It is impossible for anyone to live a life that is free of stress. However, there are many ways people can learn how to deal with stress more effectively
When was the last time you found yourself in a situation where your to-do list seemed endless, where deadlines were fast approaching and you found yourself thinking ‘OMG! I’m so stressed!’? It might have been a week ago, or a month or so ago, or you might think it day in day out and can’t ever really imagine a time when you’ll be in full control of your workload and able to calmly work through your to do list.
It is impossible for anyone to live a life that is completely free from stress and that’s part of learning how to cope in itself. But, there are also many ways we can learn how to deal with stress more effectively, and how to protect ourselves from its negative effects.
By the end of this guide you will have the ability to cope with the stressors in your life, you will feel confident that you can develop effective coping skills for managing stress and its persistent symptoms and you will be able to start meaningful activities that structure your time, adjust your attitude and reduce stress occurring in the first place. We’ll also look at how to recognise stress in others and how to help them move forwards too.
By the end of this section you will have an understanding of how vulnerable you are to stress, you will Feel more aware of the cognitive, emotional, physical and behavioural issues caused by stress and you will be aware of the impact of stress on the economy as a whole and on individual businesses.
I’m going to start by asking, why are you here? What’s made you seek out ways to reduce the stress in your life and/or increase your capacity to deal it?
I just want you to take a moment and note down why you are reading this and what you are hoping to get out of it. It’s really important to be honest with yourself about this. No one is going to look at your notes, they’re just for you. Be honest with yourself and get it down on paper.
Our ability to deal with stress can depend on many things. I’m sure I won’t surprise you if I say that we are more likely to get stressed if many things go wrong in one day, than if they went wrong over the course of a week or a month. Or that things certain people in your life say can stress you out more than if others say something. But also certain aspects of our habits, our lifestyles, and our environments can make each of us more, or less, vulnerable to the negative effects of stress.
How vulnerable are you to stress? What we’re going to do now is a stress vulnerability test. For each of the following 20 items, I want you to rate how much of the time each applies to you. We’’ll do this by scoring from 1 to 5, 1 being almost always and 5 never. Score each item on this list using this scale according to how much of the time each statement applies to you.
Before we go through what’s a good score and what score flags you up as someone who needs to look at their stress levels more seriously I want you to identify one of your lowest scoring items on the list and have a think about how that activity effects your life and then one of your highest items and how does that impact the stress levels in your life?
Okay, so how to find out if you’re winning at stress, or if you need to think more about it. The Scoring Key is this:
The model that we have just explored is the Stress-Vulnerability Model.
As the name suggests, two main factors are involved. “Vulnerability” refers to our basic susceptibility to stress through our actions, choices, environments and relationships. If we are vulnerable to something, it means we’re more likely to be affected by it.
Stress is a word most of us will hear on a daily or at least a regular basis but what does it actually mean? We might not be using it mindfully, as in we might not really be thinking about what it means. So I’d like you right now, to have a think about what stress means. To define it. And then I’d like you to have think about what stress actually feels like? It can feel different in different people. Some people feel it in their shoulders, or their stomach, some get a headache, or can’t sleep. What I want you to think about is how does it feel for you. Because in order to deal with stress, in order to address it we need to be able to identify it.
Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. That’s mental or emotional strain or tension, so it covers the idea of stress as a mental thing and as a physical thing, a thing resulting in biological symptoms. No doubt some of you will have listed physical symptoms when you wrote down how stress felt to you. It’s not just a mental thing, a thing that exists inside our head, it produces very real, very felt physical symptoms. Some examples of what stress feels like that we have been given in the past are: tension in shoulders, a ball in the stomach, headache, brain fog, paralysis regarding what to do next, rabbit in headlights, insomnia, or sleeping too much - so a combination of mental issues and physical symptoms.
One of the difficulties with stress is that people experience stress in different ways. This contributes to stress manifesting itself differently. So it would be wrong to over generalise when giving advice on how to identify stress in others. However, what we can say is that because stress has negative effects, it will usually manifest itself one way or another that is an identifiable change in the stressed person.
At the most basic level, stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event called a ‘stressor’. What counts as a ‘stressor’ can vary hugely from person to person. Some common features of stressors include experiencing something new or unexpected, something that threatens your competence or ego, and a feeling of having little control over a situation.
Stress targets the weakest part of our physiology or character; if you are prone to headaches or eczema, this will flare up. If you have low levels of patience or tolerance for others, this will be the first area to present under times of stress.
Stress isn’t avoidable but it is manageable. A key action in order to minimise risk is to identify stress-related problems as early as possible, so that action can be taken before serious stress-related illness occurs.
Of course, we all experience ‘bad days’, but not being able to cope with a bad day in a positive manner can result in a situation where people display these negative changes for a period of time and suffer from prolonged stress.
