It causes us to age more rapidly, damages our physical and mental health, disrupts our relationships and inhibits our ability to perform at work, but for many- stress is now an ever present factor in their lives. In 2015, the Australian Psychological Society reported that anxiety levels among the Aussie population were on the rise, having increased significantly since 2011.
With one in five adults being forced to take time off work in the last twelve months to focus on their mental health, it’s time we re-evaluated our affiliation with stress.
Here’s how to start:
Recognise: If you’re struggling to concentrate at work, suffering from headaches or an upset stomach, or feeling anxious, irritable or depressed, stress could be to blame. Because stress can present itself in a multitude of ways, it’s important to identify how stress feels to you. Rather than blaming your discomfort on some unknown impending illness, consider what environmental pressures may be shaping your physical and emotional experience.
Prepare: Hectic schedules and disrupted sleep often go hand in hand. When you’re stressed, the increased levels of cortisol in your body make it more difficult for you to nod off. This lack of sleep then inhibits your ability to be productive, leaving more work to be done and a further increase in stress. If you struggle to obtain the recommended seven to nine hours sleep per night, try implementing a new bedtime routine which centres on deep breathing, relaxing scents and a reduction in environmental stimulants.
Engaging in physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce and buffer against stress. By lowering the volume of stress hormones in the body and triggering the release of mood boosting chemicals called endorphin's, exercise can be used to treat stress, anxiety and depression.
Nourishing your body is a great way to prepare for a busy day at work. Swap stress-inducing processed foods for whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables. Try to include foods rich in essential fatty acids for better brain function and an enhanced sense of wellbeing.
"stress can present itself in a multitude of ways, it’s important to identify how stress feels to you"
Prioritise: Often when we have a lot to do we become overwhelmed by spiralling thoughts. By focusing on what’s most important and identifying the day’s most pressing tasks, we can reclaim a sense of control over our work. Write down your goals, create a to-do list and ask for help whenever necessary.
Disconnect: Contrary to popular belief, employees who take regular breaks are more productive than their desk-bound colleagues. Studies show that those who temporarily divert their attention away from their work have higher energy levels, more innovative ideas and lower levels of stress than those who remain fixated on the task at hand.
That said, it’s important to remember that all breaks are not made equal. Rather than spending your lunch answering emails or staring at your phone, disconnect from technology by practising mindfulness, going for a walk or catching up with friends.
Decide: Defining your limits is an essential part of avoiding unnecessary stress. While saying ‘no’ to colleagues can be difficult at first, learning to do so demonstrates a commitment to your role. Taking on additional tasks when you’re already pressed for time will leave you unable to complete any one project to the best of your ability and could eventually lead to unwanted physical and emotional burnout.
Decompress: A certain level of work-induced stress is unavoidable, but the way in which you choose to process that pressure determines whether or not it will consume you. For some people, practising yoga, meditation or mindfulness allows them to unwind. For others, the best way to release unwanted tension is to write it out in a journal. There is no right or wrong way to decompress once you allow yourself time to do so.
If you struggle to contain your thoughts or feel overwhelmed by the pressures of life, consider seeing a counsellor who can help you find relief.