From Jason Thomas, Licensed Educational Psychologist and Evenflow Teacher
If you work, you know that stress is part of the package. Whether it’s a demanding boss or difficult client, deadlines or a tough commute, the sources of work-related stress are countless. Over time, these daily stresses can accumulate and adversely affect our relationships, health and emotional well-being. Work is by far the largest source of stress for adults and has been growing steadily over the past decades.
The first thing to understand about stress is that it is not personal, even though it feels like it is. All stress is the mind and body’s response to real and perceived threats. A threat is anything that gets in the way of what we want. When our brains register a threat, a series of signals are sent to the body to prepare it to deal with the challenge — this often is referred to as the fight, flight, freeze response. When you begin to feel stress, your body is just doing what it’s designed to do. In fact, stress in its acute form can be helpful by increasing our energy and focus. However, a chronic state of stress wears on us over time.
So what can we do to make the most of the good kind of stress and reduce unhelpful stress? Try these tips:
1. Practice Mindfulness: Stress manifests in four ways – in our thoughts, emotions, body sensations and behaviors. Mindfulness practices like meditation, train the mind to be more aware of these manifestations, which can give us insight into how to respond to stress. For example, perhaps you have a meeting with a challenging client. Before you walk into the meeting, you notice some muscle tension, increased heart rate, and thoughts such as, “I can’t stand this guy. Let’s get this over quick.” You then pause, focus your attention on some deep breathing, soften the muscles a bit, remember your bigger purpose of why you are having the meeting, and when you’re ready, enter the room. You can build this skill by giving yourself as little as 10 minutes a day to practice mindfulness.
2. Increase Engagement in Supportive Relationships: Unhelpful stress loves isolation. Reaching out and connecting with supportive co-workers who may have insight into what you’re going through is a great way to defuse stress. Even just spending time with supportive friends and family can provide an emotional buffer against work stress.
3. Turn Off from Work: Set boundaries around when you are available to respond to work emails and phone calls. Everyone needs to have time and space when they are free from the responsibilities of work.
4. Move: Discharge your stress by moving. It’s not always practical to start doing down-dogs in the middle of the office but if you can, go for a walk or pace. This will help relieve some of the stress in your body.
5. Reframe: The next time you feel stress coming on, remind yourself that the stress response is designed to be helpful and perhaps inquire, “is there anything about this stress that I might use to my advantage?” See if you might use stress, rather than let it use you.
6. Take Back Your Power: A lot of stress results from a feeling of being not in control. Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Non Violent Communication has a technique I love for getting our power back. He suggests you change those “have to’s” to “I choose to” in an authentic way, and identify the needs the choice meets for you. For example, I could change “I have to take my child to soccer practice” to “I choose to take my child to soccer practice, because he loves playing with his friends and I enjoy seeing him happy.” My needs met by this choice could be connection with my child, contributing to his well-being, and supporting his growth. This exercise can turn an obligation into something you are choosing to do. It also can illuminate things that you may do that have no value to you and free up more time to spend on activities that are meaningful.
Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who felt if it didn’t work out, they would be single for the rest of their life? Or, perhaps the roles were reversed and you were the one that felt that way? This is not exactly the recipe for a successful relationship. Relying on a single source for our income can create a sense of being beholden to one entity. This may reduce our feeling of power and increase our stress. Even if things are going well at work, you may want to explore diversifying your income sources. Try saving six months worth of salary just in case you become unemployed. Periodically brush up your resume. Network in your particular industry. Just the knowledge that you have options can help reduce your stress and make you more effective at your current job.
7. Single Task: Focusing on one thing at a time allows our minds to fully engage in a task and be more productive. Multitasking requires us to shift and re-shift our attention constantly, which causes about a 50% reduction in productivity and raises our stress level. So if you’re eating lunch, just eat lunch. If you’re working on a report, just work on the report. Close the extra windows on your computer screen and put the smartphone away. Your mind will thank you for it by being more productive and less stressed.
8. Take Care of Your Physical Needs: Sleep, eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and rest when you are sick. Don’t forget to eat lunch in the midst of a busy day and for goodness sake, get up and use the restroom when you need to.
All of these tips rest on the premise of the first one – Mindful Awareness. If we are not aware that we are stressed, we will not know that we need to take steps to manage it. As you build awareness of your stress markers, you can then figure out which of the other suggestions would be most supportive in the moment. To set you on the right path, I’ve created Mindfulness practices specifically for workplace issues and stress reduction. I encourage you to give them a try on the Evenflow app.
The New Potato and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease or ailment. All content on The New Potato (even when supplied by a medical professional) is intended for educational and conversational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or healthcare provider before beginning any new diet, exercise regime, or wellness routine.