Stress. We're constantly told it's a normal part of everyday life, that a little stress can be a good thing by giving us an extra shot of energy. That in small doses it can even help us to accomplish daily tasks and achieve our goals.
But while it's all very well being aware of the positive aspects of stress, how do you actually go about dealing with it when it gets too much? How can you ensure that the stress you feel as you go about your working day doesn't paralyze you rather than spur you on?
In this “on-demand” society, there's no "on/off" button to press to switch off stress, nor is there an equivalent of a volume or temperature control which you can toggle to regulate the amount of stress that you experience. There's no way of avoiding the fact that some situations can feel overwhelming and almost impossible to cope with, particularly if it is a situation where you have a lot at stake - an important job interview, for example, or giving a speech at a conference. Even the prospect of standing up in front of your colleagues to make a PowerPoint presentation, or putting forward a proposal at a meeting with your boss can be emotionally exhausting.
CareerBliss has put together a list of our Top Eight tips to reduce stress in the workplace – go grab your stress-ball and let’s get started.
Top 8 Proven Stress-Reducing Tips
Even the best-prepared person is unlikely to eliminate their feelings of stress altogether, but here are eight things you can do to help minimize its negative impact:
1) Eliminate Distractions
Whenever a particularly stressful event is coming up - an interview for a longed-for job, a deadline for an important project, a potentially career-enhancing speech in front of a scary amount of people - decide that you will, you must, say "No!" to anything which could distract you from preparing for the task in hand. Review your commitments, your outside activities, your bad habits, and avoid doing anything which diverts your attention and prevents you from remaining 100% focused on achieving your goal. If you don't prioritize successfully, you may run out of time, or energy, or both, which will only add to any stress which you may be feeling.
If a distraction is unavoidable, try to keep in mind that you are unlikely to be indispensable. Delegate whenever you can - maybe another team member can take over responsibility for a less-urgent project, or someone else can take your place on a social committee.
2) Get Moving
Don't totally neglect your social or sporting or other personal activities, though - an hour or two of relaxation and escapism can do wonders to refresh both body and mind. If you are particularly stressed, a walk outside in the sunlight and fresh air prior to the stressful event will do wonders for your state of mind. Any exercise that increases your heart rate will release endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals which can promote a feeling of well-being and reduce stress.
3) Try Visualization
You can help inoculate yourself against a dreaded event by visualizing it in as much detail as possible ahead of time. Try going over every aspect of it in your mind, and (this is the important bit) picture it as being a runaway success. If you're going to be speaking in public, or to a panel of interviewers, imagine what you'll be wearing, what your audience will look like, how you will present your talk, what questions you are likely to be asked, how you will answer them, and so on. Visualize the experience as having a positive outcome and avoid thinking of all the things that could go wrong. That way, when the time comes to make the actual event, it will already be familiar - and you will probably find that your fear will be lessened by already having gone over the experience in your mind.
4) Pay Attention to Self-Talk
It is vital to eliminate all destructive self-talk. You know the sort of thing: "I'm not up to the job." "This isn't going to work." "They'll see through me and realize that I'm totally unsuitable for the promotion." And so on. Practice making positive comments to yourself. "I am more than capable of succeeding at this." "I am extremely well-qualified for this job." Motivational audio programs can often help. You don't have to spend time on these - you can listen during day-to-day activities such as preparing or eating a meal - but for some people they can be a real help in increasing optimism and reducing negativity.
5) Remember to Breathe
Deep-breathing exercises are another way to help the mind stay balanced. Once learned, these can be used at any time - for helping with relaxation before a challenging event, or as an immediate coping strategy in highly stressful situations. When people feel stressed they tend to breathe in short, shallow breaths. This results in stale air not being expelled so oxidation of the tissues is incomplete, resulting in muscle tension. Taking deep, slow breaths, inhaling through the nose, holding the breath for a second or two, and exhaling slowly through the mouth (remember to pucker your lips – though don’t try this in public) can have an instant calming effect.
6) Prepare Ahead of Time
It will help you to feel far more relaxed if you are completely organized the evening before. Lay out the clothes, accessories and shoes you are going to wear (preferably some place where the cat won't sit on them). Pack your bag if you have one and put it by the door. Make sure you know where your car keys are. Put your phone on charge so you won’t wake up to a dead battery. If you are going to an interview or to a conference you should have done your research so that you know the route you will take. Ensure you have packed such things as your GPS, printed directions, references, notes and so on.
7) Unplug to Refresh
The night before the potentially stressful event, make a real effort to unplug from the world. Turn off your phone. Try to resist checking updates on social media. Instead, pamper yourself with some “Me” time - take a long bath, or watch a movie, or read a book, and summon up the courage to temporarily disconnect from the world around you. Over-stimulating your brain by trying to cram in some extra prep work (or worry-time) before you go to bed will only serve to delay or disrupt that essential refreshing sleep.
8) Give Yourself the Gift of Time
Make sure that you allow extra time for your journey in the morning. Even if you are going to your normal place of work, it's far better to get there early so you can prepare for your presentation, or ensure there are no IT glitches to delay the submission of your report or project. Rushing in at the last minute, even if that's what you normally do, will only add to any stress which you may be feeling.
After It's All Over…. Give Yourself Credit.
Once you have met your deadline, or given your presentation, or come out of the interview room, try to be proud of yourself for a job well done. You may not have achieved perfection - few of us ever do - but you will doubtless have done far better than you probably think you did. If you have momentarily stumbled over your words, or forgotten an important point, remember that the chances are that you are the only one who is dwelling on this, so instead, think back to all the moments which went well, and try to visualize a positive outcome.
One of the most important lessons to learn in conquering stress in the workplace is to always focus on your successes, and never reflect on past failure, whether real or imaginary. As the popular mindfulness and meditation teacher Dr. Amit Ray says: "If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment."