April heralds Stress Awareness Month; an occurrence many of us experience at some point in our working lives.
Stress Awareness Month takes place every April since it first launched 27 years ago in 1992.
Throughout this period, teams of experts aim to increase public awareness about stress; something most of us experience at some point in our working lives.
This includes highlighting the causes of stress, the negative effects stress can have on the mind and body, and how to relieve stress.
In this week’s post, we want to highlight a few ways you might be making your days more stressful than you need to!
To reframe our conversations, let’s kick off with what stress is.
What is Stress?
It’s common to hear people lament that they are “stressed out”, and though they may well be, this phrase is often used as a throwaway comment.
According to the stress management society, stress is primarily a physical response.
When we experience stress, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical activity.
This causes a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions, such as digestion.
Because of this rush of hormones, the caveman (and woman!) gained a rush of energy, which prepared them to either fight the tiger or run away. That heart pounding and fast breathing is the adrenaline; as well as a boost of energy, it enables us to focus our attention so we can quickly respond to the situation.
So, according to this, some degree of stress can be good as a means of enabling us to focus.
The challenge is when our body goes into a state of stress in inappropriate situations. When blood flow is going only to the most important muscles needed to fight or flee, brain function is minimised.
This can lead to an inability to ‘think straight’; a state that is an issue both at work and home.
Plus, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that if we experience a state of stress for long periods, it can be detrimental to our health.
1. Your Goals And Visions Are Flaky
Human beings are goal orientated individuals. We work better when we are focused on something we want.
I know personally that if I don’t know where I am heading then I get classic stress–related symptoms. Only this morning I saw a post from Ariana Huffington talking about JK Rowling’s success.
In it, she shared that once she made one thing, the one thing, and set her vision, she felt better, and everything started to shift.
2. You‘re Disorganised
Your inner world can reflect your outer world and surprisingly, vice versa. A dishevelled desk, a diary that isn’t structured, an untidy house, a dirty car… the list goes on.
All of these things can, and do, chip away at structured thinking and consequently create a level of friction that can lead to stress symptoms.
Let’s be honest here who doesn’t love that feeling of a handled inbox, a tidy desk or that satisfying experience when you open your front door, and the cleaner has been!
Why? It’s because we perform better with structure and organised processes.
3. You Put Others First
As managers, leaders and team members we all come from a place of wanting to help each other, or at least the organisations we work with to succeed.
However, you have to come first.
I was talking to a participant on one of our programmes last month, and she was concerned that she spent so much of her time helping sort out problems for other members of her team that she was behind at the end of each day.
Guess what? She was experiencing classic physical stress symptoms; appetite changes, decreased energy, headaches and the list goes on.
I am not saying you have to stop helping your direct reports. I would recommend setting clear objectives and implementing coaching and training to help others rather than jumping into rescue mode. Take it from a born rescuer! We need to learn to rescue ourselves!
4. You are Attached To Social Media
It’s easily done.
Especially when we live in such a tech–driven world. Last week I watched a video from Simon Sinek about relationships of all things. He was talking about consistency of effort and what was it that makes your partner finally fall in love.
I thought it was ironic when he shared that maybe it was when you said good morning to your partner before you picked up your smartphone. Ouch! I know I have been a culprit of this in the past.
Research confirms something we probably all know; the more time people spent on Facebook, Instagram and social media, the more they felt dissatisfied, depressed, or anxious. People avoid sharing negative feelings, so what you see isn’t real, but filtered. Comparing yourself to others is never a good idea and will end up making you feel anxious.
5. You Don’t Get Away From Your Desk
We’re human beings, not human doings! We’re not machines. We need breaks and exercise to function.
Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz have written an excellent book called The Power of Full Engagement based on their research with some global organisations and world–class athletes. It’s well worth a read. They share how critical it is to build in breaks and stress–beating rituals as part of our working day.
Make sure you get up and move every hour. I know it may seem impractical, but a quick leg stretch can have a positive impact on our wellbeing and increase our productivity.
Do you recognise any patterns in yourself here?
The organisations we all operate in are working in a unique period of history where anything is possible to achieve, and A.I. can make almost anything happen at the press of a button.
Maybe it’s time to step back and take stock of your ‘stressful’ life?
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