A few thousand years ago, around the time we learned to cook with fire, human life was quite different. Still, in the 21st century our priorities are much the same, except that if we want something to eat these days, we go to a supermarket and pick it from a shelf. Back in the Stone Age we would sharpen some poles, step into the cold and walk for days until we found a herd of mammoths. If we didn’t get eaten by sabre-toothed tigers along the way, when we eventually found our dinner we would have to slay the giant beast with our sharp sticks and then be burdened with the task of dragging it home.
You are probably asking what all of this has to do with stress. Well, believe it or not, anthropologists now think that stress mechanisms developed in that far-off time as a means of survival. As stress built up, it would get stored in our muscles for release later on when we were taking down the woolly mammoth. Stress would have kept us on our toes and made sure that we were alert – psychologists call this “fight or flight”. Stress is, in fact, one of the reasons we have survived and evolved as far as we have. But what now?
The nature of stress has changed; we no longer require sudden bursts of pent-up energy to save us from wild beasts. The processes of survival have changed beyond all recognition. To get your bread and butter, we don’t have to spend all day gathering nuts and berries or hunting mammoths. Generally, most modern people spend all day tapping keys, managing projects and staring at screens; then on the way home, they go to the shops. There are no sabre-toothed tigers except the ones in the manager’s office. Stress comes packaged in many ways – there are deadlines, unsympathetic bosses, heavy workloads and all manner of things to deal with – but sometimes we forget to find a release for the stress that is accumulating.
Fortunately for us, there are ways of minimising and relieving stress in the workplace. These tips are especially useful when we are going back to busy working lives after the Christmas holidays. Stress comes in two packages: it manifests itself mentally (in the mind) and physically (in the body). Normally, it starts in the mind, and unless it is dealt with at this stage, it moves into the body. After all, the mind and body are two parts of the same whole, and stress in one affects the other. So how can we cope with stress in the modern world?
At work there are a few things we can do to minimise stress levels and to stay relaxed no matter what’s thrown at us:
• Try to take regular short breaks when working on a computer. Not only is sitting at a screen stressful for your eyes and wrists, but it also helps tension build up in your body. Try to look away from the screen every now and again, and even stand up and move around. The more oxygen your brain has, the less stressed out you will be.
• Try to manage your time as efficiently as possible, which will also help you reduce stress. Of course, this requires a little give and take in an office environment.
• Focus your efforts on the most important tasks. If you keep moving with the most urgent things, you will feel that you are making progress and the little things will tend to fall into place.
• Delegate work where possible, and take all the help you can. Remember, there is nothing wrong with asking for help.
• Don’t take things too personally. Stress can snowball and pass on to others. In an office it often seems that if something goes wrong for one person, that individual passes it on to the next and a chain of blame develops. Avoid getting caught up in other people’s stress. If something isn’t your problem, try to ignore it.
• If you make a mistake, see it as something to learn from. Everybody makes mistakes, and nearly all mistakes can be rectified.
• Remember that nothing in the world is more valuable than your health. If the situations in your life seem to be getting so on top of you that your health is failing, it’s definitely time to take a break.
Outside of work, steps can be taken to relieve stress and make your life more relaxing. In fact, your private life is where you can take the most effective steps in combating stress in your work life:
• Eat well and take vitamins. Eating healthily is not as difficult as you think. Try to eat a good salad or fruit every day. Fresh fruits and vegetables provide your body with good vitamins and antioxidants. The less toxic your body is, the less stressed you will be. Try to take vitamins derived from whole foods – spirulina is one of the best sources of vitamins and is available in powder or tablet form.
• Exercise regularly. Exercise is one of the most efficient stress relievers. Remember the mammoth hunters? We can’t hunt mammoths, but we can go to the gym, play a sport or go for a run. If those options aren’t for you, try walking part of the way home. Walking is a great way of getting more oxygen into your system and stretching your muscles.
• Do yoga! Yoga is easily one of the best forms of stress relief. If you have the time and inclination, it’s worth giving it a try. A good yoga session oxygenates the body, destresses muscles, helps circulation and corrects posture. The list of benefits is endless. Aside from being one of the best forms of exercise, yoga is a great social activity.
• Take time for yourself. Everybody needs some quiet time, be it an hour of meditation or a hot bubble bath with a book. However you do it, take some time away from other people. Nothing beats a little time to oneself.
• Don’t try to cram in too much at the weekend. In these modern times people tend to socialise and party a lot at weekends. Often you won’t be doing yourself a favour if you go out, as partying can cause fatigue. Feeling tired on Monday morning makes it difficult to face work and is thus more stressful. Everything is good in moderation, but excess is the road to hell. Try to spend more of your free time relaxing at home.
• Talk to someone about your stress. Bottling things up never helps. Tell someone close to you how you are feeling. Talking always eases problems.
There are many resources on the internet for helping to combat stress. Help is always only a skip and a jump away. The most important thing to remember is that nothing in the world is worth losing your sanity or your health for, and positive thinking will help create a positive reality.