In this crazy world we live in, where a ‘40 hour working week’ really means 50+, and ‘being busy’ is worn like a badge of honour – it’s no wonder most of us are stressed to the hilt! It’s pretty much become the norm to be stressed all the time, but is all this stress really ok? Are you exhausted by it, and is it impacting other areas of your life? We are not robots, there is only so much mental pressure we can handle before it starts to affect our emotional wellbeing, and then our physical health.
If your stress load is too high it’s quite likely that you… often feel tired, sometimes have trouble sleeping, get irritable over little things from time to time. You may even get tearful, experience headaches, stomach ache, or even anxiety, panic attacks, and perhaps even feel close to total burnout. You most likely feel generally low, overwhelmed, and far from full of the joys of spring! You may even be drinking too much to take the edge off or comfort eating.
Being stressed has become so much the norm that we often don’t know any different any more.
If some of the above rang true for you, it may be that you are reaching a point where your level of stress is becoming unsustainable. Is it already impacting your home life? Your relationships? Are you finding yourself unable to switch off at weekends? Maybe work is becoming all-consuming and your loved ones have remarked that you’re not yourself?
Have you had enough? Perhaps it’s time for a wake-up call and to time start to take better care of yourself. Figuring out how to de-stress in today’s crazy world can be tough, so I’ve put together my top tips for regaining control and downsizing your stress to more a manageable level. So here goes!
1. Remember to breathe!
When we are in a state of stress we forget to breathe properly – fact. Breathing is the single thing we have complete control over that can change our whole physiology and mental state. When we are in stress mode our breathing becomes shallow meaning the oxygen doesn’t circulate so well around our body.
Breathing deeply is scientifically proven to balance our nervous system and stimulate the parasympathetic system which is the past responsible for our ‘rest and digest’ function lowering our heart rate, reducing stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol AND producing natural opiates which helps us to feel calm and happy
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious the simple act of changing your breathing will have a real impact. Remembering 4, 4, 6. Breathe in for the count of 4, hold for 4 and out for 6. If you can do this for even a minute it will make a whole lot of difference. No one need know what you are doing either.
2. Look at what you do have control over
Ask yourself what specifically is stressing you out. Is it the action of a colleague? Is it the sheer workload? Is it having too many meetings in your diary? Write this all down and then look at what you can control – it might be more than you think! For example, a colleague’s laziness is annoying you, can you change his behaviour? Probably not! Can you accept his behaviour as something you can’t change and instead change your reaction to it? (dig deep here) Yes you can! Is it temporary or general stress? Is it related to a particular project or deadline? Can you see an end in sight? Can you handle it for the time being? Get really honest with yourself. If it is more a constant stream that is building and building then it’s time to address it.
3. Increase your Self- care
Ironically our Self-care is often the first thing to go out of the window in times of stress when it’s actually the thing we need to increase the most. When you’re feeling overworked or overwhelmed it is more important than ever to make sure you are fully supported and feeling physically and mentally well. By Self- care, I mean things like – getting enough sleep, making sure activity levels are at a good level for you, eating nutritious food that will support your system and fuel you when you are depleted, taking time to switch off and rest. Self -care also includes being kind to yourself – notice your ‘self -talk ‘– do you berate yourself for not doing enough? Give yourself permission right now to go for a run, go to bed early when you’re tired, swap a takeaway for a nice healthy home-made dinner. Have 1 G&T after work instead of 5. It’s your responsibility to look after you, no one else’s. One of my favourite quotes is “you can’t pour from an empty cup” and it’s true. You can’t perform at work to the best of your ability with a depleted tank.
4. Create better boundaries
This is a big one for many of us! Boundaries are the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships with others. A sign of weak boundaries is difficulty saying no. Does saying no make you feel uncomfortable? Maybe you find yourself saying yes to avoid upsetting the other person or perhaps you fear them judging you as not a nice person or incapable in some way? Are you being a hero (or even a martyr!) at work? Are you taking on too much, saying yes to too many people to your own detriment?
A good indicator of when you need to address a boundary is when you get a feeling of resentment. This feeling is an internal red flag telling you to look at where you need to be firmer with your limits! This is all about practice, it might feel uncomfortable at first saying no more but it will become easier! Do you check your emails in the evening or take calls related to work? Do you have a bitching session with work friends after work? If your work is literally running into your life like a stream of muddy sewage water, you are never getting a break which means you are far more likely to feel the stress. What can you do to reduce this leakage? Is there a way of marking work time and home time? Maybe on your walk home you imagine yourself literally taking off your work persona like a suit and putting on your normal clothes. When you enter the front door you mentally draw a line and if you do need to do something work related designate an hour or whatever to it then switch off.
5. Have a brain dump
Often when we are stressed we have a lot swirling around in our heads like a horrible tangled up ball. A great technique is to have a ‘brain dump’ – take a pen and piece of paper and write down everything that is in your head. Once you start you may find it just flows. Get it all out. All the things bothering you, all the repetitive thoughts. Notice how you feel afterwards… Relief? You’ve just created more space in your head, well done!
6. What are you tolerating?
On another piece of paper write a list of everything you are tolerating, everything you are putting up with, everything that’s bothering you – big or small. Some examples might be the fact that you haven’t cleaned the bathroom, you spend lots of time listening to a colleague complaining, you need to empty your inbox, you are suffering with back pain and need to book a chiropractor appointment or a massage. Once you have completed your list pick one item and action it this week. Make sure it’s realistic. Each week go through your list picking one or two things to rectify.
7. Change your physical environment
How can you make your overall work experience better? I’m thinking here about environmental factors. What is your journey to work like? Is your tube journey hot and gross? Can you get off a stop earlier, walk for 5 minutes to get some air and headspace before you get into the office? Could you make a playlist of your favourite songs to lift your mood? Could you listen to a funny podcast? Do a bit of meditation? (headspace app is great!) What about your desk space. Is it cluttered (and adding to your stress) can you sort it out? Can you make it seem more inviting in some way by maybe putting up some photos, changing your screensaver to an inspiring quote, can you swap your chair for a more comfortable one? Would buying yourself a really nice coffee instead of getting one from the machine in the office make a difference to your day? Small changes can create big shifts in your experience and mind set.
8. Manage your time better
Maybe your work stress is related to having an endless to do list and finding it hard to prioritise and manage your time. James Clear, a brilliant Positive Psychologist and expert in work productivity cites these 2 tools to help you. They are pretty simple and self-explanatory- in changing how you prioritise and plan your day you can be so more productive = less stressed out.
Is it time to make a change or two? Don’t let all of this stuff build up to the point where you end up getting ill. Ultimately no financial reward or promotion is worth compromising your health over.
There is no one miracle cure when it comes to de-stressing. However, a series of some small and some bigger changes can make a world of difference. I invite you to pick one idea and try it for a week. I’d love to hear how you get on – please leave me a comment below. If this has resonated and you are serious about making some big changes in your life to really eliminate stress then please do get in touch to book a phone consultation with me.
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