Prolonged stress undoubtedly makes people ill. It is now known that it contributes to heart disease, hypertension and high blood pressure, it affects the immune system, is linked to strokes, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, ulcers, diabetes, muscle and joint pain, miscarriage, allergies, alopecia and even premature tooth loss.
Stress has its useful purposes, of course. There’s good stress that gives us the energy to power through a difficult time in life or work, keeps us going when otherwise we might rest. And there’s bad stress that affects our performance or life negatively. The trouble is our body can’t choose and regulate it on its own. It often needs intervention from our rational mind. In the modern world, the ‘fight or flight’ mode, that is stress, can help us survive dangerous situations, such as reacting swiftly to a person running in front of our car by slamming on the brakes.
However stress becomes a challenge when our body goes into a state of stress in inappropriate situations. When blood flow is going only to the most important muscles needed to fight or flee, which is what it does in times of stress then blood flow to the brain, and consequently brain function, is minimised.
We talk about stress as being fight or flight so let’s have a brief look at them individually and how they can help us or hold us back.
When your body goes into a state of stress, we may feel agitated and aggressive towards others; this is due to our brain flooding our big muscles with blood in order that they are as strong and powerful as possible - ready to fight hard, for our lives. This can be a helpful reaction to ward off predators, but in unnecessary situations, it can negatively affect relationships if we respond too aggressively and perhaps even ruin reputations.
Some of us avoid our stressors, removing ourselves from the situation instead of tackling it. Flight as a response can clearly save our lives if we find ourselves in dangerous surroundings. However, in everyday life, this natural instinct can lead to a stressful situation escalating, and increase our stress levels when we realise that the stressor isn’t going away and we need to face it. Avoiding looking at bills, or facing the reality of the situation is a form of flight, or avoidance, just as much as physically running away.
Unknown to many people, there is a third mode that stress can cause and that is freeze. For some people, becoming stressed sets the stage for ‘dysregulation’. The energy mobilised by the perceived threat gets “locked” into the nervous system and we ‘freeze’. This response sometimes reveals itself in our breathing. Holding our breath and shallow breathing are both forms of freeze. The occasional deep sigh is the nervous system catching up on its oxygen intake.
It may be tough to tell when you’re experiencing good or bad stress, but there are important ways that your body lets you know that you’re struggling with too much stress.
So How does it impact us? Well it impacts us on 4 different levels and you can watch out for the following warning signs:
Cognitive - Memory Problems; Poor Judgement; Inability to Concentrate or complete tasks; we may get ’Brain Fog’; we might experience a real difficulty in making even the smallest of decisions; we may find ourselves Starting many tasks but achieving little; and we may experience more Self doubt than usual. A little is typical but if you’re suddenly really doubting yourself then you might be experiencing stress.
Emotional - we may feel Depression; increased Moodiness; or Irritability; we might even get as far as Fatalistic Thinking or Panic; it might be a case of more Cynicism than usual, having an inability to see a way out; Anxiety; Feeling Overwhelmed; increased Anger or Frustration. And many more, of course.
Physical - Chest Pain; High Blood Pressure, a Rapid Heartbeat; to Aches and Pains; Headaches, Frequent Colds; Changes in appetite, Skin Complaints or breakouts; as well as Indigestion or IBS.
Behavioural - Increased Intake in Alcohol, Cigarettes and/or Caffeine to try and Relax; perhaps you might Isolate Yourself from Others; Sleep too Little or too Much; you might feel Demotivated and you might Lose of sense of humour.
All of this, naturally has an economic effect on you, your company, your family and the wider community.
At a basic level stress feels unpleasant, it’s not a nice way to feel infrequently, let alone frequently or for prolonged periods. The knock-on effects of all the issues we just spoke about may be detrimental to your relationships with those you love. It may make you or them question whether the relationships are working anymore. It might make them want to spend less time with you. Stress can lead to a negative spiral where things get worse and worse and the ripple effect means that the negativity widens to encircle others too.
A 2017 study by Deloitte quantified that when employers embed mental fitness within its culture - particularly at a time when employees are thriving - they can get a return of more than eight times that of the investment: resulting in financial fitness for the business as well as emotionally fit employees.
In the year 2016-2017, 526,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety, leading to 12.5 million working days lost. In 2017-2018 it was up to 15.4 million working days lost. This equates to 57.3 per cent of the 26.8 million work days lost to ill health according to figures released by the Health and Safety Executive.
The cost to your business is potentially huge. It’s vital you invest in ways, and that includes the culture of the business as well as leadership training to ensure your leaders are getting the best from strong, resilient and mentally, as well as physically fit, workers. It’s not just a financial investment, it’s about allowing the time needed to build a great culture where positivity and resilience thrive, where innovation and motivation are the norm, where people aren’t fearful to admit they made a mistake. Leadership and culture are not the unnecessary fluff they are often thought to be. They’re vital to ensure your business is operating at its most effective and developing in a way that ensures its future.
