We all get stressed at some time in our life. Around 64 per cent of people in the UK suffer from workplace stress, with some studies suggesting that more than 80% of people feel stressed in some way.
Each year, British businesses lose over £400milion a year due to stress-related illnesses – as a result of absenteeism and compensation payouts. And evidence shows that the people most affected by stress include managers and those between the ages of 35-45.
The bad news is that stress is natural – you cannot eliminate it altogether. So it’s also important to remember that you need a certain amount of stress to perform well. It’s natural to feel nervous before an important meeting or when you are dealing with a crisis or a problem. This stress is appropriate for the task, and is not a problem as long as you do not remain in that charged state, but return to normal after the meeting, presentation or task is over.
‘Stress becomes a problem when the pressure amounts beyond this healthy stimulus and the balance is lost. This could be, for example because you react “stressfully”, to an ongoing problem at work and there is not let-up. You might not even be able to identify these particular problems at first. You might not even realise that your headaches, tension, and moodiness are a reaction to this and are, in fact, stress symptoms, says Janice Hankes, author of Yoga at Work (£5.99, Element).
10 ways to manage stress
Stress in itself, is not dangerous. It’s how we react to it to that’s important, says Dr Joshi author of Total Health – For Life (£8.99, Hodder Mobius). ‘The key to combating stress is recognising what pushes your buttons, what causes you stress,’ says Joshi. ‘We’re all different; what makes one person hot under the collar won’t raise a bead of sweat on another,’ he explains. The following strategies will help you to control or ‘manage’ stress and avoid the, sometimes, debilitating symptoms that come with it.
‘You’re not superman, you’re not superwoman,’ says Joshi. ‘You can’t do it all and the world will not collapse if occasionally (or frequently) you say “No”. Take stock of your life and decide what’s important and what you can let go.’ Write a list of everything that causes you stress and consider whether there’s anything you can drop or delegate. Stop thinking in terms of should, ought and must; if you choose to do something or want to do it that’s fine – just remember it’s a choice you’ve made.
2. Take criticism.
Do not immediately react defensively, cautions Hankes. ‘There is positive criticism and painful criticism; identify which it is then deal with it accordingly.’ Try not to take criticism of your work too personally, she says. ‘Evaluate the criticism and, whether you discard it or take it on board, see it as a positive action. If someone complains you work too slowly, disagrees with a decision you’ve made or corrects something you’ve done, it doesn’t make you a lesser person.’
3. Get physical.
Strenuous exercise, such as a tough aerobic workout can snap you out of a state of high stress arousal, allowing your stress hormones to settle down to their normal levels.
4. Talk it out.
A problem shared really is a problem halved. By sharing what’s on your mind with others it relieves the burden you’re carrying, plus other people can offer their support and encouragement to help you find a solutions.
5. Define your goals.
Your job description may provide a set of goals for you to work to in the form of deadlines and targets. These are very important, as long as they are realistic, as a form of motivation and for your own personal development. If your work does not provide them, discuss with your manager or HR department. Failing that, draw up your own goals and monitor your progress, suggests Hankes.
6. Clarify areas of disagreement.
It’s important not to let conflicts simmer away. Take control and try to identify areas of disagreement.
7. Work and act methodically.
A common symptom of stress is a lack of focus and concentration. Getting into the habit of writing a things ‘to do’ list and prioritising what needs to be done, can help to bring a sense or order to the disorder. Always try to finish one task before moving on to the next and work your way through the list systematically. ‘And try to pause to consider your reaction to events before speaking or acting,’ says Hankes.
8. Practise good time management.
Many people become stressed because they seem to have too much to do and too little time. Making sure you arrive at work in plenty of time, so that you have time to compose yourself for the day ahead and prepare for important tasks will help you to feel you have gained control
9. Call time out.
Take regular breaks throughout the day, however busy you are, recommends Joshi. ‘Every hour, give yourself five minutes to sip a glass of water very slowly. Be conscious of the feeling of the water in your mouth – the taste and temperature. Hold it in your mouth and then feel it slipping down your throat,’ says Joshi. Or take the time to do some gentle stretches or meditate, you will be far more productive afterwards. On a lunch break, go and sit somewhere quiet where no one can disturb you and let the quietness calm you.
10. Stress-proof your diet
Tucking into junk food on hoof may seem comforting but a poor diet, particularly during times of stress, can lead to blood sugar imbalances that make stressful situations seem more overwhelming.
Meditate on it
For Dr Joshi, meditation is the supreme stress buster. A most forms of meditation start with the breath, the simple exercise is a great one to try. ‘Just breathing can seem almost too easy,’ says Joshi, ‘yet the challenge is getting to the point where your thoughts cease to skitter around and become less intrusive.
• Sit comfortably, and gently close your eyes or, if you prefer, keep the open softly focused on one spot.
• Start to become aware of your breath. Don’t try control it in any way – just notice how you breathe in and out – pausing between breaths.
• Keep your attention focused on your breath. Every time your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the breath. Don’t attempt to judge or analyse any thoughts that enter your mind – merely let them go.
Common stress symptoms
Recognising the stress symptoms can help you to save yourself from serious illness by tackling the problem sooner rather than later.
• Irregular sleeping patterns
• Nervous habits, such as nail biting
• Mood swings
• Reduced self-esteem
• Inability to perform (eg, decision making)
• Lack of concentration
• Panic attacks