Do you thrive under a bit of pressure? Many of us do. Pressure is stimulating and motivating. It helps us feel what we’re doing is worthwhile and important. The tipping point comes when pressure exceeds our ability to cope. When this happens, pressure turns into stress. In nearly all cases, stress results from a real or perceived lack of control over what’s happening to us.
Stress can have a big impact on our lives. It can leave us feeling overwhelmed, irritable, and anxious. You work long hours, and yet you feel increasingly ineffective. You’re tired the moment you start work. All those headaches, sleepless nights, and constant worries are rooted in stress.
Stress is a big issue, but it doesn’t require a big response. In fact, the smallest steps can make the biggest difference in reducing stress. Some people call them tricks, but there’s nothing mysterious or deceitful about their positive effects. I prefer the term technique. A technique is a skillful and efficient way of doing or achieving something. Try two or more of the techniques below, and you will begin to feel a difference in your stress level.
Notice that I avoided using the word “quickly,” as in, “you’ll quickly feel the difference.” How quickly you see results from these techniques depends on how far down the stress route you’ve travelled. If you’ve spent years eating appalling diets, working seven days a week, and never getting enough sleep, then stress relief is going to take time. It could take weeks, or possibly months, until you feel human again and your brain starts working at its full potential. But if work pressures have just started to pile on stress, then a rapid adjustment to your daily routine with these techniques will feel transformative.
Don’t think you can manage stress simply by internalizing it. Internalizing stress leads to more worrying — your health will suffer and your problems will remain. You’ll also carry problems from work into your free time and your home.
Put a break between your work life and your home life. Exercise, even if this just means a good walk between work and home. Exercising after work can help put things into perspective. Exercise is good for the body, but it also frees up the mind.
Pace yourself. There are 24 hours in a day, and most of these hours should be for you. Take time to do some desk stretches and deep breathing while you’re at work. You may think this is time lost, but healthy breaks actually increase your stamina and mental capacity. A few minutes of mindfulness, for example, will help you avoid all those feelings of fatigue in the afternoon and will help declutter your mind.
Take breaks. It’s not a mark of career commitment to work through your break. Official breaks are an entitlement. A break is the time to charge your batteries. Eat some good food, because food is fuel. Take some air, maybe a walk, and you’ll feel refreshed when you return to work.
Get organized. Take some time at the end of the working day to prepare for the following day. It’s very stressful to begin the day unprepared. Preparation adds to your sense of control and if something unexpected does occur, you at least know the other aspects of your day are planned and covered.
Speak easy. This means you can help control your negative thoughts by speaking in a way that doesn’t sound catastrophic. For example, if your presentation goes wrong, it may be tempting to say, “that was a total failure, everyone must think I’m an idiot.” This results in self-inflicted stress. Turning the mishap into a goal is more motivational and helpful. If you’re uncertain why things went wrong, make a goal to get someone’s feedback. Otherwise you should be thinking, “I’ll need to work on that aspect of my presentation in the future.”
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.