It seems the world is facing a mental health crisis. Almost three quarters of people (74%) felt at some point last year they were so stressed that they were unable to cope, and a third of people in Great Britain say they have experienced suicidal feelings.
The New Economics Foundation has analysed hospital admission data from 2016/ 2017 and found that there were 17,500 episodes where stress or anxiety was the primary cause for hospital admission. This led to 165,800 days where beds were occupied due to stress or anxiety, at a cost to the taxpayer of £71.1 million. When we look at episodes where stress or anxiety was a secondary cause, there were a staggering 203,700 episodes, that’s an almost 12 fold increase when we widen the parameters slightly, for example to take account that a person admitted for high blood pressure, or headaches has been under a lot of stress.
So, for the sake of our own personal wellbeing, that of our families and loved ones, our workplaces and the wider community we must develop techniques to prevent bad stress from becoming a regular feature in our lives.
By the end of this section you will have an awareness of the difference between stress and pressure and you will understand how some stress can be good for you. You will be more aware of how feeling stressed can affect our habits and lead us to fall back on behaviours that don’t help us. And You will also have strategies to prevent stress from building up.
We often hear phrases like, “I’m under a lot of pressure,” and “I’m really stressed” used interchangeably as if stress and pressure are exactly the same. But there is a critical difference.
Stress refers to the situation of too many demands and not enough resources – time, money, energy – to meet them.
Pressure is a situation in which you perceive that something at stake is dependent on the outcome of your performance.
Stress may involve a variety of problems that lead to feelings of overload. A meeting that runs late, a long list of emails that need responses, and several looming deadlines that need to be addressed may cause a fair amount of stress. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re under pressure, though of course it might.
Pressure involves feelings (often of an anxious and fearful nature) of a “do or die” type situation. When you’ve only got one shot to get it right, like having to do a presentation to a client that will make your business successful or a job interview that means you’ll be able to pay your bills again, you’ll experience pressure.
To help determine ask yourself, “Am I feeling overwhelmed by the demands upon me, or do I feel I have to produce a specific result?” If your answer is the former, a feeling of being overwhelmed, too many demands and not enough resources, you are stressed. If you are in a situation or entering one in which you feel you have to deliver the goods, that’s pressure. But often it’s a case of a mixture of the two, stress and pressure, in a vicious circle.
There are occasions, however, when stress and pressure can be good for us.
The key is identifying good stress from bad stress. As long as it’s not chronic, that is you are experiencing it all the time for a prolonged period, then stress can be a positive addition to your life. Stress is a burst of energy that basically advises you on what to do.
Without this brilliant ability to feel stress, humankind wouldn’t have survived. Stress is a fast instinctive response that fills our muscles with adrenalin and readies them for fight or flight. We need it, as a species, for survival.
In small doses, therefore, stress has many advantages: It can help you meet daily challenges and we can use it to motivate ourselves to reach our goals. So stress can help you accomplish tasks more efficiently. It can even boost memory.
There are even health benefits to a little bit of stress. Researchers believe that some stress can help to fortify the immune system. For instance, stress can improve how your heart works and protect your body from infection. In one study, individuals who experienced moderate levels of stress before surgery were able to recover faster than individuals who had low or high levels. So a little bit of stress in our lives is actually a good thing.
What I’d like you to do right now is to have a think. What kinds of things in your life get you stressed?
Stress management, which is really what we’re talking about, starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. This isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. While it’s easy to identify major stressors such as changing jobs, moving, or a going through a divorce, pinpointing the sources of chronic stress can be more complicated. It’s all too easy to overlook how your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviours contribute to your everyday stress levels. Sure, you may know that you’re constantly worried about work deadlines, but maybe it’s your procrastination, rather than the actual job demands, that is causing the stress.
Areas of stress that people generally reference when we’re talking to them tend to fall into the following categories:
General stressors include fear and uncertainty. Fear, whether real or perceived, results in stress. Uncertainty also produces stress. When we cannot predict an outcome we can feel a lack of control, which can produce stress.
Life stressors can include death of a family member or friend, injury, illness, new additions to the family, crime, abuse, familial changes such as marriage or divorce, interpersonal problems, physical changes, relocation, financial problems, environmental changes, or changes in responsibilities.
Work stressors include job demands, lack of support, relationships with co-workers and supervisors, poor communication, lack of feedback, criticism, lack of clarity, changes in organisational structure, promotion/demotion, long hours, overall job dissatisfaction, job insecurity, pressure in the markets that mean restructuring is happening, having to deal with many people off at once, such as furlough, being furloughed yourself perhaps.
