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Practical Strategies for Dealing with Stress in IT and Security

Our tendency in business is often to present a stiff upper lip and power through. But doing this can have real effects on job performance, business performance, turnover, and physical health.

Today, we’re going to talk about building resilience in the face of stress and uncertainty—and we’ll offer practical tips for reducing them.

The Truth about Stress

Before we give tips on managing stress, we should discuss a few truths about stress. First, stress is unavoidable. You can’t ignore it or pretend it doesn’t exist. Powering through doesn’t help, and can have detrimental effects on health and job performance (even if you feel you “thrive under pressure”).

Second, what triggers stress can be subjective, yet its effects are nearly universal. This is important when you manage people—what may cause your muscles to tense, your thoughts to race, and your breathing to quicken may not be the same as your employee. For example, you may be used to giving presentations if you’re doing sales pitches, but another member of the team may freak out at the idea. So, try not to downplay someone else’s stress or tell them to “get over it.”

Third, stress is physical. While it has emotional components, physical reactions in the body can be hard to ignore (such as trembling, voices catching, or muscles tensing). When someone faces a stressor—regardless of what that stressor is—the body releases stress hormones into the bloodstream. These hormones include:

  • Cortisol: Cortisol is often called the stress hormone. It regulates multiple bodily functions, but triggers the fight-flight-or-freeze response.
  • Epinephrine: This is the scientific name for adrenaline. Adrenaline speeds your body functions up. This speed element will be important when we talk about countering stress.
  • Norepinephrine: Norepinephrine, or noradrenaline, functions similarly to epinephrine. It also speeds up the body by increasing heart rate and spiking blood sugar. However, noradrenaline also constricts your blood vessels, which can spike blood pressure.

Your body cannot typically distinguish between a real threat and a false one. It releases these hormones under stress whether it’s a real emergency like running from a wild animal or surviving a street fight, but can also release it when you’re simply nervous to talk to your boss or worried about doing a good job for a client.

While acute stress in an emergency can cause problems, prolonged, chronic stress can be more subtle, yet wreak havoc on the body. As mentioned before, stress hormones can constrict the blood vessels, leading to heart and blood pressure problems—particularly if the stress occurs for a lengthy period of time.

If this weren’t enough, stressed out employees can hurt your bottom line (same if you’re an MSP owner). Long-term, chronic stress can lead to significant cognitive impairment, actually changing the way your brain functions, often reducing memory, the ability to think clearly, and handle “higher order functions.” The brains of people under chronic, long-term stress experience structural changes that can make them less able to make sound decisions and reason clearly. Their brains respond by shifting resources from high-level thinking to survival modes. This isn’t the type of state you want your techs in when they’re trying to solve a complex technical problem or restore data during a major cyberattack (or reassure a nervous or impatient customer).

Managing Stress

Ultimately, we should walk away with two important points. First, stress, anxiety, and worry can’t just be powered through (in fact, that can exacerbate the problem—like driving with the parking brake on). Also, they can harm a business’s bottom line if employees are pushed too hard or lack the resources to manage them.

If you want to reduce your own stress levels, consider some of the following tips. We also recommend sharing this article with your team members—you never know who might be close to burning out.

  • Treat stress relief like working out: While the following tips will help during times of acute stress, practicing them when you’re not particularly highly strung makes a world of difference. Think of these techniques as something you practice regularly, the same way you might work out. This cuts down on chronic stress levels, helping your health and your job performance.
  • Talk slowly: We mentioned earlier that adrenaline speeds up your body processes. When you talk . . . slowly . . . and take . . . pauses, it can counter the effects of the adrenaline and start to slow down other processes. Speaking more slowly can also calm others down if someone’s nervous (far more effective than just telling them to “calm down”). Try it for yourself—read something aloud slowly for a few minutes and see how much calmer you are. Try speaking at a slower pace each day for a few minutes (or reading something slowly) to reduce chronic stress. By talking more slowly, you can also think more slowly (and methodically), often allowing you to make better decisions (and sometimes do them faster). As they say in the military, “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”
  • Breathe: One of the physical responses of stress involves faster breathing. Instead, try to slow your breathing down. Breathe deeply into the belly through your nose. Breathing into the belly (rather than the chest) will cause a better relaxation response. Also, practice this ahead of time so it’s ready to go when you need it.
  • Practice progressive muscle relaxation: Another effective technique involves progressively relaxing your muscles. Close your eyes, and just progressively mentally “scan” your body for areas of tension or tightness. Move systematically from your head slowly to your toes. When you find a place of tension, release it.
  • Redirect attention: It’s not always feasible, but taking breaks during the day to do something [ital]entirely[/ital] different makes a huge difference. You may want to watch a Ted Talk after a meeting doesn’t go well to lift your mood or you may want to watch stand-up comedy videos to get you into a looser mood after a few hours of staring at a screen.
  • Health: Finally, make sure to look after yourself by practicing good health habits. Try to get some physical exercise, eat good food, and try to get good sleep. Also, it’s a good idea to avoid alcohol as much as you can—it can increase cortisol levels and make it harder to deal with everyday stressors.

Taking good care of yourself

Whether you’re an IT technician, security professional, or run your own IT service business, stress comes with the job. But while you can’t avoid stress completely, you can take steps to manage it and reduce its impact on both your job and the other important areas of your life.

 

Of course, removing stressors can also help reduce the effects of stress. Cyberattacks can be extremely stressful to deal with, even if you’re an experienced security pro. SolarWinds® Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) can reduce the stress by both reducing the number of threats with advanced protection and also automatically rolling back endpoints to a known safe state after a ransomware attack. Learn more about SolarWinds EDR today. 

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