We've all had that feeling, your heart starts to pound, your muscles tense, your hands clench and you suck in a deep breath all the while playing some mantra in your head 'it will be ok', 'just one more day till the weekend', 'two more hours and I can go home'... While we all have slightly different strategies, we all experience stress in remarkably similar ways.
What most people don't know about stress, is that we actually need it. Short bursts of stress strengthen your immune system and prevent against such diseases as Alzheimer’s, in that it keeps your brain cells working at peak capacities. It has also been shown that patients who experience moderate levels of stress recover faster after surgery than patients experiencing higher or lower levels of stress. Think about sports, competitions, even deadlines, often moderate stress can push us to do our best work.
Sustained stress, on the other hand, is dangerous and it's a growing epidemic in workplaces. Previous generations have had clearer boundaries between home and work life, but with technology allowing us to be continuously connected with both home and work, many people are struggling with the constant bombardment of 'to dos'.
Top performers however, tend to share and demonstrate behaviours that allows them to cope and even strive in stressful environments. So if you are feeling overwhelmed by work and home, try practicing a few of these simple techniques.
Practice positive states
Whether it's reflecting on gratitude or awe, meditation or just looking on the brighter side of life, actively practicing and visualising positive states reduces cortisol levels and leads to improved mood, energy and physical wellbeing. Even if you don't feel up to it, your emotions can be affected by your facial expressions. E.g. just are your emotions influence your facial expressions, your facial expressions influence your emotions. So smile and be happy!
Know when to stop
This is definitely a weakness of mine, for that I have to thank my husband, who knows when it’s time to get me somewhere that’s WIFI free. Everyone needs down time, for some this is a week away once or twice a year, for others it's a 20 minute lunchbreak with your emails turned off or a Sunday afternoon where the phones gets left at home. No matter how it works for you, regular breaks provide a much needed recharge.
Surround yourself with variety
No man (or woman) is an island, everyone needs help from time to time and the most successful people understand that a team which is diverse will provide the best base from which to learn, grow and succeed. So when you are building a team, look for people who complement but don't mirror your style and strengths. The most successful and innovate teams, groups and companies are full of health debate, discussion and diversity. If you only surround yourself with yourself, you will max out creative capacity pretty quickly.
Don't take yourself too seriously
This is something we are particularly prone too when we start to feel stressed and overwhelmed. How many people can relate to this situation, you are on a deadline, you have a huge workload in front of you and someone makes an offhanded comment, 'it's not the end of the world though is it?' and some pithy retort runs through your head. "Yes it is!" In these moments when we take ourselves too seriously, it can be easy to feel like we have the weight of the world on our shoulders. When we take ourselves less seriously, we’re able to see the humour in situations, find the silver lining when things don’t go the way we want them to, take stock, find perspective and navigate through the ups and downs of life a bit easier. So find ways to poke fun at yourself (even if it's just in your own head) and have a laugh. Laughter is great for shifting our mindset and has positive physical effects on an even stronger scale than a smile, relaxing our muscles, boosting our immune systems, releasing endorphins and decreasing stress hormones, and increasing blood flow to the heart.
You literally have to live under a rock today not to be aware of the benefits of getting outdoors and exercising and there are hundreds of ways to do that without impacting on your workplace productivity, in fact, trying just one of these suggestions I can almost guarantee will increase your productivity and have a positive benefit on your health. Jeff Weiner (LinkedIn CEO) has walking one on ones with his staff to get out and about, may people utilise their mobile phones to have mobile meetings (walk and talk anyone?), take an actual lunch break (midday yoga sess?), even go out for a morning Pokémon Go hunt! Whatever works for you, get outside in the fresh air and get moving. You will be rewarded for your efforts.
So that's it, five simple tricks for dealing with stress. If you do feel like it's still all too much for you, talk to someone. There are a huge amount of services and programs out there designed to help where no one has to know or you can reach out to family and friends (they are called that for a reason, they love you and want to help). We all understand and experience stress, but there are things that can be done and ways you can help yourself. So take control of your stress today!