Internal stressors are those we create inside our own heads or bodies. The way we perceive and view situations often can be the cause of stress. Some examples include negative self-talk, unrealistic expectations, wanting always to be in control, wanting to be liked by everyone, or striving to be liked by everyone, always saying yes and seeking perfection in all that you do. It’s impossible to be the best lawyer, the best mum, the fittest, the healthiest, have the cleanest house, the kids that are perfect in every way all the time. Anyone who strives to do that will end up stressed.
Stress causes us to not think clearly. Our brain prioritises the sending of blood to our muscles when we’re stressed to aid fight or flight. In order to do this it needs to take blood from other areas so it takes it from our brain, more precisely from our rational brain. So at times of stress we find it very hard to make rational decisions or be mindful about our behaviour. This means that we tend to fall back on our habits, which can be good for us or bad, depending upon what they are. So let’s think about that now. What habits do we fall back on when we are stressed? Many people will say drinking, having an alcoholic drink every night ‘to relax’, or staying up late, or not going to the gym.
As always, being forewarned about what we’re likely to fall back on or how stress is likely to affect us in other ways is a major factor in either preventing this happening or in regaining control of it once it has started to happen. We need to be aware of this because sometimes falling back on those old habits creates a negative spiral that makes it harder and harder for us to exit the stressed state. For example if we’re under a lot of pressure to do with our workload and we decide we’re not going to take a lunch break and work right through in order to accomplish as much as possible, then we might get home at 6 or 7pm and, instead of doing some exercise, we head straight to the fridge, because we’re starving and we shove some snacks in our mouths while we’re heating some food up, or while the takeaway is coming. Because we have eaten bad food and not exercised we don’t sleep as well or feel as though we have much energy, so we feel tired the next day while we slog through our day without a lunch break again - and repeat and repeat. I know this will be familiar to some of you because I have heard many people tell it to me when describing their days.
If you do this one day, but then you notice it because you have already thought about what habits you fall back on when stress or overload happens, then you are able to halt it before it goes on too long. So you might think, hold on, I did this yesterday too, eat crisps and drink wine while waiting for rubbish food to heat up, rather than go to they gym and eat healthily. I’d better do something about lunch tomorrow or this is going to end in weight gain and unhealthiness before long.
What are three things currently adding stress to your life? List them in order of significance and personal impact.
We had a customer a few years back who got into great habits while on our course. Then after a while she said things slipped. I asked her what one thing she had stopped doing that she had found helpful while on our course and the lightbulb moment when it hit her was great to see. ‘You’re right, she said, I’ve started staying up late again. Once she re-adjusted her bedtime to the earlier time everything else slipped back into place quite happily.
So I want you to write down what usually happens as a consequence of the presence of your stressors when you have experienced them in the past. If you can highlight what usually happens, then if it starts happening next time you can nip it in the bud more easily. It’s all about awareness, about learning about why you do the things you do, why you stop doing the things that are benefitting you and about keeping that knowledge updated on an ongoing basis.
Coping effectively with stress enables people to be engaged in interesting, rewarding activities that may involve stress, such as working or being a parent. So in order to deal with stress we need to have a strategy for when we know we’re likely to get stressed and also to have a general strategy of stress reduction going on at all times.
Examples of coping skills include things like relaxation skills for calming down our breathing and focusing our mind so we can get on with what we need to do, or perhaps using social skills for connecting with people, we might need communication and resilience skills for dealing with conflict that might be in our life, we might need to reach out for support when required so we need to know that it’s okay to do that and how to do that, we might also need coping skills for managing persistent symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and sleeping problems.
Tense people rarely take lunch breaks, read books, or take a walk. Take time for you. Your mental and physical health is important and should be treated as just as important as those tasks with deadlines on your to do list.
I want you to ask yourself: “Am I giving too much to others and not enough for myself? Do I need to take time for myself?” If the answers are “yes,” refuse to feel guilty about it and do it!
If you feel guilty when you do something enjoyable for yourself, chances are you will stop doing it. Ultimately, you lose. You may be living your life through other people’s standards and expectations. Take control of your guilt-producing thoughts. Focus on the benefits to you and your family that will occur when you are a more relaxed and energized person.
Another thing that is important to do is go to lunch and don’t rush. Take a proper lunch break at least three times a week. Don’t do business during lunch. Read a novel over a cup of tea. Sit quietly. Eat slowly. Go out with a good friend and agree not to discuss problems or business. Walk by yourself or with a friend. Talk about possibilities, not problems.
It’s really important for your effectiveness that you do that. If you don’t take a lunch break you will work less effectively in the afternoon. Even if you don’t take a full hour, taking 15 minutes will refresh you more than you can imagine, if you can’t manage 15 minutes, even 5 minutes in the fresh air is refreshing. I have talked before about slowing down to speed up and this is one of the cases where that is absolutely the case.
Your strategy for dealing with stress depends upon how you experience stress to some extent but there’s also general things that help everyone. Once you have raised your awareness about what your likely stressors are, and identified what usually happens when we experience them then we are better placed already to cope with the stress that does occur in our lives.
