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Managing stress – don’t wait, or it may be too late!

How many of us do it; wait for the weekend or our holiday to recover from the stress and pressure of work?

Our message here is, “Please DON’T!”

What stops you looking after your health and wellbeing during the week? Where is the rule that says you aren’t allowed downtime until you collapse into bed on Friday night, exhausted after yet another hectic week?

There is a simple truth here; if we don’t look after ourselves we cannot work, think, or play effectively. We will be inadvertently sabotaging our own physical and mental wellbeing and putting a strain on our relationships.

Working life in the 21stcentury

When we try to focus on more than one thing at a time, it takes up more energy meaning we become less effective. This results in a lack of productivity and we burn out. The World Health Organisation defines burnout as an occupational phenomenon, ‘a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’ – this shows the seriousness of stress on the body and mind. In Great Britain alone, from 2017-2018, there was 595,000 reported cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety, according to a study by Health and Safety Executive.

Some of the reasons for this increase in stress relate to the challenges of 21st century living. Technology has allowed us to develop an ‘always on’ attitude where we can access work 24/7. Whether on holiday, by the pool, or at home about to go to bed, we never fully switch off. Uncertainty regarding jobs and Brexit make us feel the need to work harder than ever before, as we feel we need to go above and beyond in the workplace for job and financial security.

What stress does to our body

When we are feeling the pressure our system releases adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol, hijacking our higher brain and our ability to laterally and logically think; compromising our healing and immune system, playing havoc with our digestive system and preventing us from getting rejuvenating, deep, sleep. It means we aren’t functioning well physically or emotionally. It means in the workplace we have to work longer, because we physiologically cannot work smarter. And yet most of us “power on” thinking we just need to get through to the weekend and it will be OK. It won’t!

Stress makes for cluttered minds

It might feel counter intuitive, (this is because the stress chemicals make us feel we have to push on through, when actually the opposite is true), but taking a physical and metaphorical step back and having a personal pressure valve is vital if we are to operate well.

If we don’t, something must give and it will be either our emotional or physical health, making it both harder to be us and harder still to be around us.

So, what actions can you take to promote your wellbeing? What do you do to reboot when the going is tough? What changes do you need to make?

Here are some of our suggestions:

Step back and see the bigger picture

When we feel overwhelmed by stress, it is important to step back and realise what is truly going on. Observing the bigger picture and keeping your end goal in mind, can help you to clear your mind and focus on what’s important.

It is helpful to realise that there is a gap between stimulus and response. When something happens that makes us feel stressed or anxious, we can choose how to respond, whether that be to let it take over us or to take things one step at a time.

Don’t let your chemistry rule you – if you can choose to be stressed, you can choose not to be too.

Practise mindfulness

Mindfulness is all about paying attention to the present moment in an accepting, non-judgmental way. Or a simpler definition? In Dan Harris’ words: “I think of mindfulness as the ability not to be yanked around by your own emotions”.

Science has shown that just 30 hours of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) practice dampens the activity of the amygdala (the part of the brain that helps us to experience emotions) by up to 50%, meaning the brain is less reactive to stress.

Here are some ways you can practice mindfulness:

  • Train your brain to focus by turning off push notifications on your devices.
  • Save your energy and improve focus by working on one thing at a time.
  • Take regular to breaks to rejuvenate your mind and body.

Get more sleep!

Those who sleep well are generally happier, less stressed and have better levels of focus than those who are tired or heavily sleep deprived. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society reported that people experiencing less than seven hours of sleep a night are more likely to suffer from health problems such as diabetes, obesity and depression.

We recommend switching off all technology devices two hours before bed to enable your brain to cut off the outside world. Try reading a book, taking a walk or having a relaxing bath instead.

Try our simple relaxation exercise to check in on your body. This helps with focusing on how you’re feeling and what your body is trying to tell you.

In summary…

Ensuring you fit your own metaphorical oxygen mask isn’t a luxury – it is a necessity. So how do you intend to fit yours? Don’t wait! Or before you know it, it might be too late!

BiteSize Learning offer courses for both mindfulness and mental health first aid. If you feel our training could help your team to manage stress, get in touch today.

Look out for my next posting to identify the warning signs of too much stress.

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