by Karen Boyd – a certified Career and Mental Fitness Coach.
April is Stress Awareness Month. We all know what it’s like to feel stressed and experience stress from time to time. It can help motivate us and improve our performance, but if it’s happening too frequently it can cause problems.
Stress overload is a big issue in Britain. In the UK’s largest ever stress survey, 82% of people said they felt stressed at least some time during a typical week whilst 74% have felt so stressed that they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope (source: Mental Health Foundation 2018). With the events of the past two years, these statistics would likely look even worse today.
Is all stress ‘bad’?
A common misconception is that stress is inherently negative. This is not the case, we need some low-level stress to learn, grow and develop. ‘Good stress’ might look like this: we feel motivated, buzzing with energy, we are focused, can concentrate deeply and think clearly and creatively.
However, when our workload, family or finance issues or other challenging events tip us into a state of ongoing stress and we aren’t able to work through the issue(s), it can lead to anxiety, sleeplessness, brain fog, low productivity, low mood and physical health issues.
Often our own expectations, self-criticism and past experiences can cause us stress too and greatly affect our ability to deal with challenges with a positive mindset.
So how can we best manage stress when it starts to affect us?
For #StressAwarenessMonth, here are my top tips on how to build your mental fitness and reduce stress.
Cut the overwhelm
A big misconception is a belief that your sense of busyness is coming from your long to-do list. It’s likely not. Let me explain…
- Realistically, you can focus on one thing at a time, you can’t do it all at once. If you are frenzied, you are likely indecisive. Your mind is trying to negotiate decisions about your day in real-time from when to leave for a meeting to what to work on after. This indecision will create stress. Decide ahead of time. Take time to plan your day. Schedule it, stick to it and move on. The faster you decide the more you follow through, the less overwhelmed you feel and the more efficient and productive you will be.
- You may feel stressed because of the meaning your mind is attaching to your day. Thoughts like “I have so much to do” or “I can’t get this all done” are sending a signal to your body that things are out of control (fight or flight)! These thoughts will make you feel trapped, stressed, and BUSY. You are less productive when you have mind drama. You are less focused. When your mind starts to scream “I have so much to do! I can’t get this all done!” talk to it the way you would talk to a child having a meltdown. Here are my go-to drama zappers:
One thing at a time. Nothing has gone wrong. It’s just tasks. Focus on what is in front of me. Practice moving through your day without the drama. Be a person who is not frenzied. Be a person who moves from one thing to the next as if nothing is on fire. Because nothing is on fire.
- Beware multi-tasking: Multitasking feels helpful but promotes stress and damages productivity. The constant mental switching fatigues your brain and makes you less efficient. Do one task at a time and avoid distractions.
- Give your brain a break! Take regular breaks throughout the day. Even 10 mins in between meetings make a huge difference to your state of mind. An activity that consumes your energy and attention and helps you to be in the moment is best to destress your mind. If you are stuck for ideas, take some deep breaths with your eyes closed and your mind focusing on the sensations of breath.
Also, protect your time ‘off the clock’. More hours don’t mean you are more productive. There is always more to do. Safeguard some time to do something you find calming or that brings you joy outside of work hours.
- Be confident in your ability to deal with your challenges. Think about your personal resources such as your strengths and skills (or other competencies), social networks etc. that you can draw upon. Think “This is a tough and stressful situation, and yet I am still here, still dealing with it – what has helped so far, what else could I build on?” (your own abilities or external resources). What has worked before for you? How did you relax, calm down and focus? Reflect on what you have done in previous times in your life when you felt calmer and less overwhelmed and then craft ways to bring more of that into your here and now.
Take care of yourself
Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Do things you enjoy, find relaxing and that make you happy. Spend time with people who lift you up. Connection fuels us. Of course, also try to exercise regularly, eat healthy food, and get a good night’s sleep. Taking care of yourself enables your mind and body to deal with challenging situations that require resilience.
And finally, watch out for the inner judge!
A lot of our stress comes from fears about ‘bad outcomes’. That voice in your head, saying “I am screwed if I fail in this project” or “people will think I am not capable if I don’t get this done”. Paradoxically, you are more likely to prevent these ‘bad outcomes’ if you don’t worry about them so much. This is because you are less likely to get derailed by overreacting and stressing out every time a small glitch happens.
Your clear-headed, positive and centred mind is more resourceful and creative in responding to hiccups along the way helping you to recover from setbacks and challenges faster. Ultimately, there is learning and an opportunity even in failure if we look for it. When we approach challenges from this perspective, our stress reduces. We can be our best and deal with situations with a positive mindset, no matter what happens.
This article was written by Karen Boyd, a certified Career and Mental Fitness Coach.
Find out more about how you can build your mental fitness in only seven weeks so you can respond to challenges with a positive mindset. Learn to strengthen the part of your brain that serves you and quiet the part that sabotages you for greater happiness AND performance.