But we can also reduce the likelihood of those stressors affecting us by general stress maintenance in our life. In order to do this general maintenance we can do things like:
Exercise Don’t let anything get in the way of this for a longer period than a few days. I don’t necessarily mean heavy gym stuff if that’s not your thing, but walking in the fresh air, a quick run. Do some exercise almost daily. This will reduce your stress.
Learn deep relaxation skills. These don’t have to take long. Box breathing is a fabulous technique that calms you down in 30 seconds or so. Breathe in for 3, hold for 3, out for 3 and hold for 3. Do this 3 times and you’ll be surprised how calming it is. This technique is taught to special forces soldiers like the SAS and Navy Seals to improve their performance.
Listen to relaxation tapes. Audiotapes are an excellent way to learn how to let go and relax. Develop the skill of deep relaxation that will cleanse your body of damaging stress hormones and chemicals.
Listen to relaxing music. Any type of music you find enjoyable can help you to let go and relax. Classical music is particularly helpful for reducing stress but do whatever you find relaxing.
Remain self aware. Talk about yourself in the 3rd person: ‘Laura is feeling a bit stressed right now’, ‘What is causing Laura’s stress right now?’. Talking about yourself in the 3rd person enables you to acknowledge how you are feeling in a way that makes it easier to then address.
Get a decent night’s sleep. Research tells us that we need an 8 hour sleep opportunity each night in order to remain fit and healthy and be our best selves. Take it seriously, treat it as important and make sure it happens. Don’t sacrifice this as this effects everything else.
Take control of your workload. Stress is about a lack of control. You will immediately feel better if you take control. Sort all of your to do list into priorities, delegate if appropriate and focus on each priority one at a time, maintaining full focus on each separate task so that you work in a highly effective manner.
Say ‘no’ more. It doesn’t have to be unpleasant saying no. You can say something like, “Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to make that, hope you have a lovely time.’” Or ‘I really need some quiet time this weekend. I’m going to relax and read a book. Thanks for asking though, I would love to join you next time.” “I can definitely do that work for you but not until next week as I have my time already planned out. If you need it sooner than that you might be better asking someone else. Or shall I book it in for next week for you.”
So, exercise, learn relaxation skills and box breathing, listen to relaxation tapes and music, remain self aware, get a decent night’s sleep and take control of your workload by prioritising, delegating and focusing and say ‘no’ more.
So, as we come to the end of this section, I’d like you to think about the three stressors in your life, and what I want you to do is to outline three actions you will commit to doing to reduce your stress regarding them. And then 3 things that you will do to reduce your general tension levels. Don’t rush off at the end of this video or go immediately into your emails, take a moment, sit and write down the 3 things you can do to address your stressors and to reduce your general stress levels in life. Do it right now.
By the end of this section you will have a simple system that should help you deal with stress. You will be able to assess the best way to combat and prevent stress and you will feel more in control going forwards.
While stress is an automatic response from your nervous system, some stressors arise at predictable times: your commute to work, a meeting with your boss, or family gatherings, for example. When handling such predictable stressors, you can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose in any given scenario, it’s helpful to think of the four A’s: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept.
It’s not healthy to avoid a stressful situation that needs to be addressed, but you may be surprised by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate.
Learn how to say “no.” Know your limits and stick to them. Whether in your personal or professional life, taking on more than you can handle is a surefire recipe for stress. Distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts” and, when possible, say “no” to taking on too much.
Avoid people who stress you out. If someone consistently causes stress in your life, limit the amount of time you spend with that person, or end the relationship.
Take control of your environment. If the evening news makes you anxious, turn off the TV. If traffic makes you tense, take a longer but less-traveled route. If going to the supermarket is an unpleasant chore do your grocery shopping online. If you hate a messy house but haven’t ever got the time to clean it get a cleaner or a hoover robot.
Pare down your to-do list. Analyze your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. If you’ve got too much on your plate, drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely. I used to have a huge pile of ironing to do every week. Then I started not ironing my daughter’s little t-shirts and just smoothing them out more, they were fine. My husband said he didn’t need his t-shirts ironing either as he only wore them under jumpers, so they’re gone too. I stopped ironing bedding, and everything I could get away with. Now I only have 20 minutes or so and as a result I don’t mind it at all.
If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Often, this involves changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life.
Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. If something or someone is bothering you, be more assertive and communicate your concerns in an open, kind, and respectful way. If you’ve got an exam to study for and your chatty roommate just got home, say up front that you only have five minutes to talk. If you don’t voice your feelings, resentment will build and the stress will increase. People are usually very understanding as long as you communicate nicely and with a smile.
Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to change their behaviour, be willing to do the same. If you both are willing to bend at least a little, you’ll have a good chance of finding a happy middle ground.
