STRESS TAKES A HOLIDAY
CRAZY blood-shot eyes, screaming matches, throbbing veins and frequent tears. The trouble with stress is that we often view it in exaggerated, cartoonish terms. Like Homer Simpson in strangle mode or Basil Fawlty, on a bad day. But stress isn't always a full-scale meltdown.
Stress can be subtle, sneak up on you and gradually become your way of life. Sighing a lot? Rolling your eyes? Muttering under your breath? Firing off less-than-friendly emails or silently swearing at your computer screen (because it's just so bloody slow). If any of these things sound familiar, you're probably just a bit stressed and it can happen to the best of us.
Stress in the workplace is a serious issue and it's on the rise. In November 2017, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that a staggering 526,000 UK workers had suffered from work-related stress in the past year, causing the loss of 12.5 million working days. That's 526,000 unhappy people, struggling to cope with the demands of their job, to the point where they feel like they just can't face work anymore.
For our own wellbeing, each and every one of us should be on a mission to de-stress as much as we can. There are tonnes of information online to help us, but much of it overly idealistic, to put it mildly. (If I had time to regularly practice ashtanga yoga and meditate at my desk, whilst writing a gratitude journal I wouldn't be stressed!)
The worst part is that such features are usually accompanied by unnaturally happy, stock photography people, dressed in white linen, forcibly smiling on the beach whilst lifting kids in the air, stretching to greet a sunset or grinning manically at multi-cultural colleagues. (These images alone are enough to, well, stress you out a bit.)
The good news is that there are plenty of smart, scientific and entirely practical things that you can do to effectively de-stress, without a major lifestyle change. Here are ten of the best that anyone can put into action, with relative ease. Let's get you back to your cool, calm and collected self, shall we?
1) KNOW WHAT STRESS LOOKS LIKE
Signs of stress can be severe, including insomnia, headaches, hair-loss or frequent colds. They can also be mild, bordering on mannerisms. The trick is to know the ones that apply to you. Signals of stress could be as simple as rubbing your neck all the time, grinding your teeth, playing with your hair, or biting your nails. Learn to recognise your own signs of stress and use them as prompters to take a break, get some space or try another stress relief tactic.
2) GET REALISTIC
One of the symptoms of an oncoming nervous breakdown is the unwavering belief that your work is terribly important and must continue at all costs. People that get stressed are often among the hardest working and most dedicated. But taking too much work on is the surest way to stress-ville.
Forbes recently reported that the average business professional has a whopping 30 to 100 projects on their plate. It's good to be hard-working, it's good to be ambitious, but it's bad to feel like you can't say no. If half your workload remains untouched, despite your best efforts, it's in your (or your employer's) interest to deal with the problem by becoming more realistic about what is humanly possible. Concentrate on what has been achieved and try not to beat yourself up about what hasn't.
3) TALK TO SOMEONE
Communication is the first step to solving the vast majority of life's problems. Get some advice from someone you respect. This could be a casual chat with a friend or colleague or it could be a more formal conversation with your line manager or HR representative.
You may even want to talk to a helpline, such as Mind (www.mind.org.uk) or the Stress Management Society (www.stress.org.uk). Organisations like this can offer professional advice, tailored to your needs. Whatever the severity of your workplace stress, talking about it is one of the first steps to getting it off your plate and under control.
4) COMMIT TO ONE SMALL CHANGE
Little changes to your working day can make all the difference. The key to making the right change is to think about what relaxes you. Always skipping lunch? Start taking them. Eat your lunch while you work? Stop and get a change of scenery. Spend your break time Googling alone? Meet a friend or colleague instead. There's no end of ways to relax and there's no one-size-fits-all option. Really think about what chills you out. What do you do that makes you happy and relaxed? Can this be factored into your working day or after-work hours?
5) KEEP A DAILY TO-DO LIST AND KEEP IT SHORT
Writing things down gets your thoughts out of your head and onto paper. But a to-do list as long as your arm never helped anyone. Keep a list, keep a long list, if you must, but also keep a short, sharp daily list of just three of the most important things that you want to achieve that day. It will help you stay focussed and help you to feel like you are getting somewhere, in a way that an overloaded, overambitious list, never could.
6) DO ONE THING AT A TIME
Scattergun working can only ever achieve so much. It adds to stress, is rarely aligned with your priorities and usually has a negative effect on quality. You'll feel better and less stressed if you just concentrate on one thing at a time. Of course, there'll always be the odd little thing you'll need to attend to - the phone, an email, a quick chat, a small request - but try not to let yourself be distracted by jobs that will take more than ten minutes. If they take more than ten, they'll have to wait.
7) TAKE A STEP BACK & SEE HOW YOU FEEL TOMORROW
When we're tired, small things get us down more easily. You may have noticed that you'll cope with problems much better at 9.00am on a Monday than you would at 7.30pm on a Friday. When we're overworked and irritable, smaller issues can seem much worse, molehills become mountains and dramatic responses only exacerbate the problem.
If you feel your stress levels rising, at the end of the day or working week, try to put aside the issue and not overthink it. Try to respond the next day or ask yourself if the issue is really that important with questions like ‘will I care about this in five weeks' or even five days' time?' People are fallible, we all have our moods. Listen to yourself and let the best ‘you' tackle the issue.
8) SET BOUNDARIES AND DISCONNECT WHEN YOU CAN
OK, it's time for some tough talking. The only person who decides your work-life balance is you. If you feel like that balance is off, start to readjust it. Don't start work before 8.00am. Don't work late, after 6.00pm. Don't take your work home with you. Don't look at your emails more than once over the weekend, if at all. All sound advice but set boundaries you feel are appropriate to you. Recharging your batteries is important for health and for work. Rest isn't idleness, it's essential.
9) LIMIT YOUR INFORMATION OVERLOAD
You'd be shocked at all the things in your life that you don't need and do you no good. You know the way you feel great about your house when it's all tidy and decluttered. Your brain could feel like this with a few regular purges.
On LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat? Lose one or two. Get hundreds of inbox-busting of emails you never read? Take the time to unsubscribe. Left dismayed by the daily onslaught of negative headlines? Ditch the paper and pick up something more positive, like a fun podcast or a more balanced read.
It's easy to feel overwhelmed in today's super-social and sensationalised world. But leave a little time for a clear head or a calming tune and reconnect with a more placid way of life now and then. Giving your mind some clear space to think and reflect does wonders for an overworked brain.
10) LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
Now, this advice is so obvious it shouldn't need to be said but it does and often, especially today. Three fundamental pieces of advice in life that are eternal, universal and universally true. They're not going anywhere and you need to believe in them.
They are the cardinal rules of self-help and that's why I'm rounding this list off with them:
Get enough sleep.
Stress feeds off fatigue, poor diet and a lack of mobility or energy. When you manage these areas of your life well, you become equipped to handle stress with a better outlook on the world, increased positivity and greater enthusiasm.
TO CAP THINGS OFF:
Everyone at some point has been told to ‘avoid stress' as though it's a minor diversion, like dodging an annoying neighbour or taking a longer, scenic route.
But feeling stressed in today's society is pretty much inevitable. It might sound harsh, but only the dead are truly stress free. For those of us still above ground, stress can strike at any time. It costs the UK economy around £6.5bn a year and it can make life (and work) a living hell.
We are not invincible. We burn out. We get sick. We are vulnerable. But we needn't despair. With a few, straight-forward steps stress can be restrained. Learn to manage your stress this season. Look better. Feel better and don't wait until you're on your holidays to enjoy life. Get strategizing and send stress packing.