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More than 40 years of research maps correlations between stress and brain disorders that include anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue, substance abuse, memory loss and cognitive decline. More recently, workplace bullying has been associated with psychological distress and PTSD. Needless to say, these disorders are severely damaging to workplace productivity, engagement and culture.

At the same time, a growing volume of research points to the workplace as a primary source of stress. One of the contributors are new expectations around workload and responsibility, says Dr. Rumeet Billan, the president and CEO of Viewpoint Leadership, an expert on resilience, and the national ambassador for Not Myself Today, the Canadian Mental Health Association initiative that aims to transform workplace cultures. “Typically, workers get to their place of employment before or around 8 a.m. and don’t leave until about 7 p.m.”

This means that, in addition to experiencing greater stress, workers have less time in which to do the things that help them manage their stress, such as physical activity, time with family and friends, adequate sleep and healthy food preparation. Unmanaged workplace stress contributes to mental illness, which contributes to disability and absenteeism. The impact is enormous: “In Canada, every week, 500,000 Canadians do not show up to work because of mental health issues,” says Dr. Billan.

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For individuals, developing emotional intelligence and resilience is critical for health, she says. “Developing one’s emotional intelligence involves building self-awareness around needs, triggers, boundaries and strategies. Oftentimes, if I ask a group of people, ‘Who here is too busy, too tired, and/or too stressed,’ everyone’s hand goes up. ‘I’m stressed’ has become the equivalent of ‘I’m fine,’ when someone asks how you are. Developing language around stress is the first step in beginning to set boundaries.”

Those boundaries may include leaving work on time, saying no to assignments with impossible deadlines, talking to managers about unsustainable workloads and even just taking lunch breaks.

Workplace relationships can be part of the solution, but in the absence of emotional intelligence, they are often part of the problem. “How are we making others feel? Just as others have an impact on us, we have an impact on others as well,” Dr. Billan stresses. She recently concluded a study on “tall poppy syndrome,” a term coined to describe the workplace bullying of women who receive promotions or just succeed in general. She found that those experiencing this behaviour report negative self-talk, loss of self-confidence and increased mental health issues.

At an organizational level, it’s essential to be intentional about the kind of culture being created, she notes. “Individuals can create personal boundaries, but organizations need to set the tone.”

Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s Editorial Department was not involved in its creation.

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