“I’ve never felt stressed”, said no one, ever. Anyone who has ever held down a job understands what it feels like to be anxious, angry, exhausted and overwhelmed at some point in their career.
And the workplace is a key area for feeling stressed, partly because we spend so much of our waking hours in it and partly because it fulfills more than just a means to make money – we invest a lot in the organisation we work for, our career and our colleagues so it’s understandable that we feel pressure from time to time.
Our early ancestors used that feeling of stress to survive, that fight/flight mechanism is a highly simplistic and effective system for survival but in our modern lives we no longer face life or death situations – however we do feel stress which our brain translates as life-threatening.
And there is ‘good’ stress as well as bad – the stress that gets you out of bed in the morning, pushes you to achieve bigger and better things, run races, compete for awards, win new customers, gain sales and achieve targets, move up in your career or change career completely – these are all driven by stress of one kind or another.
With the right strategies in place we can learn to manage our everyday stress, the not-so-helpful-stress that leaves us feeling anxious, angry, depressed and wishing we were somewhere else…
1. Stop Multitasking – because we can’t actually do it. Multitasking is a myth, no one can do several things at once, what we have learned to do is switch our attention and as a species we’ve become very adept at doing so. But it’s exhausting, flipping our concentration from one task to another and leaves our poor brain feeling addled at the end of the day. So just stop it. Instead focus on one task at a time, have one tab open on your computer, have one file open in front of you, put your phone away (or at least on silent) so you don’t get distracted by the ‘ping’ of a new message, close the door if you need complete concentration, allow specific time for certain jobs (i.e. spend 20 minutes in the morning reviewing emails and answering them, then close it down and return later in the day for another 20 minutes)
2. Write a task list and prioritise it – this helps you gain some perspective at the start of the day on what jobs need doing first, and working your way through a list is highly motivating and, crucially, actionable.
3. Move – studies have shown that exercising before settling down to work (or school) produces better results. In University of Illinois tests, MRI scans on groups of children aged 9-10 years old who exercised before tests showed that fit children had a significantly larger key part of the brain (basal ganglia, that aids in maintaining attention and ‘executive control’, or the ability to coordinate actions and thoughts distinctly), than a control group of children with similar socioeconomic backgrounds, body mass index and other variables, who did not take part in the exercise. The researchers concluded that being fit had enlarged that portion of their brains – which has positive knock-on effects in their tests. In a separate study, the same researchers conducted different tests this time focused on complex memory, associated with activity in the hippocampus – and sure enough, the MRI scans revealed that the fittest children had larger structures. So we have the ability to physically change the shape of our brains for the better.
4. Sleep – since humans first made fire, we have been pushing back the night. Sleep is a foundation for our good health and yet it is marginalised to our detriment. Most parents recognise the benefits of a set sleep routine in young children, but we forget about the benefits to ourselves. Following a routine helps our brain to wind down, it creates a template of behaviour that makes it easier for us to repeat and sets the scene for a good night’s sleep. Simple changes like dimming lights, switching off devices half an hour before going to bed, making sure our bedrooms are cool and removing any light sources (including those stand-by lights) helps the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy. During sleep, our brain goes through a repair and maintain process and crucial waste removal, and it’s a time of forming and maintaining neural pathways in your brain that let you learn and create new memories. Taking care of your sleep is a major stress-prevention measure.
5. Eat and Drink properly – follow an 80/20 rule (80% healthy food, 20% treats). The brain is made up of approximately 75% water so replenishing it is crucial for proper function, and you can ‘eat’ your water too – choosing highly juicy foods like cucumber, watermelon, oranges all adds to your liquid intake. It’s the fattiest organ in the body so make sure you include a range of healthy fats and oils in your diet to maintain brain health.
6. Clean space, clear head – most people would recognise that having less ‘stuff’ around makes a better work environment (and home life too). Having a clear desk enables you to see what work there is (and the same goes for your email inbox) and engenders a sense of calm.
7. Learn to live with yourself – most of us know if we perform better first thing in the morning, or after lunch. If we are JIT or early arrivers. If we work best under pressure or prefer to go at a leisurely pace. Getting to know your working style and work with it instead of fighting your nature will make it easier to be more effective – as long as it fits in your work environment too.
8. Give yourself a break – just as our brain needs sleep at night to process events, it also needs breaks in the day (roughly every 90 minutes if practical but a couple of times in the day is better than nothing) to process. A different perspective, a breath of fresh air, changing your view all help to re-set your brain making you more productive when you get back to it. If you’re studying for exams or learning a presentation, working for short periods of 20-30 minutes then having a 5-10 minute break, will reap better rewards than staring at the same page for hours on end. And of course build in holidays and time away from work completely, these are not luxuries but necessity especially in high-stress environment.
9. Build a Buffer – do something between work and home to allow for a change in pace from ‘work you’ to ‘home you’. Whether it’s reading or listening to music on the train, enjoying an audio book in the car on the drive home, stopping at the gym for a workout, whatever works in your life. You will feel better when you walk through the door and more ready to segue into home life than coming through the door with work still on your mind – and your loved ones will appreciate the change too.
10. Switch Off both metaphorically and physically – there has never been an era when we have had so much communication as there is now. Our mobile phones, tablets and laptops have extended work far beyond the reaches of solid buildings or time zones. Saying ‘no’ to emails after a set time in the evening, ‘no’ at weekends, ‘no’ on holiday can be hard but being firm will preserve your sanity in the long term.
And with all these things, practise makes perfect – the more you do them the easier they become.
Want more help with reducing stress in the workplace? At Mind Your Business we deliver workshops and talks in organisations to address stress and give you techniques to reduce it, making a better work environment for all – through education we can prevent stress overwhelm or even burnout. And the end result is a more effective workforce, reduction in employee turnover and reduction in absenteeism through sickness – a win/win all round!
If you would like to find out more, or to book a convenient time to talk through your company needs contact us at:
email@example.com or telephone 01798 344879
Look after your people and they’ll look after your business