How to combat stress at work

Are you are feeling frazzled and stressed at work? Take heart because you’re not alone. Stress has risen to become the most common work illness.

One of the most frustrating things about stress at work is that it creates a horrible ‘catch 22’ situation. High levels of stress plays havoc with our decision making ability and performance.

I know I’ve been there: calm, resourceful Sally is nowhere to be seen and a panicked, tense version takes her place only to make knee-jerk decisions with no perspective.

Not pretty is it? Particularly when you know, deep down, that you are capable of doing so much more.

When we find ourselves struggling to perform, we worry about our struggle. Cue questions about our competence and thoughts of “I’m not good enough” and “who am I to do this job anyway?”.

Where does the dip of confidence lead us? More stress.

Simple is best

The best practical strategies for gaining stress relief at work are very simple and boil down to common sense.

As I list them, I’m sure many of you ‘know’ that this is what you ‘should’ do to help yourself but you may have felt too stressed and overwhelmed to implement any of them. Consider them one at a time and consider which one insight or action you could focus on in order to move you forward. Remember: small is often mighty.

Get clear on what success in your job looks like

In all things work related, confusion and overwhelm is the enemy. Where Confusion is the baddie, Clarity is your  best friend. Do you know what doing a good job in your role looks like? Do you know what activities you need to focus on every day in order to ensure that success? Or do you have to wait until someone praises you before you know you’re on the right track?

For example your client might be too vague about what they want from you. Your boss might give you conflicting tasks with different priorities and you have no idea where to start. When we have no way of knowing whether our work is hitting the mark, it can be a very confusing and stressful place to be.

I remember a workshop participant telling me that they only knew whether or not they were doing a good job at their end of year review. Other than that small window at the end of the year, she was confused and uncertain about whether she was performing well.

If you can create your own clear, internal system of knowing whether you are performing as you should be, you will avoid a whole world of stress that is created by second-guessing and mind-reading other people.

Break-up with multi-tasking

Multi-tasking is a terrible thing for stress levels and productivity. There, I’ve said it. Multi-tasking is not something our brains are designed to do. It often creates a sense of panic as we try to do ‘everything’, but we’re doing nothing well.

Every time you flit from one task to the next your brain expends a great deal of energy in trying to ‘catch up’ and get into the new task. If you try to do everything at once, you’re also denying yourself that lovely, energising ‘flow’ state that comes about when we are completely focused and absorbed in a single task.

In short, multitasking is likely to impact on the quality of your work and cause more stress. So please shut down those tabs, put your phone away, turn off your e-mail notifications and take each task one at a time. It won’t be long before you feel the difference in your productivity and energy levels.

Learn to accept what you cannot control

I know this is easier said than done but I believe this is one of the key principles we have to live by in order to have a healthier relationship to our work.

You can only control your actions, the jobs you apply for, the jobs you leave, your attitude and your responses. You have no control over the behaviour of colleagues, bosses, clients, the internet, the economy, your computer crashing or your train being late. It sounds obvious but very often we waste a lot of energy worrying about events that we cannot control and it doesn’t help anyone.

If you find yourself worrying excessively, ask yourself “what can I do about this now”? If there isn’t anything you can do, ask yourself “what else can I focus on now?” See how your attention can be redirected in a more constructive direction.

Schedule time to look after yourself

Making diary appointments with yourself is a massively underrated way of tipping the scales of time and energy back in your favour. Making time for yourself and what you want is not selfish. You cannot give from an empty cup and if you stay stuck in ‘giving’ mode for too long, burn-out usually follows.

I cannot tell you the number of times clients have given the ‘but I don’t have time’ excuse when I invite them to dedicate more time to looking after themselves. But when we dig a little deeper into that excuse, it turns out they always have time to work late or drop everything for their friends and family.

Making a date with yourself can take many forms : appointments can last from 10 minutes to 10 hours and they can involve breathing, walking in nature, going to the gym or dancing around your kitchen. You get to choose. Human beings need rest, fun and enjoyment in order to manage stress better. Professional athletes treat rest days as seriously as training and so can you.

Carving out ‘you-time’ works so much better if you create it in your calendar or outlook so other people can see your time is not available to them. It also automates the commitment you’ve made to yourself, making it easier to stick to.

Get Social

When we experience stress, a hormone called oxytocin is released into our bodies. Oxytocin is also known as the ‘cuddle hormone’ and its purpose is to prompt us to seek support and help from other people.

Human beings are stronger together. If you are able to share and seek support from friends, colleagues, mentors or managers that you trust, your stress levels will benefit enormously.

When we’re feeling stressed it can sometimes feel counter-intuitive to slow down and seek support. Don’t listen to any voices in your head that say that seeking help or support is a sign of weakness or incompetence. It’s wrong.

If you are willing to share your struggles with those you trust, you will benefit from their support, a greater sense of connection and you will also show courage in daring to be vulnerable. You might be amazed at how much strength you can gain from a place of vulnerability. When you’re feeling stronger, you will be able to find relief from stress at work so much more easily.

Your thoughts

I would love to know what you think of these stress relief tips. Feel free to get in touch and let me know which were most useful to you and which one you will get started with today.