Get a handle on your stress–and that of your employees

Stress. Apart, these six letters mean virtually nothing, but together they carry myriad meanings. Webster’s defines the word as “a specific response by the body to a stimulus; physical, mental or emotional strain or tension.” But for one business owner, stress is more accurately described as a phone call in the middle of the night.

The Great Stress Out Don’t make stress — and its related mental and physical problems — a way of life for you or your employees By Angela Howard Originally published in the Apr/May 2011 issue of 850 Business Magazine


Stress. Apart, these six letters mean virtually nothing, but together they carry myriad meanings. Webster’s defines the word as “a specific response by the body to a stimulus; physical, mental or emotional strain or tension.” But for one business owner, stress is more accurately described as a phone call in the middle of the night.

“(At) 2 a.m. the telephone rings and there is a voice on the other end saying, ‘Brian, we have just had a bus in an accident,’” said Brian Annett, president of Annett Bus Lines. “It’s the most feared thing for me as a business owner.”

That fear can have a major impact both on the body and the mind. It can be a small, nagging pain near your temple or behind your eye, or it can be shooting jabs to the gut from an upset stomach.

“There’s not a cell or a system in your body that [stress] doesn’t cover,” said Donna Gillette, Ph.D., mental health counselor and founder of the Stress Management Clinic of North Florida in Tallahassee.

Gillette has been an expert on where the mind and body meet for more than 30 years and says it is important to learn to free your mental state of stress so you can calm yourself physically.

“Just because there’s stress out there, it doesn’t have to penetrate you,” she said.

But for so many in today’s working world, stress is part of their every day and can cause a number of problems, both mental and physical.

What is Job Stress?

Job stress is slightly different from stress in general because, per the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the harmful physical and emotional responses are directly linked to one’s line of work. However, research by NIOSH also suggests that personal and “situational factors” like a sick family member or financial troubles play a role on the impact job stress takes on a person’s body and mind.

For business owners, job stress is almost a way of life. In Annett’s case, he says managing a fleet of 55 motor coaches that will collectively travel some 3.3 million miles this year alone brings about 100 percent of his stress.

“In my end of the business, the unknown is the largest contributor to stress,” he said.

But the same can also be said for small business owner Adam Pope. The 29-year-old owns and operates a Tropical Smoothie Café in Tallahassee, and even though he has only 5–6 employees at any given time, his days are filled with their share of stress too.

“Work plays a major role in contributing to the stress in my life,” Pope said.

And, while Annett and Pope do their best to manage the stress, both say it still creeps in from time to time.

“Not all stress can be avoided. When in this line of work [the food service industry], there are always unexpected issues,” said Pope. “When I do get a little wound up, I will not be able to sleep and get sick for a day or two.”

According to the American Psychological Association, “Stress that is left unchecked or poorly managed is known to contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and suicide.”

Other health risks NIOSH found to be associated with stress include headaches or migraines, trouble sleeping, upset stomach, irritability, difficulty concentrating, low morale and unhappiness at and with work. Some studies cited in NIOSH’s research even found links to ulcers, immune deficiencies and cancer.

How to Relieve Stress?

There are a number of ways to relieve stress or at least tone it down. The researchers at NIOSH suggest finding a balance between your work life and your personal life, having a relaxed and positive outlook and creating a support network of friends and coworkers to help relieve the stress.

For Brian Annett, that relief comes in the form of verbal communication, mostly with his brother at the office or his wife Christi at home.

“I have found that bottling worries up inside of me only makes them worse, and the perspective that someone else can give usually makes things better,” he said.

For Adam Pope and so many others, a physical outlet helps them to blow off steam and put the worries of the day to rest.

“I usually try to relieve stress by doing things that I enjoy and may not get to do on a regular basis, such as play golf with a few of the guys or get out and do something fun with the family.”

Getting out and exerting energy is historically what humans were programmed to do to relieve the adrenaline that builds up inside. It’s a reaction to the fight or flight response.

“Fight or flight was designed to save your life. It’s hard-wired in us all,” said Gillette.

