BY: Janine Mitchell
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According to statistics released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there were 602,000 cases of work related stress depression or anxiety between 2018 and 2019, resulting in 12.8 million working days being lost. The added pressures of the pandemic and its consequences caused these numbers to soar. In 2019/20 work-related stress, anxiety or depression led to 17.9 million days being lost, almost a 50% increase on the previous year!
So how does stress affect us?
Stress is the body’s response to say there is literally and physically too much stress being placed on us. Every time we go into any kind of stress response or reaction to stress, we go into what’s called fight or fight.
A small amount of stress is good for us and it helps spur us on during the times we need it. For example during a job interview, a certain amount of adrenaline is required for these situations to push us when we need it. However too much stress, and strain on our minds and body too much of the time is not good for us.
How does your body react to stress?
Imagine for a moment that your boss has emailed you about an unfinished assignment (a stressor). Your body and mind instantly respond, activating a physical reaction called the fight-or-flight response. Your heart beats faster, your breath quickens, and your muscles tense. At the same time you might say to yourself, “I’m going to get fired if I don’t finish this.” Then to manage your anxiety and negative self-talk, you work late into the night to complete the task.
Over the course of our evolutionary history, humans developed this coordinated fear response to protect against dangers in our environment. For example, a faster heart rate and tense muscles would help us escape from predators. In the modern era, fear continues to serve an important function. After all, the fight-or-flight response can provide the necessary energy to pull an all-nighter and keep your job.
But what happens if you encounter stressful experiences at work every day? Over time, chronic work stress can lead to a psychological syndrome called ‘burnout’.
Signs and symptoms of too much stress which could lead to burn out
Regular tension headaches
Fatigue or low energy
Poor lifestyle choices
Increase in negative habitual behaviours
What can you do to lower stress at work?
Seven strategies to minimise stress
Take some time to take some deep breaths. The good news is, you can do this anywhere. At your desk if things are getting on top of you. While you are on a difficult call to a customer, or dealing with any challenge in work. When we are in any type of stress, the blood pumps quicker and we shallow breath, we forget to breath properly!
Spend a moment or two breathing in deeply. Take a deep inhale in through the nose and deeply into the diaphragm. And then out slowly through the mouth. You can of course do this quietly if you need to! It will help lower cortisol, the stress hormone and you will be breathing much needed oxygen nicely into the body. The more you do this and the more you practice, the more it will help in these sticky situations. Even breathe in slowly for four, hold for four, breath out for four and hold for four. This is a simple box breath technique you can easily remember.
Take time away
Move away from your desk! Don’t stay tied to it for hours on end. Be sure to move around regularly. Ensure you take a decent break for lunch away from your desk. Wherever possible, get outside and make sure you get some fresh air. I would suggest taking a minimum of 20-30 minutes, more wherever possible. I can guarantee you will come back to your desk in a much better place with lots more productivity in the afternoon.
Set up your day
How you set up the first 15 minutes of the day sets up everything! AVOID..! Reaching for your phone first thing and checking the news notifications, emails, WhatsApp and social media. It will forecast your day. If you aren’t careful, it will get you to a place where you manifest or bring negativity and stress to your day that you don’t need. If you set up your day like this, from an evolutional level whereby you frame your mind to search for or focus on the stress. Instead, create a new daily morning routine which can include meditation, yoga, journalling and a gratitude diary. This will allow you to set your day up with clarity, energy and buzz!
Schedule your day for energy and focus
Take some time to write down, focus on or visualise how you wish your day to go at the start of every day. This can be part of your journaling routine. This is a powerful strategy to create clarity and intention on what you want to achieve rather than what you don’t. Write down a plan of how you want the day to unfold and be sure to prioritise important priorities and tasks.
Sleep is uber important and highly underrated. Research shows us lack of sleep is linked to increased stress, poor wellbeing, reduced psychical health, lack of concentration and focus, amongst others.
Ensure you are getting 7-9 hours of shut eye per night. Anything less can be detrimental over time to both your physical and mental health. Sleep is restorative as we are naturally repairing cells and getting ourselves in check to feel good in mind and body. If we don’t get enough it can have detrimental impacts.
Keep a great check on your sleep hygiene. What are you doing on the run up to sleep? If this isn’t looking good, or shaky look at what you can do to change it, to enable your sleep practice to start improving (TOP sleep hacks here).
Make sure you get to the priority tasks at the start of your day. Or the ones you aren’t looking forward to the most, get them out of the way! Eat that frog, as Brian Tracey in his book would advise! If possible, write your list out at the end of every working day for the following day ahead. That way you can shut off from the day and be all organised and priority ready for the next day that awaits
Ensure your daily routine includes a space where you can spend some time just for you. This might be some time in the working day where you can take some time out, or at the end of the working day. Have a read of a good book. take a walk and listen to an inspirational podcast. Make sure you are prioritising your self care and work-life balance. Have a space where you have total time away from social media. There are also apps you can use to help you relax like HeadSpace or Calm. It’s SO important you take quiet time out just for you. Check this POST for more ideas.
I’m looking forward to hearing how you get on, if you need any more support or ideas get in touch.
Janine is the founder of Change for Success.
She is a published researcher and is a renowned leading authority in this field.
She specialises in transforming mental health and mindset working with individuals and companies and organisations by helping them improve their performance and productivity by reducing stress in the workplace.
She has a Masters’ degrees in Psychology, is a hypnotherapist, NLP and EFT practitioner.