It was Sunday night and all I wanted to do was watch some rugby and relax.
But Matt’s Friday message had left an uncomfortable feeling in me all weekend.
If you really want to progress here, you have to put in the time. Arrive early and leave late. Send emails out on a Sunday evening. It will make you look good to the boss.
Initially after my first week, I was surprised that people seemed to boast about coming in at 6am and not leaving until 8pm. My first thought was “you must be very stupid if it takes you that long to get your work done”.
But then I realised it was part of the culture.
The culture that praises long working hours, multitasking and being overly busy rather than just doing your job properly.
But I thought this is what’s required to get along and make a living in modern life. So complying is what will be best for me.
However, experience has now taught me that in this world, what we have been conditioned to think is best for us, is not actually what is best for us.
As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi noted in his book The Flow;
“While humankind collectively has increased its material powers a thousandfold, it has not advanced very far in terms of improving the quality of experience.”
It’s only on reflection do these words resonate with my own experience.
Initially I complied. But I was forcing myself to live life in a way that deep down I knew wasn’t right for me. It didn’t take long before I was becoming anxious, tired and burning out.
In a word, I was chronically stressed.
Stress seems to be everywhere nowadays, particularly at work. While some stress is good for us to function, too much can increase the hormone cortisol and cause a whole host of health issues.
The father of stress, Hans Selye, described it as mental or emotional strain resulting from a difficult circumstance. It can affect everything from our emotional wellbeing, hormones and just every aspect of how we live our lives.
I used to think as long as I exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet, I will be healthy and this will offset the stress I have during work. While exercise and a good diet helped, I was always anxious and never felt my best self.
So while we tend to turn to diet and exercise to be healthier, maybe we are missing out the most fundamental aspect of living a healthy lifestyle; managing stress and anxiety with coping strategies.
This is vital now more than ever as the World Health Organisation has labelled stress as the health epidemic of the 21st Century.
But there are ways to manage stress. There are coping strategies.
It has only been when I started to do little things into my lifestyle that I noticed a massive difference and started to be much less stressed and anxious.
So below are 5 simple things that can help you manage your stress levels related to your work, starting with how you will usually begin your day and finishing with how you will end it.
1. Limit your caffeine intake
Reaching for a cup of coffee is something many of us do every morning. However, recent research suggests that caffeine consumption may be associated with increased stress and anxiety.
Coffee is something many people take to deal with not getting enough quality sleep. Yet ironically, caffeine consumption is linked with decreased sleep quality so it becomes a vicious spiral.
Coffee is not necessarily a bad thing but you shouldn’t really on lots of coffee to get you through the day.
If you currently drink 5 cups a day, try reducing it to 4 or 3 and drink more herbal tea or water instead. Then cut down to 2 and so on. Coffee can be an addiction, so if you feel like you are having withdrawal symptoms it’s important to start slowly.
You could also try swapping coffee for green tea. Green tea still has some caffeine in it but in much smaller doses then coffee.
2. Focus on one task at a time (don’t multitask)
I believe there’s a right way and a wrong way to be busy. There’s feeling inspired as you focus on a task that gives you enjoyment or leads to achieving your goals kind of busy.
And then there’s constantly feeling rushed, flipping from one task to another with 50 tabs open on your computer kind of busy.
We seem to think that the busier we are, the more we will accomplish.
From a young age, we’re conditioned with the message that to be successful, we must work overtime to achieve what we want.
Working hard and being exhausted is a status symbol.
Yet in reality all this being busy nonsense is causing many people to become overly stressed and anxious.
If you want to be productive, if you want to achieve worthwhile goals while feeling a sense of fulfillment, it’s time to get selective.
I used to look at my long task list and it would become quite easy to feel overwhelmed and subsequently stressed.
But you can be selective over what your busy doing by asking yourself questions such as is what I’m doing right now helping towards a goal? Is it contributing towards achieving your own goals or the goals you would like to achieve at work? What’s the worst that would happen if you didn’t do it today?
Then organise chunks of your time on the tasks that really matter. Close down your emails or find a quiet room for an hour or two to get rid of distractions.
You need to start being self-aware enough to reject busy, meaningless activities such as constantly checking emails all the time and, instead, to focus on the one or two things that really matter each day.
3. Connect with colleagues or friends
Despite the fact that we look at screens much more than people nowadays, humans are social creatures and we instinctively want human connection.
Make time to develop positive relationships with your colleagues. Talking to someone – whether it’s your line manager or a friendly colleague – can often make a big difference when you feel stressed. They may not be able to solve your problems, but it could help to alleviate some of the stress you feel.
Equally, look out for your fellow colleagues and don’t be afraid to ask them if they’re okay if you think they’re struggling.
Take the opportunity those few minutes before and after a meeting to speak to colleagues rather than check your phone.
Not only will you feel better, but they will feel better also.
4. Do 5 minutes of mobility exercises and deep breathing every day
Sitting for prolonged periods of time plays havoc with your health, no matter how much exercise you do when not sitting.
Whilst standing up as often as you can is great, implementing some mobility exercises while you do this is even better.
Mobility isn’t about stretching or improving flexibility. It’s about maintaining your body’s ability to move and function without it being an obstacle for you.
Check out my blog here on some great mobility exercises.
5. Prioritise rest & digest
When we are in a chronic state of stress, the sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive. The body is constantly in a state of ‘fight or flight’.
The biggest impact of this is inability to ever relax and utilise the parasympathetic nervous system which aids the body in healing and digestion.
If you are not relaxed your body will struggle to do things like digest and absorb nutrients from food, repair the body and build muscle.
So set aside just 20 minutes a day for ‘rest and digest’.
Read a book, have a hot bath or sit in silence and focus on counting your breathing.
Also, quality sleep is incredibly underrated. It doesn’t matter how healthy you are during your waking hours, if you are not getting at least 8 hours quality sleep your body will not be able to function.
Start to implement coping strategies into your routine to reduce stress
Modern lifestyles are stressful.
We live in a culture that promotes being overly busy and stressed.
But we are human beings. Not robots.
So make a bit of time to make sure you implement a few of the coping strategies above in order to reduce stress.