Another way to alter the situation is to create a balanced schedule. All work and no play is a recipe for burnout. Try to find a balance between work and family life, social activities and solitary pursuits, daily responsibilities and downtime. Too many people try to please everyone all the time and be brilliant at everything. Balance is key, it’s okay not to be everything to everyone, and it’s okay to not always be involved with everything that’s going on. You don’t have to respond to every WhatsApp group chat. If your friends are chatting and you don’t want to, or you’re too busy, that’s fine, just chime in when you can and don’t feel guilty about it.
If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.
So it might be that you have to reframe the problem. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, listen to your favourite radio station, or enjoy some alone time. See if you can make the people around you in the traffic jam smile. Make it a game to spread a positive influence.
Or Look at the big picture. Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere. A traffic jam has to be epic to make it onto a list of things that will matter in a month so just go with the flow. There’s nothing you can do about it now.
Sometimes you might have to Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Or setting yourself up for disappointment by expecting perfection from others. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.” Most of the time good enough is enough, and most of the time it actually means you’re more effective, at home and at work.
It also helps to practice gratitude. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. This simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective. If stress is an ongoing issue for you then doing a gratitude diary where you write down 3 things you appreciate every single morning can help reset your day from a bad day the day before or just start off your day in a positive mindset. Too many people go about life thinking they can’t choose their attitude or their mindset. There are literally hundreds of opportunities every single day for you to choose your attitude, don’t let life, or others dictate your attitude, choose it for yourself. Life gets so much easier and more pleasant when you choose not to be so negatively affected by what’s going on in the world, or the actions of others, or the beliefs of others.
Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or a national recession. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation you can’t change.
Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control, particularly the behaviour of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems. Or the amount of time you spend with certain people.
Also try and look for the upside. If a loved one dies suddenly, then it’s awful, but perhaps they knew nothing about it, or have been spared suffering. A recession is tough, but by focusing on the things you can control, like how hard you work, or what you spend your time focusing on, you can make your business, or your skillset even stronger. When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. There’s a saying:
Adversity reveals genius, prosperity conceals it.
Adversity might just be the making of you. Or perhaps your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up about it, just acknowledge that ‘if I hadn’t done that, then all of this wouldn’t have happened, so I won’t do that next time’. If it’s a learning opportunity then all is far from lost.
A skill that many people don’t possess or are often unwilling to learn or practise is learning to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes and that some people are thoughtless, selfish or unkind. Who knows what they’re dealing with right now. Let go of anger and resentments. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on. Don’t let their behaviour ruin the rest of your day, week, month, just let go. Give them the benefit of the doubt and move on.
If you think it would help then it’s a good thing to share your feelings. Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation. Talk to a trusted friend or make an appointment with a therapist. Or even do the 3rd person thing to yourself while you’re driving along in the car. Talk out loud about how you feel and let it out.
Finally, have fun. Prioritise it in your life. Having fun, relaxing and adopting healthy habits regarding this will have a major impact on your stress levels.
Many people have stressful responsibilities that they must take care of, to the point that having fun feels like an unnecessary luxury. However, including fun activities in life may be one of the best stress relief tips you can follow. While many responsible adults have adult-sized responsibilities that make it easy to put fun on the low end of the priorities list, letting your inner child come out to play can keep you feeling vital and happy. There are many benefits of having good old fun, so read on and get inspired to play and relax today (even if just for a short time) and see how you feel.
Fun activities provide a source of eustress, the 'good' kind of stress that keeps you feeling vital and alive. It's the sense of excitement you get from completing a project, riding a roller coaster, or meeting an exciting challenge in your life. We need regular eustress in our lives, and fun activities provide that.
Next time you’re feeling a bit stressed, think to yourself how can I apply the four As of stress management. Have a look at your list of stressors right now and think, cam I avoid, alter, accept or adapt to any of these stressors, to make them go away or be less impactful in my life?
By the end of this section you will understand what we mean when we talk about burnout. You will be able to recognise the symptoms in yourself and others and you will feel confident in terms of what to do if you do see someone suffering from burnout.
The term “burnout” is a relatively new term, first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. He originally defined burnout as, “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one's devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”
Burnout is a reaction to prolonged or chronic job stress and is characterised by three main dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of reduced professional ability.
In a world where it seems as though the pressure to perform is always on, more and more people are admitting to burnout at work. What is this phenomenon, and how can you cope with it if it happens to you?
In May 2019, the World Health Organization formally recognised burnout as an "occupational phenomenon." Their decision came after years of hearing people talk about it, trying to understand why it affected them, and attempting to identify what they could have done to cope with it.
Recently, a Gallup study of around 7,500 full time workers found that 23% were ‘often’ in "burnout mode." With About 44% "sometimes" entering burnout mode.
What is the difference though between burnout and being under pressure?
