Get quality sleep
Make healthy food choices
Plan your day before checking your inbox
Schedule breaks in your work day
Take a few deep breaths
Eliminate distractions [within your control]
Use Affirmations & go to your ‘Place of Calm’
Share with a friendly co-worker
1. Get quality sleep
Getting enough sleep allows you to tackle each day with the best of yourself. Advice from the NSF states that 7-9 hours is required if we are to operate at our best during the day – [NSF research in 2015 pioneered by Charles A. Czeisler, PhD, MD, provided the first rigorous, systematic review of the available scientific literature relating sleep duration to health, performance and safety]
Lack of sleep builds up over time, and you are going to feel the effects every day you go to work without proper rest.
An adequate amount of quality sleep enables your body to recover and reset from stress. It will also prevent the chance of future mental-health problems brought on from being too tired or feeling the need to overdose on caffeine in order to make it through the day ahead.
2. Make healthy food choices
When you are stressed, the hormone cortisol is released in your body. Cortisol stimulates the appetite increasing your desire to eat more than your body needs in order to restore energy levels depleted by the stressful situation. In other words, you engage fully with “stress-induced eating.” Most of us, in the aftermath of stressful events or situations, have experienced the need to munch on the office biscuits and crisps, consume excess cups of coffee, or alcohol, or have an essential cigarette. These activities will decrease your energy. You are less able to deal with the problems that caused you to be stressed in the first place. Although there may be a short term benefit – you will need to repeat this de-stressing activity frequently to maintain the effect!
Instead, what you really want to get yourself recharged and energised. So why not drink more water and make healthy consumption [or activity] choices? Try eating whole foods rich in fibre, protein and healthy fats. Low-sugar fruits, veg, nuts, dark chocolate and whole wheat bread are all great choices. Omega 3 fatty acids available from nuts [useful snacking instead of biscuits & cake] are known to improve overall mood. Engage in any activity which gets you away from your desk – a walk or stretches or running up & down stairs a few times.
3. Plan your day before checking your inbox
This will allow you to feel that you have more control over your day. Begin by prioritising the most important tasks. In doing so, it’s best to stick to three things, as to not overwhelm yourself and therefore cause more stress at work. Only if you are able to tackle these will you have room to work on everything else, which is less crucial.
An exercise to make sure that you are prioritising what needs to be done today in the most efficient and effective way possible is to make a list of all of your daily activities. Place a star next to the items that are absolutely required of you [essential deadlines.] Do these first. Maybe ONLY these?
Often, we can get so caught up in perfectionism that ‘busy’ becomes who a mark of identity – an ‘I AM’! In reality, it’s what we are choosing to BE: it’s not who we really are. Does this sound familiar to you? If so, try out No.3 strategy and see if you are able to hone in on just the key components of your crowded to-do list. Who knows – you could change your quality of life in the process.
4. Schedule breaks in your work day
If you experience the need to work until you feel too tired to do anything except hit the sack, your productivity will decrease over time. Your body and your brain require breaks and rest in order to work most efficiently. If you are often stressed or overworked, this means scheduling mini breaking throughout the day, rather than just at night is essential to maintain your well-being.
Take a few minutes every hour or two to go for a walk, meditate, breathe, drink a glass of water, or take a power nap. If you aren’t sure that you’ll be able to hold yourself accountable to this, schedule 5-10 minutes in your calendar for doing absolutely nothing. This ensures that no one else can take this time away from you. Notice how much more productive your day becomes as a result.
5. Take a few deep breaths
You’ve probably heard some version of the words “you need to take a breather” from someone who saw you in the heat of a stressful moment. Do you actually know why this helps, though?
Deep rhythmical abdominal breathing increases the flow of oxygen to your brain which slows down your heart rate, relieves muscle tension, decreases blood pressure, and numerous other benefits. Ultimately, it puts you into a state of inner calm and gets you back in control.
Even just taking three deep breaths - where your exhales [through the mouth] are longer than your inhales [through the nose] - can make a huge difference to your state of mind. If you can do this outside in a ‘green’ space, all the better. Nature is waiting to assist you reclaim your equilibrium.
