If you work full time, then you probably spend roughly a quarter of your week at work most weeks. It might be reasonable to hope that something you spend a quarter of your life doing would be happy and enjoyable. But often this is not the case.
Most recent statistics show that 526000 workers in the UK suffer from work related stress, depression and anxiety. A truly shocking statistic!
Maybe you are one of them. Are you one of the 11,000 people who called ACAS last year to try to get help about workplace stress?
- Have trouble sleeping
- Feel anxious every day about going to work
- Find yourself short-tempered and irritable with colleagues and loved ones, with no real idea of why
- Feel ill and take time off for illnesses that seem to disappear as soon as you are able to relax away from the office
- Need to turn to alcohol, cigarettes or food (or other comforting behaviours) to help you get through your working week?
- Notice that your ability to concentrate on your work is diminishing, and you sometimes feel out of your depth?
Then you might be suffering from stress, and your job might be the cause!
I have experienced this, and it is a deeply toxic situation that needs to be resolved. Mine was resolved when I had a complete breakdown which forced me to make lots of changes in my life, including leaving full-time work.
Now, a serious case of workplace stress does require serious attention. Your employer has a duty of care to you, and there are legal avenues you can look at taking to resolve serious stress causes.
You may need to speak to your manager or the HR department, get help from your union, you may need to speak to your doctor, or consider looking elsewhere for work.
But there are things you can do to relieve the pressure upon yourself and take control of your emotional and wellbeing. These are all practices that I used during the process of healing I went on following a breakdown.
Take a breath
There are many times throughout your day when consciously taking a deep breath or two will serve you well and reduce the moment of stress, and help to keep you calm throughout the day.
- When you rise, sit up in bed and take 3 deep breaths before you get up.
- If you commute, take a few deep breaths before you begin your journey. If you encounter a lot of traffic, use the times you stop at red lights or traffic jams to focus on your breath
- Before you walk into your office, take a deep breath, and walk in smiling
- Before you open your emails, take a deep breath (also, if you can, allocate a certain amount of time to your emails, then switch the email off while you get on with other tasks)
- At any point when someone ‘winds you up’, take a breath before you respond.
- On the hour, every hour, take a moment to check in with your breath and take a few deep breaths.
- Before any meeting or difficult conversations, take a few deep breaths.
When you learn to manage your breath, you can manage your emotions and make wiser choices about how to respond to situations. It really is a very simple but powerful practice.
When you are focused on the things you have in life, rather than worrying about the things you don’t have or that you can’t control, life becomes infinitely more joyful even if your external circumstances haven’t changed. Happiness really doesn’t lie in any of the things around you, they lie in the way you view your world. You could be in the best job, married to the most perfect man, with all the material things a person could desire, and still be desperately unhappy. A person with very little but with deep gratitude and appreciation for what they have will be happier.
So if you hate your job, your colleagues drive you crazy, your boss is a nightmare and the work bores you to tears, try to leave. But if you can’t, focus hard on the good things you do have in your life, and live in gratitude for them. You don’t have to be grateful for big things, sometimes it is the little things that have the biggest impact in increasing happiness. So maybe you could be grateful for the stranger who smiled at you at the coffee shop, the fact that the train was slightly less packed than usual and you managed to get a seat, for the fact that you are able to afford shoes to wear to work…the little things that you might not really notice can lead to a profound sense of wellbeing in your life if you allow them to.
Spend 5 minutes now listing things that you are grateful for, and see how it makes you feel.
We have a culture of productivity, and working long days and getting little rest and time to relax can be presented as a measure of how driven and dedicated a person is. In reality, this is the fast track to a variety of serious health problems, including stomach ulcers, insomnia, depression, heart problems, high blood pressure, burnout and addiction.
Our minds are not wired for long periods of intense work without breaks. You might think you are being a model employee by putting in the hours, not taking lunch breaks, being the first in, last out etc, but in reality, your work, as well as your health, will be suffering.
The Pomodoro method of structuring your day is a very effective one as it requires short bursts of intense activity, followed by a break. The standard is 25 minutes of work, with a 5 minute break for a few hours, with a longer break in between. I am doing this as I write this blog post, and know I am far more effective when I write like this than when I am trying to multitask and not allow myself breaks.
Watch your posture
If you sit at a desk working at a computer all day, the chances are your posture could use a little work. Poor posture develops over time, as we gradually slouch and stoop more, we don’t realise it’s happening until pain, or an inability to sit up straight tells us there is a problem. I have experienced sitting in a very uncomfortable position for a very long time and not realising my body was hurting until I try to move.
We hold tension throughout the body without even realising it, and, as the mind and body are connected, this can lead to tension in the mind as well. Make sure that you check in with your body throughout the day, straighten your back and relax your shoulders, make sure that your desk is set up so that your keyboard is positioned right for you, and move from time to time to release tension and strain in your shoulders.
Go easy on the caffeine
If your day begins with caffeine and is largely fuelled by caffeine, and you are feeling stressed and agitated for most of the day, there may be a distinct connection between the two. Caffeine is a stimulant, so when you consume that coffee, it gives you a mental and physical boost. But like all chemical boosts in the body, it doesn’t last, so you want another. While the alertness you get from a coffee can help with productivity (I am a coffee lover, I am not going to tell you to ditch your daily Java, but you need to take care!)