Well Burnout is a syndrome brought on from chronic workplace stress that hasn't been successfully managed. More simply put, if you feel exhausted, start to hate your job, and begin to feel less capable at work, you are showing signs of burnout.
The stress that contributes to burnout can come mainly from your job, but stress from your overall lifestyle can add to this stress. Personality traits and thought patterns, such as perfectionism and pessimism, can contribute as well.
Most people spend the majority of their waking hours working. And if you hate your job, dread going to work, and don't gain any satisfaction out of what you're doing, it can take a serious toll on your life.
There is nothing positive about burnout. The difference between burnout and work related stress is the point at which it becomes a serious health issue,
While burnout isn’t a diagnosable psychological disorder, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be taken seriously. Here are some of the most common signs:
Alienation from work-related activities: people experiencing burnout view their jobs as increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may grow cynical about their working conditions and the people they work with. They may also emotionally distance themselves and begin to feel numb about their work.
Physical symptoms: headaches, stomach aches or intestinal issues.
Emotional exhaustion: Burnout causes people to feel drained, unable to cope, and tired. They often lack energy to get their work done. They might even lack the ability to make even apparently simple decisions.
Reduced performance: which mainly affects everyday tasks at work, or in the home when someone's main job involves caring for family members. Individuals with burnout feel negative about tasks. They have difficulty concentrating and often lack creativity.
Although the term "burnout" suggests it may be a permanent condition, it's totally reversible though someone who is feeling burned out may need to make some major changes to their work environment.
Approaching the human resource department about problems in the workplace or talking to a supervisor about the issues could be helpful if they are invested in creating a healthier work environment.
In some cases, a change in position or a new job altogether may be necessary to put an end to burnout.
A holiday may offer you some temporary relief too, but a week away from the office won't be enough to help you beat burnout. Regularly scheduled breaks from work, along with daily renewal exercises, can be key to helping you combat burnout.
You need to develop clear strategies that help you manage your stress. Self-care strategies, like eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercises, and engaging in healthy sleep habits may help reduce some of the effects of a high-stress job.
But what should we do when we think someone else is heading for burnout?
You don't have to be an expert to provide help and support, to someone who is stressed - just being there for them can make a big difference to how they feel. So what can you do to help and support someone who is too stressed and potentially heading towards burnout at work? Here are some ideas for you to try:
Pay attention to them and be there for them. How often do you notice how your work colleagues are behaving? If you are busy at work you can become very self and task focused and not notice what is going on for other people. But if you pay attention to how other people are you may notice that someone is stressed or struggling to cope at work. It’s important that we can recognise the symptoms and signs of stress in others, not just ourselves. So what are the symptoms and signs that someone may be feeling stressed? They are many and varied and may be physical, behavioural or emotional.
It’s essential that we try and engage the person in conversation. It may be better do this somewhere away from the workplace. A simple 'How are you?' may get a response or you may need to try something like 'You don't seem your normal self. Let's have a coffee and a chat?' or maybe something more direct such as 'You seem very stressed, what can I do to help and support you?’
You need to clearly acknowledge you have noticed they are stressed and are worried about them. It is good to show concern, tell the person you are worried about them and verbalise that they seemed stressed. This will help them to feel that someone may be able to help and also help them to make sense of how they are feeling. They may not want to engage any further but this is okay too.
If you can it would be great to encourage them to talk about what is going on for them and how they are feeling. They may seem quite jumbled up in what they are saying. Try reflecting back what they are saying to you if it’s not clear, it can help them make sense of their thoughts more. When you are stressed telling someone else often helps you start to feel better.Give them your time and really listen. If you are due to be somewhere else, it will be best to rearrange that as once you have enabled the person to talk you don't want to impose time limits on the conversation. Listening is the key word here. Don't try and solve anything for them just allow them to talk and listen.
Just a word of caution. Don’t get out of your depth. It can feel uncomfortable listening to someone who is stressed but talking will help them make sense of the situation. If you don't feel confident to have the conversation, or if you think it might be veering into serious mental well-being then it might be advisable for you to go and get someone else, so someone more senior or HR, or advise a visit to the GP - whoever you feel can help.
If you feel you can then it might be helpful to direct the conversation so it explores the causes of the stress. You can ask open questions to help them explore what the causes may be. Or you may also be able to help by reflecting back what you think the causes are.
Then you can encourage them to take action. For a person to really feel less stressed they need to take some action on the root causes of their stress. Gently encourage the person to think about what they could do and what action they could take. Don’t force them too hard or get impatient if they don’t seem to be taking control. Sometimes people need to reflect a bit before they actually do anything.
So that’s how to recognise burnout in yourself and others and how to deal with it. I hope you didn’t recognise it in yourself but if you did, now is the time to act. Start to implement the strategies immediately. Talk to those around you about how you feel and seek help, both emotionally and practically. It’s not weak to reach out for help, it shows strength.