6. Do a brief form of exercise
“Brief” is the key word here because you may not have time for a full workout, especially during the work day.
After experiencing a stressful situation, a short brisk walk has similar calming effects to deep breathing, such as relieving muscle tension and getting your newly oxygenated blood flowing which helps to turn off the “flight and fight” stress response. While walking, breathe rhythmically as well. Be present. Focus on what you can see, hear, smell, taste in this ‘now’ moment as you walk. Keep doing this even when the thing that caused you stress in the first place keeps returning: just notice [not judge] that this has happened and return to the immediate present.
If you have a little more time, another suggestion is stretching with your breathing exercise: Yoga or Pilates style stretches are best. This is the ultimate form of exercise when it comes to managing work stress. The reason is that it combines breath work, muscle tension relief, and mental focus - hence stimulating that preferred state of calmness.
7. Eliminate distractions within your control Do you ever feel that you simply don’t have enough time in your day? Pause a moment and think honestly about whether this is actually a result of how you are spending your time. You might be checking your personal email, responding to a non-work-related text message, or browsing an article online. See, you actually do have time in your day, you just might not be spending it in the most productive way.
You can change this by taking more control of your day and eliminating unnecessary distractions. Perhaps you can do so forcefully by using an app such as Freedom to block out tempting applications (like Facebook and Instagram) for an allotted period of time. This is one of the many time management apps which can make it possible to ‘reclaim’ time.
8. Use Affirmations & go to your ‘Place of Calm’
Trick your mind into a calmer state by imagining a specific place, or thinking of a word or phrase, that you know makes you feel calm – close your eyes [briefly?] & see, hear, feel, small, taste the calm in that place or with those words. A holiday would, of course, be nice, but you need to take control of your situation right now. Do a short meditation or zone out and think of words like “calm,” – ‘I am calm when ….’ or “relaxation,” ‘I am relaxed when I …..’ or “the sea/beach,” ‘I feel relaxed & calm at or when …. [at beach - or….. cliff walk or ….. sailing or being in woods or…] No one even needs to know what you are up to in your head. Just make your visualisation as big & colourful & enjoyable as you can.
9. Take control –Prioritise tasks & get Noticing ‘behaviours’
When we are stressed, it’s because we feel that certain situations are out of our control. For example, too many meetings during the day. Perhaps you are the one hosting one of those meetings? If so, take a moment to evaluate whether or not it’s necessary: what do you hope to achieve? Could the goal be achieved in another way? More often than not we hold meetings purely out of principle. If the meeting is necessary, you can make it less stressful by having a clear time frame for your agenda and allowing everyone an equal opportunity to listen to each other as well as have their say. There is great advice to be gleaned on how to chair the most effective meetings from Nancy Kline in her seminal work ‘Time to Think’.
Another strategy which will give you more control over potentially stressful work situations is to study the psychology of different types of people. You can do so by DISC profiling the people you work with - https://www.disctest.co.uk/ or DISA, a very similar behaviour profiling system, explored brilliantly by Thomas Erikson [a Swedish behavioural expert] in his book ‘Surrounded by Idiots’ [4 types of human behaviour.] Understanding how people operate will allow you to be more effective in your collaborations, and handle your day to day encounters and conversations with more ease and control.
10. Share with a friendly co-worker
Meaningful relationships not only increase the longevity of our lives, but also provide emotional support during times of stress. When we hold onto our stress, uncertainty, or lack of confidence, we are increasing the thing we are trying so hard to suppress or control. One way to let it all go and escape from ‘stress escalation’ is by talking about the issues which keep causing problems for you with people you know truly care for you. This can help you get persistent stressors off your chest, and enable you to see those people or events differently and so feel better about yourself.
You can also give back to your colleagues by being a friendly support system for them and offering recommendations which have worked for you.
Beyond the ideas presented here, explore other ways in which help you deal with stressful situations and people effectively. Perhaps a Solution-Focused Performance Development coach could be the answer.
Take a look at my website to discover more ways of becoming the best of who you are - www.elainepaul.co.uk