Is trying to relax making you anxious? While sitting back and putting up your feet, do you suddenly feel quickness of breath, or a surge in heart rate? Are you experiencing palpitations and symptoms that align with anxiety just when you lie down to sleep on a holiday? Does a sense of calm feel out of reach even when you are relaxing in solitude?
Are you suffering from negative thoughts, uncertainty and constant worry when you are trying to take a break? If your answers to these questions are in the affirmative, you are stresslaxed!
What is stresslaxation?
In simple terms, ‘stresslaxation ‘is the feeling of intense worry and anxiety experienced by people while they are trying to relax. It is a relatively new term, but in recent times, more people are experiencing it than ever before.
“To alleviate stresslaxation, employees need to start by accepting and acknowledging that not everything is in their control”
Krish Shankar, group head – HR, Infosys
After the pandemic, this feeling of constant stress and anxiety that doesn’t seem to go away even when people are attempting to decompress has only gone up. This is because people are finding themselves burdened with work and expectations.
The world of business is rushing ahead to restructure itself in alignment with the demands of the post-pandemic world. Employees have been left to reorganise their own minds and bodies without much help.
Stresslaxation can negatively impact people’s performance at work by interfering with their thoughts and behaviour. Organisations need to understand this and take immediate action to curb this phenomenon within their workforces.
Why does it happen?
Losing control: Vivek Tripathi, VP-HR, Newgen Software, says, “Employees are feeling stressed not only because of work, but also because they have lost a sense of control.”
During the pandemic, when the work-from-home model was implemented in many companies, even prominent managers felt that they had lost control at work. They admitted experiencing difficulties in trying to manage their teams properly.
Many people who fell ill during the pandemic, or had members of their families falling prey to the virus also felt the same, as they had to leave work and attend to their loved ones. They all felt like they were no more in control of many things.
Rising demands and expectations: “Thanks to the pandemic, particularly in the IT sector, IT systems have become mission critical and customers have also become very demanding,” points out Tripathi.
“Senior managers and executives have to assure employees that everyone is feeling anxious, and that ‘we’re all in this together and we will help you pull through this”
Sunil Ranjhan, SVP-HR, LG Electronics
He goes on to add that businesses have begun to depend more and more on digital automation to ensure that transactions take place digitally rather than face to face. “Many of our customers, including banks and insurance companies, that were dependant on digital automation before the pandemic, have become even more so now. Therefore, their expectations have also gone up,” admits Tripathi.
It’s a mix of lack of control on the one hand, and high customer expectations on the other that has led to a general rise in the stress levels of the workforce, Tripathi says.
Attrition and instability: “Even if people want to take some time off, they are unable to do so because there are too many things on their mind, and because they feel powerless. On top of that, there’s the issue of high attrition. That means, teams keep changing and people have to work with new people, which only adds to the unstable situation.”
Fear and negativity: Sunil Ranjhan, SVP-HR, LG Electronics, admits that the phenomenon of stresslaxation has certainly increased in recent months.
One of the reasons for the same could be that people keep reading on social media about companies laying off their employees, or being forced to downsize because of losses or a breakdown of the business. This creates uncertainty and people begin to feel afraid for themselves and their jobs, explains Ranjhan.
Work-from-home: During the pandemic, work-from-home also contributed to increased stress. This is because, people hardly had time to relax, overburdened by official and household work, Ranjhan points out.
What is the solution?
Acceptance: According to Krish Shankar, group head – HR, Infosys, “To alleviate stresslaxation, employees need to start by accepting and acknowledging that not everything is in their control”.
“Even if people want to take some time off, they are unable to do so because there are too many things on their mind, and because they feel powerless. On top of that, there’s the issue of high attrition. That means, teams keep changing and people have to work with new people, which only adds to the unstable situation”
Vivek Tripathi, VP-HR, Newgen Software
Communication: They need to stop blaming themselves if and when things go wrong. Things will go wrong at some point because of uncertainties around work, but employees should maintain a sense of calm by looking at the longer-term view. He believes that delegation and communication with the teams is extremely important. For this, there should be an open channel of communication within the teams.
“Employees shouldn’t hesitate to take time off. They must loosen up if they feel too constricted at work,” advises Shankar.
“One way organisations can help their employees is by having an open conversation with them, and this initiative has to come right from the top,” advises Ranjhan.
Assurance: “Senior managers and executives have to assure employees that everyone is feeling anxious, and that ‘we’re all in this together and we will help you pull through this,” Ranjhan suggests.
Counselling: Organisations can also help their employees by setting up helplines and online platforms for free counselling. This will help them identify the stressors and accordingly sort out their problems. They can also offer their employees offline counselling, and fix appointments with counsellors for them.
“Communication is very crucial in understanding the employees,” asserts Ranjhan. He believes, “Companies should be in a constant state of engagement with their workforces to know their troubles and then create solutions accordingly.”
Mindfulness and decisiveness: Krish Shankar is of the opinion that uncertainty stresses out people and makes them anxious. Therefore, it is important for people to define what is important to them. They need to come up with their own definition of happiness and things that matter to them.
“If a person is indecisive and confused, he/she will feel stressed because there is too much going on in their minds, and there is no clarity of purpose,” points out Shankar.
His advice is that people “should practise mindfulness and learn to live in the present. They need to avoid crowding their minds with too many goals that conflict with each other”.
Individual effort is as important as organisational support to help people overcome the feeling of stress they undergo while relaxing.
Organisations should be vigilant and quick to spot any sign of tension within their workforce. They should attempt to solve any problem that their employees may be going through without allowing it to grow. Amidst such a volatile environment, stability is hard to achieve, but a sense of calm can be achieve one baby step at a time.