Keep breathing calmly, in for 3, out for 3, in for 3 out for 3 and reset your focus and mindset.
Keep a look out for your colleagues and friends and make sure you prioritise your own mental health.
By the end of this section you will have a greater understanding of what you as a leader can do to minimise the risk of stress and burnout in your team. You will feel empowered to create a working environment that promotes calmness and positivity and you will be able to quickly make the changes required.
In the workplace, employee-environment fit should be the primary focus. If it's a good match, the employee is likely to be relaxed and work effectively. A poor fit increases tension and stress and results in less productivity.
As managers and leaders, we need to examine our employees and the environments we create for them. We need to make sure we are providing an office that fits our employees' definition of “not stressful,” not just what we think that looks like. We have a few broad ideas that can be used to alleviate workplace stress, but make sure you tailor them to your workforce. Put these ideas into action; and remember, the best strategies start with leadership’s example. The first thing to do is to Encourage workplace wellness.
Exercise and healthy living are two of your best weapons against workplace stress. Exercise takes employees' minds off the stress of their job to focus on the task at hand. It also improves moods by increasing the production of endorphins, the brain's feel-good neurotransmitters.
Employees feel valued when they think you're looking out for their health! A study by Peapod.com reported that 66% of employees felt extremely or very happy when their employer regularly stocked the refrigerator and cupboards, and 83% said that having healthy and fresh snack options was a huge perk. Something as simple as keeping fresh fruit or cartons of yogurt in the fridge goes a long way with employees.
A lot of stress comes from environment. Think about every aspect of your office space and what it does (or doesn’t do) for the wellness of your team. Simple things like the quality of the coffee or the height of the cubicle walls can affect employee engagement. Think about the color scheme, make the space nice to be in, have nice crockery and cutlery that they are happy using. If you have the space, think about adding some outside space where your team can sit and enjoy their lunch or a coffee meeting. We spend a huge amount of time at work so it’s really important that we have as positive an area as possible in which to spend our time. If you are able then it’s great if you can allow for flexible hours and remote working.
You hired your employees because you have confidence in their ability to do their jobs well and in a timely manner—so let them prove it. Your office shouldn’t feel like a cell, but rather a place that facilitates getting a job done. Let your employees know that their job is defined by the quality and timeliness of their work, not when they punch the clock. Allow your employees to work remotely, and give flexibility for start and end times. This freedom is great for office morale, and the policy shows employees that you trust them enough not to babysit. Outside of the practical aspects it’s great to encourage social activity.
Employees spend a lot of time together, and the more comfortable they are, the less stress they will feel. As coworkers get to know each other, expectations and communication barriers are broken down, greasing the wheels for easier future interactions. It’s also fun to get together and have a laugh, play a game, eat good food and perhaps have a drink. It allows your teams to see each other as people not just as job roles again making communication and productivity better. If you can it’s a great idea to create the opportunity for quiet time.
Stress can't be completely avoided, but you can help alleviate it when it arrives. Ensure your employees have a place where they can take a break. Our research shows that more than 80 percent of disengaged and hostile employees preferred the opportunity to have stress-relief breaks, such as a nap, massage, or required break. A small room, a lounge space at the end of the hall, and even an outdoor bench can be perfect places to find refuge from the chaos of the daily grind. Think about longer, retreat-style vacations, which can serve the same purpose. If your organisation can afford to do so, consider implementing "No Meeting Mondays" or something similar, essentially blocking off time for employees to focus in on individual tasks and keep from getting bogged down with meetings or overwhelmed by a heavy workload. Research shows that most people prefer working alone in cubicles where they are less distracted by others.
Can you ask your team what they think about their environment and then provide it? It’ll all come back to you with increased productivity I’m sure.
Many companies have also begun providing counselling as a way for employees to help deal with stress; in a recent study, almost half of workers felt they needed help in learning how to handle the stresses of their jobs. This strategy, in or out of the office, in group settings or individually can help employees prepare for what stress will come their way.
Finally people love being praised for a job well done, and recognising their success results in a serious boost in engagement. Each employee has a different personality, so be mindful when considering how and when to recognise. Some employees appreciate a call-out during a meeting or praise in a company-wide email, while more reserved types might prefer a card on their desk or a thank you in person.
All of these things that companies can do to increase their employees well-being and reduce stress are all about taking the time to appreciate the things that might cause stress to your people. Take a look around your offices and identify where you think stress might be being caused and how. We often just wander about the offices blindly and mindlessly, not thinking about the environment as a factor in productivity and well-being. If you consider this too as a factor in your team’s happiness then you will no doubt influence them positively.
What could be improved in your workplace environment? Or how could you make things less stressful for your team. Go through the list and make notes on every aspect that we have just spoken about.
Ask yourself these questions and come up with good answers.