Having spent some time in the corporate environment recently, it has become clear to me just how difficult it can be to maintain mental and emotional well being at work. There is so much pressure to get things done that self care gets put to the back of the to-do list. There just doesn’t seem to be time for any focus on oneself. When there are deadlines to meet and bosses expecting results, it becomes almost impossible to take time out for our own benefit.
The conundrim here is that if we don’t seriously prioritise some time for ourselves, we will inevitably end up worn out and underperforming. So, it pays to invest in some ‘me-time’ in order to cope better with workplace stress and pressure.
How to deal with stress at work
I have put together a few easy to use strategies that can be done at work and only need a few minutes now and then out of your busy schedule to help you ‘reset’ and get back to your baseline. You can check in with yourself regularly each day and ask yourself where you are on the anxiety/stress scale.
0 = no stress; 10 = major stress
If you rate yourself as a 6 or above, it’s time to intervene with a quick strategy.
Breathing strategy – square method
Picture a square. As you draw the top part of the square, breathe in and count to 5. Then draw the side down and hold your breath for 5, draw the bottom part of the square, breathe out for 5 and then the final line to complete the square and hold again for 5. This process of slow breathing confuses the old limbic system of the brain. When we feel anxious the limbic system (hypothalamus and amygdala) identifies this as danger and releases adrenalin, preparing us for flight, flight or freeze behaviour. When we breathe slowly, this sends opposing information to the limbic system, suggesting we are actually calm and this physiological mismatch can help us to feel calm instantly.
Mindfulness helps us to step back from our busy, racing minds. Not only does it mean that we are more present in the moment (rather than drowning in memories of the past or worrying unnecessarily about the future) but mindfulness is also about the process of passive observation. When we are mindful, we are slightly detached from what is going on and instead, we notice the type of thoughts that are coming into our minds. Instead of purely reacting to our thougths that are stressing us out (eg. I will never manage this deadline), we can say to ourselves, “Oh I can see I am stressing again and worrying about how I might fail”. This level os detachment can help us to feel less overloaded by the onslaught of thoughts that try to mess with us.
So, try this: When your mind is getitng the better of you and you are stessing big time, sit quietly for a few minutes and look around you. Notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell (if possible) and 1 thing you can taste (if possible). This simple exercise can pull you out of your mental torture session and give you some relief and perspective.
Sometimes, we just need a little distraction. There are brilliant phone apps that help us focus on something else and help us focus elsewhere. I enjoy playing word games and find this clears my mind effectively. Distraction only works though once you have discovered and understood the reason for your stess and anxiety. If you have a certain bad habit, for example, of catastrophising or assuming you know what others are thinking, you would still need to have a look at that habit. Once you realise you are doing this, you can then mindfully notice that you are once again catastrophising, and then distract yourself. Distraction without understanding where the stress is coming from will only exacerbate the problem.
We were never meant to be perfect, allow yourself lee way to make mistakes. We live in an increasingly competitve world and the stakes are high when it comes to maintaining our mental and emotional well being. It all starts with us. These brief strategies are only a small part of the picture. We also need to look at the bigger picture of eating well, exercising, taking time out for fun and spending time with people we care about. Your company will always be there but there is only one of you. make sure you put yourself first and you will have more resources available to give to others and to your work.