Workplace stress is a serious issue for Australian employers. It is an issue that has no respect for position or seniority – it is just as likely to affect a new recruit in the post room as the chief executive.
We are expected to work longer hours than ever before, with many of us at the mercy of ‘24/7’ technology like emails on our smartphones. This is leading to a growing imbalance between our home and work lives and can spiral into a vicious cycle of working longer and sleeping less. This, in turn, reduces our ability to function productively, meaning we have to work even longer to finish all our tasks.
If you consider yourself stressed at work, it is important to do something. It is not worth risking your health for your job. After all, no-one at the end of their life ever said “I wish I’d spent more time at work”.
If you work with other people, it is also helpful to learn to recognise the symptoms of stress in others and, if necessary, refer the problem upwards to someone who can deal with it. Not only is it the ethical thing to do as you are helping a colleague, but it will also benefit you as you are improving your working environment.
Get enough sleep
Sleep is essential for the body to function properly. If you skimp on sleep you probably won’t remember how it feels to wake up fully rested. A routine can help you get to sleep. Think of how children are put to bed – adults can adopt similarly helpful sleep-enhancing routines.
Have a relaxing bath
Avoid anything stimulating, such as an exciting TV programmes or games
When you are lying in bed, inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds
Whether you’re thinking of tasks, worries or silly thoughts, write them down. This will help you set them aside and you can rest assured that you’ll m deal with them in the morning
If you’re ill, rest
When you’re ill, working will tire your body and prolong the illness. Recognise you have limits and don’t carry on as if you were firing on all cylinders. Not resting while you are ill prevents the body from recovering and can cause your illness to last longer.
Listen to music
Music can be used in many situations to help reduce stress and create a calming atmosphere:
Use classical music to concentrate as it is peaceful, harmonious and doesn’t have lyrics. Keep the volume relatively low so it doesn’t distract you
Music can also be a reminder to take breaks. Make a playlist that lasts for approximately 1 hour, once the music stops, take a moment away from what you’re doing. Making a playlist also stops you from searching for songs, helping you to focus on the task without distraction
When using music to help you relax before sleep, choose soothing music with monotonous repetition, such as sounds of nature or ambient music
Learn to say ‘no’
Simple, but effective. Where a ‘no’ is the appropriate response, say it without guilt. ‘No’ also doesn’t have to be a decline, it can also be a ‘negotiation opportunity’, e.g. “I can’t do that now, but I can fit it in next week”.
Work off stress with physical activity
Pressure or anger releases adrenaline in the body. Exercise helps to reduce it and produces ‘good mood’ substances in the brain. This doesn’t mean we recommend running a marathon; just going for a brisk walk around the block when you feel tense can help.
Taking a few deep breaths allows more oxygen to reach the brain, helping you become calm and restore concentration and focus:
Take a nice slow deep breath in through the nose and fill the belly up with air
Hold at the top of the breath for 5 seconds and then slowly exhale through the mouth, pulling the navel to the spine Repeat 5 times
Manage your time optimally
Stress often results from difficulty in coping with day-to-day problems and conflicting responsibilities. A useful strategy for dealing with a sense of being overwhelmed by all the things that need attention is prioritising and diarising:
Make a list of all the things that you need to do; list them in order of genuine importance; note what you need to do yourself and what can be delegated to others; note what needs to be done immediately, in the next week or next month, etc.
Create time to deal with unexpected emergencies – this is a great way to prepare and avoid excess stress
Arrange your workload to match your energy levels, e.g. if you know that you have an energy boost in the mornings, use that time for high energy or creative tasks
Activities outside of work and home can be a great way to break up the week and alleviate stress. If you don’t know where to start then think about what you enjoyed as a child, e.g. reading, playing football, painting, etc.
Avoid nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and refined sugar products
They are all stimulants, which prevent you from feeling calm. If you are stressed, steer clear of them. This can be diffcult if you associate them with relaxation or comfort. However, you can benefit from the sense of relaxation without relying on the stimulant.
When you go for a cigarette you usually walk outside and away from anything that may be stressing you out — try going outside for a fresh air break instead
When you go for an alcoholic drink after a long day, you also socialise with friends/family and talk about what has bothered you throughout the day. Talking about your stressors can help get things out of your system and in turn help you relax. Try changing the setting and sit down with a cup of tea to discuss whatever is bothering you
Going to make a cup of coffee or going to the cupboard for a chocolate bar also gives you a break from work, especially if you spend a lot of time at your desk staring at a screen. Try grabbing for fruit instead of biscuits or chocolate, so you still give yourself a short break without the negative effects of refined sugar and caffeine
Talk to someone
We’ve all heard of the saying “a problem shared is a problem halved” and, like most clichés, it’s founded on a grain of truth. If you are troubled by something, don’t supress it.
Speak to a friend or family member
If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to a loved one or if feel you stress is putting you at risk, call EAP Assist
Taking breaks away from a stressful task can help you stay calm. Working in 90-minute cycles with breaks in-between can help optimise productivity and can help you shorten the time it takes to complete a task.
For further advice & support contact EAP Assist.