The good habits that help reduce stress and improve resilience.
This is International Stress Awareness Week. Did you realise that mental ill health is the third biggest cause of absence in the workplace? In 2017/8, 15.4 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. That’s 44% of all work-related ill health cases and nearly 60% of all working days lost!
The size of the issue might seem daunting but whether you are simply trying to look after yourself or supporting others as a manager, there’s a lot that you can do; much of it simple and cost-free.
First off, it’s important to know that the number one thing that protects people from stress is positive social encounters. Staying connected with people makes a huge difference. So, if you are feeling stressed, don’t isolate yourself and if you are a boss and you notice someone is looking unusually quiet and withdrawn, ask them if they are ok.
Next, consider workload. The acceptance of being “always-on” seems to have crept up on us and we make it worse by not saying no and not maintaining appropriate boundaries. This week might be a good time to start having a digital sunset by putting mobile devices away in the early evening. If you are managing people, think about how and when you are contacting them and what example your out-of-hours email habit is setting. Be mindful.
We all need a rest. Have you booked a holiday or a mini-break recently? Trying to get a few days away from work before 2020 might be an idea. There are a few long, dark weeks ahead and who said that December was an oasis of calm and relaxation anyway? For most cultures that celebrate a festival at this time of year, there’s a lot of eating and it can be hard work getting prepared. By the way, if your down-time involves contact with nature and some fresh air, so much the better.
What about exercise? The weather is getting colder, the days shorter and there’s a temptation to flop on the sofa, but this isn’t a great recipe for resilience. Your body needs to move and even if that’s not the gym or a run, you can still build some NEAT (non-exercise aerobic thermogenesis – or just moving about!) into your schedule. If you can, stand-up more, stretch, walk a bit, use the stairs and not the lift and don’t stay hunched behind your computer. If you are leading a team – again, set the tone.
An excellent way of calming yourself during times of stress is to focus on your breathing. You might fancy trying yoga or meditation, but you can also just breathe more effectively. No shortage of material on the net here and something as simple as slow, rhythmic breathing, where you breathe out for a bit longer than you breathe in, can make all the difference.
Working life isn’t automatically conducive to eating well. Grabbing food on the go and office snacking all too often go hand in hand with a lot of carbs and a generally unhealthy diet. If you are heading up an organisation, have you thought about the availability of decent food for your staff and if you are in the middle of a busy period at work, are you thinking intelligently about how you are refuelling yourself?
Lastly, there’s the small matter of sleep. This is an easy one to take for granted, but so many of us suffer with poor sleep. Having to work nights or shifts makes this worse. So, as we get to the end of 2019, stop and consider if you have set yourself up for the quality and quantity of sleep that your body needs. This is generally considered to be around seven hours as a minimum. The number of TV ads that push the idea of a new sofa at this time of year always increases. But what about your bed?
Reducing your level of stress doesn’t need to involve a spectacular overhaul of your life. Very often, a few good habits can make all the difference. Now could be an excellent week to start!
Chris Welford, Sixth Sense Consulting