Stress can work for us or against us. Management of stress at the right level for us and for the task at hand is a really valuable skill. Without some level of stress we would never get up in the morning, nor would we be motivated to perform at our best or to do anything at all. So we can welcome stress, so long as we can control it effectively when we need to.
In evolutionary terms, stress allows us to engage with or run away from a real physical danger: this is the “fight or flight” response. If a car is hurtling out of control towards us, we still want that basic physiological response to kick in so we can escape from its path quickly, by taking immediate action without thinking about it on any conscious level. In an office environment, physical dangers are rare (thankfully!). Instead, other things can tend raise our stress levels – things like meeting that deadline, completing urgent work or handling workload pressures. There might be things in our private lives which are creating stress and which absorb part of our spare capacity to deal with stressful things at work. Our imagination, too, can create stress by forecasting unduly pessimistic or catastrophic outcomes. Whatever the stress, when the levels are too high and are not managed effectively, the effect is the same. At its most extreme, stress makes it hard to concentrate or focus; worrying occupies our thoughts and we feel one or more physical symptoms of anxiety.
Managing stress is far easier than you might think. Once you have identified the way(s) that work best for you, then it just takes practice to embed those skills.
So, here are some methods which work well for most people:
- Identify what the stressor is and how much of your life it needs to affect.
- Consider whether there is anything you can do to eliminate or reduce the stress
- If so, do something about it – but don’t dwell endlessly on what to do. Write a list of possibilities, select one option and get on with it. If it doesn’t go well, you have probably learned something valuable. Choose to do something else, or do the same thing in a different way.
- If there is nothing you can do to eliminate or reduce stress, then take steps to calm things down for you, to reduce the stress hormones. Some of the best de-stressors – very practical steps that allow you to be at your best if things become stressful for you – are as follows:
- Get some physical exercise, from going to the gym or playing a sport to running on the spot or simply walking.
- Try some breathing exercises, taking care to breathe deeply into the bottom of your lungs, so the stomach is pushed out. Make sure that the out-breath is longer than the in-breath.
- Progressively tense and relax each muscle group of the body.
- Listen to a relaxation CD or MP3.
- Have a massage.
- Develop a good sleep routine.
- Eat and drink nourishing things at regular times.
- See friends, or do something else which you enjoy and which absorbs your attention in a positive way.
Remind yourself that the stressor, whatever it is, is temporary in the context of your entire life. Expect the best, and focus on and be thankful for all the things which are going well for you.