According to The Franklin Institute, it is that design that gets our blood boiling when a perceived threat presents itself or something happens beyond our control, leaving us scrambling to fix it. In the past, these ‘threats’ would lead men into battle where they would fight — sometimes to the death — thus releasing that pent-up stress. Now, however, we are left to deal with the built up hormones in other ways.

Gillette recommends calming exercises like yoga, meditation, tai chi and other rhythmic exercises. The goal, she said, is to think of nothing.

The Franklin Institute adds a few other suggestions to the list, including:

  • Repeating a helpful quote or word
  • Using good scents
  • Laughing or crying
  • Listening to soothing music
  • Using hypnotherapy
  • Taking an aromatherapy bath
  • Taking deep breaths to control your breathing
  • Jogging in place
  • Climbing the stairs
  • Taking a walk around the building or the block
  • Using a short burst of energy, like throwing your hands in the air
  • Bouncing on a personal trampoline to work your leg muscles


Some of these relaxation techniques can only be done at home, but the majority can be implemented while on the clock or during a lunch break.

Economy’s Role?

Companies from coast to coast, both big and small, felt the effects when the bottom fell out of the U.S. economy back in 2008. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities went so far as to call it the worst recession since the 1930s, with a nationwide unemployment rate of 23.6 percent in 1932.

Fast-forward to December 2010, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics touted a mere 9.4 percent for unemployment in the U.S. As a state, though, the Bureau showed Florida sank farther than the nation, with an unemployment rate of 12 percent.

It’s no surprise that a number of businesses were impacted by the economic slump, and dozens along the Gulf Coast received a double dose of destruction when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010.

So what can a business owner, manager or CEO do to help guide his company and his employees out of difficult times?

Gillette suggested bosses first learn, know and practice self-regulation techniques, which allow a person to clear her mind, relax her body and let the stresses of the day simply roll off her back.

Once the person in charge is in control of his own stress, he can help his employees deal with their stress. One way to do that, said Gillette, is to “adopt a ‘you succeed, I succeed’ mentality” with your workers.

“Let folks rejuvenate instead of push them to the brink,” said Gillette. “If you think you’re working more by working through your breaks, you’re not. You’re more productive when you take breaks.”

Pope and Annett both utilize an open-door policy with their employees, allowing for discussion about stressors in the workplace and ways to alleviate any problems. According to Gillette, that makes all the difference. She said if employees are encouraged to speak up, it makes for a better product in the end.

But Annett didn’t stop at just an open line of communication. As a bigger company — and one that operates nationwide — he took it one step further.

“Part of the training we provide our drivers helps them manage stress levels, and we provide policies that reduce the drivers’ exposure to increased stress, such as driving long time periods with no break and driving during the late night hours,” said Annett.

Neither Annett nor Pope has worked with Gillette, but both have adopted strategies that allow their workers to de-stress and re-energize throughout the day.

“In our offices, all employees are encouraged to work at their [own] pace, and if things are getting stressful, to get up, walk outside and relax. Our dispatchers often take mid-afternoon walks around the outside of the facility to clear [their] minds, and sales executives often utilize couches provided within their office to relax,” Annett explained.

While Pope hasn’t gone to the extent of bringing in furniture for his employees to relax on, he does what he can to boost their enthusiasm for and at work.

“We try and offer incentives that boost morale and productivity in the store,” said Pope. “We try and recognize all employees for good work ethic.”

At the end of the day, Gillette said it’s a “fundamental preset” that people like to matter. So maybe the cliché of treating others the way you’d like to be treated can be used in the boardroom as well as the classroom.


Are You Victim to Stress?

According to the Mayo Clinic, warning signs of stress are:

• Headache

• Back or chest pain

• Heart disease or palpitations

• High blood pressure

• Upset stomach

• Problems sleeping

• Anxiety

• Restlessness

• Irritability

• Decreased immunity

• Depression

• Burnout

• Forgetfulness

• Lack of focus

• Feeling insecure, angry, sad or sorry