The effects of too much caffeine on the body and mind are very similar (ie, exactly the same) to that of anxiety. Increased blood pressure, faster heart rate, increased urination, headache and irritability are all side effects of too much coffee, and stress and anxiety. Too much coffee also, of course, affects sleep, either making it difficult to sleep, or affecting the quality of your sleep. Sleep is vital for your ability to manage stress, so you really do get a double whammy of stress inducement in your daily cuppa.
Try to gradually reduce your coffee intake (don’t go cold turkey if you drink a lot, it is REALLY painful and difficult), and drink lots of water, herbal teas and green tea (which gives you caffeine in a lesser amount). Try to adopt a ‘no caffeine after midday’ routine and you will find that over time your need for caffeine lessens as you get better sleep and have more natural alertness.
Watch me talking through these first 5 tips on LinkedIn
Stay away from office gossip
A bit of light gossiping over lunch may seem harmless enough, but is it really? Is it doing you good to sit and listen to the office gossip? Are YOU the office gossip?
If you enjoy sitting with that person who seems to know everything about everyone, who will happily share another person’s secrets with you, take a moment to ponder. What do you suppose happens when you leave the room and another person walks in? Do you trust that person with YOUR secrets?
The Yama of Ahimsa teaches us to take care not to harm another living being.
Gossip is a form of harming another. It is not, as a general rule, done from a place of love or compassion for the person being spoken about, Gossip usually has an inherent sense of judgment and criticism about it, and does no good to any of the parties in the situation – not the gossiper, the person hearing the gossip, and certainly not the person being gossiped about.
And while it might seem like harmless fun, it impacts on relationships in the office, and affects trust and harmony between people.
Throw it all out
The practice of throwing out is a powerful way to release tension and stress, clear stuck energy and create momentum and mental freshness. When you shake your arms you create movement in the whole body, stirring up the mind and body. If you actively think about releasing the things that are getting you down as you shake and release, you end the practice feeling lighter and far less tense.
The practice is great for waking you up in the mornings, releasing tension and winding down in the evenings, and for any moment when you need to release the pressure in your head. A former student of mine used to use it during the work day when she was going through a difficult organisational restructure, and it helped her manage stressful meetings and a toxic work environment.
Lately I’ve been thinking about bad habits I want to release when I’m doing it, and I am improving in areas that I have struggled in! It seems to be working!
Own your actions
I remember once, I was in work back in the days when I went and worked in an office for a monthly salary, I made a mistake. I don’t remember the details of the mistake, but I remember the way I felt and the thoughts that went through my mind.
When I first realised that I had screwed up, I felt sick, my palms got clammy and it felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest. I experienced all the feelings of stress – I needed to run to the toilet, I wanted to run away, I was in a state of panic (it must have been quite a big mistake!)
I then spent a lot of time trying to work out how i could hide what I had done. Given that my job involved the management of data that was used every day, there was little chance of this, but I explored every potential way.
Then I spent a long time trying to work out who else I could blame. There wasn’t anyone else. It was entirely my responsibility, but I gave it a good try.
Eventually, I had to tell my boss. By this time I was in such a state of high anxiety that telling him was actually a relief in itself. To my delight, he was irritated, but his greater understanding of the system meant that he knew a way we could resolve the problem. Which turned out to be nowhere near as big a problem as I I had thought.
Had I tried to hide it, or blame someone else, the repercussions could have been awful.
If you make a mistake, own it. It might hurt to do so, but if it was a genuine mistake, people will have far greater respect for you, and will help you to find a solution, and you will be able to move on. Trying to hide the mistake or blame another will harm the relationship, dissolve trust, and affect your stress levels and self esteem.
Let go of attachment
Huge amounts of stress and unhappiness is caused because we don’t get the results we want from our actions. You might have spent weeks on that proposal for your boss, only to have him barely even acknowledge it when you presented it to him. You had felt so proud of yourself when you went into the meeting, and leaving, you feel deflated.
Has your level of effort, and the standard of the work you produced been altered by your boss’s indifference? Or were you relying on his response to allow yourself to feel proud? Can you feel proud anyway because you know you did a bloody good job?
There could be all sorts of reasons for your boss’s lack of reaction that have nothing to do with you and your report. Don’t take his response to you personally, it is about him, not you.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna ‘you are entitled to your work, but not the fruits of your labour’. The 10th Niyama of Yoga, Ishwara Pranidhana, tells us to do what we must in life, to do our best, but then surrender the outcome. If you can focus on doing the best you can, and not worrying about the outcome, then you can always feel good because you know you did the very best you could in that moment. No one else can take that away from you. When you get your validation from yourself rather than other people, then your happiness and wellbeing is entirely in your own hands, which is exactly where it belongs.
We know that moving the body is a great way to boost physical and mental wellbeing, but it can sometimes be hard to fit in daily exercise. Sitting at a desk all day can lead to poor health, poor posture and stiffness. Flexibility in the body is really important for the overall health of the body and mind. Jattis are a fantastic way to increase movement and flexibility. They are small, gentle movements that, if practised often, will lead to increased flexibility and reduced stiffness in the body and mind. A relaxed body leads to a far more relaxed mind – I have taught Jattis in short taster sessions and seen quite dramatic results from just 15-20 minutes of practice! In this 30 minute video, you can see the benefits for yourself.
What do you do?
What are your go to practices for stressful moments? I’d love you to share your best tips in the comments!