How to Manage Stress from Workplace Bullying

Friends don’t let friends get bullied.

Fact: Workplace bullying affects about 9.1 million Brits a year (of the workforce that’s about 29% says TUC). Being in such a situation is not only stressful, it affects your mental health and wellbeing. Being bullied makes you feel incompetent, small and depletes every ounce of confidence you have.

It is important to know that managing stress is the first step to getting out of a toxic situation. The sad fact is that bullying happens in every sector, whether you are a contractor, employee, freelancer or business owner. Dealing with bullying and associated stress sooner rather than later means the underdog can come out on top in healthy ways.

The second of four blogs in our Healthy Transitions Out Of Workplace Bullying series shares how to manage stress and balance your mental health and wellbeing, helping you move on to a better-balanced life. We’ll cover: what your organisation can do for you, what stress is and its effects on you, and we’ll give you six techniques to help you manage your stress yourself PLUS ways you can get support for the areas you can’t manage yourself.

Step 1: Know what bullying is

Bullying can be overt or covert and types a number of different forms. In my previous blog ‘What is Workplace Bullying’ we spoke about understanding two types of bullies, along with what the law says and a few things you can do to help yourself. I spoke about the ‘accidental’ and ‘determined’ bully, in this blog we focus on how you can work through the stress caused by the ‘determined’ bully.

Step 2: Understand what stress is

The second step through a bullying situation is to understand what stress is. Prolonged stress causes untold health problems including Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder (PTED) and in severe cases Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If you are feeling any form of stress, always ask for help immediately.

According to Cleveland Clinic: “Stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses. Stress is a normal part of life. You can experience stress from your environment, your body, and your thoughts. Even positive life changes such as a promotion, a mortgage, or the birth of a child produce stress.”

When bullying occurs our environment changes for the worse and the brain responds to each bullying event in the same was as if we were physically threatened. The brain bypasses rational thought and goes straight to flight or fight mode known as Amygdala Hijacking.  Think of it as a faulty alarm that continues beeping, annoying you until something gets done. Nancy Moyer writing for Healthline explains:

“The modern world is full of stress. We often feel this psychological stress when we see things on the news or social media, such as dangerous events and natural disasters. Your amygdala can respond to this stress as if it’s a physical threat to you. It can take control of your brain and trigger your fight-or-flight response.

You can prevent or stop an amygdala hijack by breathing, slowing down, and trying to focus your thoughts. This allows your frontal cortex to regain control. You can then choose the most reasonable and appropriate way to respond to the situation.”

 

Step 3: How to manage your stress levels

In the midst of being bullied, often we feel there is no way out. There is. You will always have a choice either to stay stuck in the situation or make your way out. If you opt to make your way out, think about how you will be getting out. Quite often the knee-jerk reaction is to just leave that job no matter what.

Having a Transition Plan in place will give you the coping mechanisms you need to move on in a healthy and safe way for you and your family. Yes, everyone is affected by bullying, not just you, so a balance has to be struck. We’ll cover the transition plan in detail in the last blog of this series.

Here my top six techniques on how to manage stress from workplace bullying:

Remember with all these techniques you will need to practice for at least three to four weeks to feel the full effect.

  1. The Power of Breathing – 60 seconds three times a day is all it takes to get your amygdala back to rational thinking. Focus on your breathing, take a deep breathe in, hold and exhale. Do this three times, all the while focussing on what your breath is doing. Notice only your breath as you breathe in and out. After your three deep breathes, focus on your normal breathing patterns for the remainder of the minute. Do this three times a day or when you feel your stress levels rising.
  2. Take regular time out – Make sure your diary has at least 16 hours of down time a week, settle into a sleep routine (even when you think you can’t sleep, follow your routine), eat healthy foods, join a yoga or tai chi class, walk the dog, play with the kids. Take up a creative pursuit, write, or craft. There are loads of classes out there, pick one and go for it. Give yourself a digital detox during your time out as that is proven to help take your mind off being bullied and open to solutions.
  3. Develop an Attitude of Gratitude – Catching your feelings and journaling them will give you great insight into finding your way out. The best place to start is by being grateful for what you already have. Gratitude practices have shown to improve mental health and wellbeing faster (Berkley.edu). My experiences of depression (and bullying) led me to write a self-help guide to ramp up my own healing. Get a copy of my Twenty-one Day Gratitude Challenge Journal and see what changes happen in three short weeks!
  4. Ask for help, always – As Harvey Mackay said “Even the lone ranger didn’t do it alone”. You will need help to get you through this. Your family and friends are important support, however sometimes they can take on some of your stress as well. Get a coach or mentor to help you through along with speaking to your HR team, Trade Union Rep or an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). If you are a freelancer or small business owner, a coach or mentor is essential to help you through.
  5. Cognitive Soothing – What?! Find a mantra or phrase that helps you feel safe and keep using it. For me I always say “Either way it’s going to be ok”. This is great for telling the amygdala it’s ok return to rational thought. Repeating over and over while focusing on your breathing helps shift your physiology and returns you to calm. The brain also loves to answer a question so you may want to try a mantra with a question. One that works for me: “Either way it’s going to be ok… what is the solution that will make [it] ok?”
  6. Connect with your community – nothing helps you out of a stressful situation more than by giving back where you can. Have a look for groups and support online and join a community you feel comfortable with – find your ‘tribe’. Also offer your experience and support volunteering for a cause you believe in. Your skills will be appreciated and you will be able to find places that value you, allowing you to build your confidence and show yourself just how skilled you really are.

There you are, you have a bit of practicing to be doing don’t you! Try all these techniques and find the combination that works for you. The key is to keep using them, even when you think you don’t need them.

Reminder: These techniques and a few more are discussed in depth in further Healthy Transitions Series on the Art of Simple Stress Relief  – visit my blog pages regularly to get the full benefit (and free tips)!

Your takeaway from this

Ask for help! Really, please don’t do this on your own, it’s a long and lonely path, use the techniques mentioned until you can get a coach or mentor in place to help you through. Balance and healthy transitions come from asking for help.

My Accountability Coaching helps set out a healthy Transition Plan (strategy) and keeps you supported and accountable for getting through safely and healthily. Just ask any of my clients and they will tell you how important accountability is to help create your positive change.

Remember, friends don’t let friends get bullied. If you, or someone you know is being bullied at work, get help. Don’t let a bad situation linger longer than necessary. Support is out there, whether it’s reading all the blogs in this series, listening to our podcast or getting the support you need. Do something and do it now.

Positive change begins with you.

Three things you can do right now to help yourself:

  1. Leave a comment below with your thoughts, we’d love to hear from you.
  2. Want to know about having a guide at your side? Book a call with Cheryl-lya to see how she can help.
  3. Listen to the podcast here: https://anchor.fm/liza-collins/episodes/Episode-5—What-is-Harassment–with-Cheryl-lya-Broadfoot-e11dnfg
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