STRESS Awareness month is almost at an end…and I’m just getting round to this article on stress… of course! The very worst thing that stress does for us? It steals our time…If I’m lucky, I might just get this out before the end of April, and I will show you how to take back what’s rightfully yours!
It’s a very well documented subject…there has been an endless amount of articles and books written on how to beat stress and relax…and yet for some reason we are more stressed than ever. Absenteeism from the workplace, especially with long term stress-related health conditions is at an all-time high (nearly half a million of us in 2014-15!). It’s expected to rise even higher this year.
Some enlightened companies are bringing in specialists to help their employees deal with stress in the workplace, and while this will help enormously for those few lucky employees, in my experience it can still often be not nearly enough and not taken seriously enough to get to the root of the problem…don’t get me wrong there really are lots of employers who see the wellbeing of their staff as important, but sadly, more often than not…wellbeing is something that should be seen to be done, a box to be ticked, and not really a viable investment of company funds. Employees pick up on the value that is placed on them of course and so will continue to suffer the same stress response issues. In fact even more so, as, after the stress management workshop which was delivered in their lunch hour, in 15 minutes (yes, really…. I have been given that remit by a very large company in the past!) they have no excuse to be stressed now!
Stress is the Thief of Time, and this is one of the reasons why the problem is so hard to deal with. Nobody has time for anything other than fire-fighting when they’re stressed…that’s just how the fight or flight response works in our nervous system…deal with the immediate situation and put all other ‘non-essential’ time consuming activities on the back burner. Imagine. As this goes on over years for an employee…they will burn out eventually and could easily end up on long-term sick leave… perhaps their manager might be left wondering whether it might have been a good idea to give some serious consideration to help with dealing with workplace stress in the first place? An absentee employee is far more expensive to keep.
This is all the more prevalent in the large statutory organisations, where the top-down pressure to deliver unreasonable standards of performance are unrealistically high for many individuals. You add feeling unappreciated, or working without any sense of autonomy, or being constantly monitored whilst working, and the physiological problems start. So many larger organisations are now regularly moving the goal posts when employees are made to apply for their own roles in a round of compulsory redundancies that leave those who succeed in keeping their jobs with the stress of uncertainty and survivor guilt to top it off for good measure.
The trouble with this kind of stress and pressure in the workplace is that it doesn’t stop as the working day closes. Not at all. In fact, as the Thief of Time that it is…..it leaches into home life. A troubled employee will go home mulling over the day’s events, of course. Worrying about small details as the stress response begins to build and get out of hand. Without a doubt, this will affect every close relationship that person has- even if it’s just that their loved ones will worry for the one that seems distant and disconnected at the dinner table. That seems a little more irritable with the kids, no patience for bed time stories or enjoying their children’s tales of the day. Sleeping often becomes problematic, simply because worrying doesn’t stop when the light goes out, and also there is a subconscious physiological stress response that keeps you on ‘red alert’ during a prolonged experience of pressure. This of course impacts on mental ability, and performance becomes impaired…the knock-on effect of this becomes being not so resilient to the pressures of work. Imagine this endless cycle every single working day.
There is enough stress and low level anxiety in our modern lives already. While most of us may not have the worry of putting food on the table, we will worry about mortgages, good schools, global issues, crime, politics, our health, weight, as well as an unhealthily wide variety of various modern neuroses. The list goes on and on these days. Even social media has be shown to be a cause of anxiety. There are more phobias around than ever before and we’re just NOT COPING. So….the ONLY way to deal with stress, at the workplace and beyond, is to carve yourself 10-20 minutes out of the day, and MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU….As damn hard as you’re made to in your workplace! Treat it like a doctor’s prescription, something that MUST be done for your mental health. What magically happens is that you give yourself the priceless gift of simplifying your life, for a very short space of time. This is all it takes. Nothing else needed…the benefits may take a while, but they will happen. By carving this time for yourself you are sending a very powerful message to your subconscious that you are IN CONTROL of your reactions to life, and that your mental health IS valuable to you. You’ll be amazed at what a difference it will make.
You will need to be diligent with this though, as Stress the Time Thief will constantly tell you that you haven’t got time for this, that you’ve more important things to do…the truth is…if you’re in job or a life situation like the depressingly familiar one I described above, it is absolutely vital for your mental and physical health…and no one will ever dedicate themselves to taking care of it the way you will! It’s your right.
Our nervous systems are simply not designed to cope with modern workplace stress and will buckle under the pressure forced on them if we don’t give ourselves this valuable time. See it as loosening the lid on a pressure cooker…completely essential, and perfectly practical! This is far from selfish too…your family and friends will thank you many times over when you gradually return to the happy person they knew. Improved relationships in the home have been shown to be an absolute deal-breaker when it comes to dealing with stress…the bottom line is, those that feel supported at home just cope with life far more ably.
Taking this time out for yourself can take many forms..the golden rule is…make it simple, and make it easily accessible…no point in booking a spa treat once a month if you’re buckling under the pressure for the other 30 days! Find something you can do little and often. There are many mindful techniques around, check out this page on mindfulness on the NHS CHOICES website…..
.…this practise has been clinically shown to help reduce the stress response in the brain. Regular simple yoga exercises, meditation and self hypnosis, even parking the car for a little while in a quiet bit of green all show up decreased activity in the Amygdala, (the fight or flight gland in the brain) after a certain amount of time and repeated practise. Whatever you do…it should be something you enjoy, as that will help you to prioritise it a lot quicker.
I have a free download Your 20 Minute Holiday which you can access for FREE for a limited here:
The thing is, your body doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined….when you imagine you’re on a beach…your nervous system behaves as if you’re there. If you imagine you’re in the stressful office…your body will believe you… You get to choose this!