Demystifying Dysregulation: Can You Help Your Team Better Manage Their Stress?

By Jarret Jackson, Contributor
Reducing stress improves performance. Brett Jordan for Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how dysregulation may be impacting leaders and their teams. I shared the work of Georgetown University Professor Elizabeth Stanley, author of Widen the Window, on finding agency to help leaders and their teams build resilience. But what causes dysregulation in the first place? How might we be contributing to dysregulation in our teams?

Understanding How the Brain Works May Change How You Lead

In Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain, neuroscientist and University Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University Lisa Feldman Barrett helps us understand that it has to do with the evolution of our brains. Understanding how the brain works, and the implications on how people actually think, feel, and act, can transform the way you lead.  In her book, Dr. Barrett challenges old stereotypes about brain development and function based on recent neuroscience. By better understanding how our brains work, we can learn how to work better together.

Our core fundamental need is, of course, survival, which requires us to fuel up and burn energy. The more efficient we become at doing that, the better off we are. Perhaps that is why Naomi Osaka is asking us to give her some time after a match before bombarding her with questions. As a result of their training, it’s likely that athletes are highly-skilled at managing their physical energy efficiency. They show us just how far we can push the limits of physical human performance. So, it should come as no surprise that Osaka needs to rest after giving it all on the field.

According to Dr. Barrett, “The two most expensive things your brain can do are (1) move your body, and (2) face uncertainty and learn something new.” Meeting with reporters “is a situation filled with uncertainty and ambiguity, and this can be a very metabolically taxing situation.” Asking athletes to go straight from the field to the press room requires an additional degree of endurance. She can’t continue to be guarded so that she is not misheard or misunderstood by the press. In my opinion, we owe her that in gratitude for her performance.

The same lesson applies to your team. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance improves performance over time. Ensuring team members are hydrated and rested may go further than you think. Praise and time off may be some of the best rewards after a job well done. Showing that you care about their well-being may help improve both your relationships and team performance.

Lead By Improving Human Energy Efficiency

Allostasis, or, as Dr. Barrett calls it, “body budgeting,” is the body’s way of responding to stressors with the goal of bringing us back to a stable state. Throughout the day, our bodies are interacting with the world, trying to survive by predicting how best to use our bodily resources, like water, glucose, and salt. Sometimes our brains get it right, and sometimes they don’t. When they do, our bodies are well regulated. When they don’t, we can become dysregulated.

How do you recognize dysregulation in yourself and your teams? Are you stress eating? Getting hangry? Not sleeping well? Feeling frustrated? Getting angry easily? Feeling overwhelmed or forgetful? These are all examples of the many warning signs that you can start to see in yourself and others. Your body is telling you it needs help on the energy efficiency front.

Perhaps the most important thing that we can do as we start heading into winter and more potential stress and isolation is to give ourselves and our team members the ability to better manage energy. How do you do that? Find opportunities for celebration. Encourage team members to get rest or to take long meditative walks outside, in a natural setting if possible. Be willing to listen and take an interest in what matters to them outside of work. Take notice of people who may seem less happy than they did two years ago, which may be most, considering how many are looking for new jobs. And perhaps, be more mindful of what we expect from one another and how we engage with one another in the process.


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