducing absence and retaining talent, all things that affect the bottom line of the business.

The signs of toxic stress – the evidence that our response to it is isn’t working or that we are experiencing too many layers over a long period of time – can be varied but can include:

  • Lack of focus or inability to concentrate – brain freeze
  • Anxiety, overwhelm or other physical symptoms like shortness of breath or migraines
  • Inability to sleep properly or do the things that support our wellbeing
  • Turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drinking
  • Low mood, depression or in more extreme cases suicidal thinking

All of the above signs can show up on the road to burnout or other crash points that mean the responses to stress or the stacking of stress over time is having a debilitating effect and of course can be exacerbated by issues at home such as grief, divorce or other life changes.

It’s crucial to practice self awareness so we can recognise the early signs of distress in ourselves and get the support we need.  Not only will this prevent our own crash points but it will help us be more effective leaders – especially during the stressful times many of us are experiencing amidst change, restructures and a growing mental health crisis.

Finally, don’t be afraid of having open conversations with your team about stress, burnout and our response to tough times – afterall, these are human experiences and it’s useful to discuss not only how individuals can help themselves and challenge personal responsibility but also the ways in which the team can support each other. Having these conversations in ‘peace time’ ensures the team are strong and able to support each other through the inevitable challenging times.


Written by Petra Velzeboer.

Have you read?
World’s Best Countries To Invest In Or Do Business.
World’s Most Startup-Friendly Countries.
World’s Best Countries For Quality of Life.
Largest Economies Europe In 2024.
GDP of the BRICS countries (2000 to 2028).


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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Briefing - How to recognize the signs of stress in yourself, your colleagues and your team

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Petra Velzeboer
Petra Velzeboer is a psychotherapist, executive coach, CEO of PVL, and author of Begin With You: invest in your well-being & satisfaction at work.


Petra Velzeboer is an Executive Council member at the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn, for more information, visit the author’s website CLICK HERE.