Modern life today is full of demands, money worries, insecurities and frustrations. Stress is a common place for many people dealing with life’s daily anxieties. While a certain amount of stress can keep you safe from danger and motivate you to do your best, it can also overwhelm people.
Stress overload can cause long-term damage to your health, reduce the quality of your life, and affect your mood and relationships. When someone gets stressed, the body releases a chemical called cortisol, causing a racing heart, increased blood pressure and respiration, tension in your stomach area and sweaty palms. While most healthy people can cope with this on an infrequent basis, if you experience this level of stress regularly it can result in physical, mental and social problems.
Research suggests that you can make a real difference to your wellbeing by understanding your stress response. This is about recognising the signs and symptoms of your stress overload and taking adequate steps to curtail any adverse effects. It’s the story you tell yourself when you are stressed, shifting your thinking from ‘I’m overwhelmed, I can’t cope’ to ‘I will do my best and get support’, that will make a significant improvement to your life.
Managing Workplace Stress
How you interpret your stress response can make a big difference to how you manage to de-stress at work or manage other stressful times in your life. When you feel your heart pounding and palms getting sweaty, make the choice there and then… you can choose to say ‘I am so very stressed and thinking about being stressed is making me more anxious and scared.’ Or you can say to yourself ‘Here we going again. I can feel the anxiety rising …but I am in control now and let me take a few deep breaths and calm down’.
Concentrate On Your Breathing
Taking control of your breathing is a powerful way to alleviate stress. Not only will it help to lower your pulse but it will also send vital oxygen to all the areas of your body, especially critical areas of your brain. This resets your nervous system and oxygenates the parts your body that needs it.
Take a deep, relaxing breath …. Place your hand on your stomach and draw a deep in breath. Your hand will move in and out, and so will your chest.
Inhale for 5, hold for 2 and exhale for 7. Repeat and count with the calmness you feel …its one of my favourite counts.
But you need to practice, practice and practice. Either five minutes or fifteen minutes every day: here and there and build yourself up for long-term benefits. I usually start my day with a single meditation with 5 of those 5-2-7 deep in breaths, practice this a few times during the day 5-2-7 and before I go to bed its 5-2-7 again.
Practice makes this permanently imprinted in your mind, so when you do recognise your stress response and need to use this breathing technique, it’s second nature.
‘Stress should be a powerful driving force, not an obstacle’ Bill Phillips.
Quirky Stress-Busting Strategies
While we need to have some effective methods for dealing with stress like the deep breathing technique outlined above, it would be better to prevent your stress response to start with. Here are just a few ways that you may, or may not, use in your workplace to combat stress:
- Could a weekly sing-along be an effective way of boosting morale and de-stressing in your workplace? Or would you find it too bizarre, and potentially stressful, having to join in with everyone in the office? You decide!
- A survey by Staples found that 1 in 7 people use colouring books to de-stress at work. Crosswords and Sudoku can also help, providing a much need screen break and chance to focus on something other than work for a short period of time.
- What about a furry friend in the workplace? Some companies have an office dog, aka Chief Happiness Officer, on hand to sooth stressed employees with a cuddle or available for a stroke or pat on demand. There is plenty of research on how pets can help alleviate stress, so introducing an office dog could be a good move.
These strategies are quirky but do provide a distraction in the workplace and research suggests that they do provide stress-busting benefits. If anything it allows for a break from the desk, ability to stretch and relax, the time-out from the screen, mindfulness moments and boosts happiness.
For me personally, I love the dog running around the office and use a colouring book in order to alleviate my stress at work – though I may give the weekly sing-a-long a miss. However, they don’t work for everyone as we all react to stress in different ways.
This is why it’s important for us all as individuals to understand how we react to stress; from understanding what causes the stress in the first place, to managing our stress response and learning to deal with it in a positive way.
As a Cognitive Behaviour Therapist I work with people to help them break the negative cycles of thinking, how this makes them feel, and then the behaviour that follows. The result is that they learn how to manage their stress response so that it doesn’t impact adversely on their wellbeing or their work. In fact, it can help them use stress in an empowering way, teaching them to recognise the signs early and put practical plans into action – such as prioritising tasks, delegating or seeking support.
What plans does your company have to alleviate workplace stress?