Whether you’re dealing with the pressures of your job or worrying during your search for one, stress can get in the way of feeling and working at you best. Try out these tips to help!
It can be difficult to manage stress, especially when the things that are stressing you out are outside of your control. For the worries you can’t do anything about right now, it can help to work through how you feel about them, so that you can approach them in a sustainable way for your mental health.
We’ve compiled seven top tips to help you shift your perspective in moments of stress and unplug from the daily pressures of work.
Need support now? CALM have an international list of mental health charities you can use to get help.
What is stress?
According to the World Health Organization, stress can be defined as:
“a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation. Stress is a natural human response that prompts us to address challenges and threats in our lives.”
Stress makes us less productive and less creative. While a fast-paced environment can really work to motivate some people, it’s important to recognise when adrenaline and drive crosses over into stress and worry. Unmanageable work stress can lead to burnout, which can be tricky to spot and recover from.
Reasons for feeling stress can differ from person to person and so can the most effective ways of managing stress levels. What works for someone you know might not work for you – and that’s OK! It’s a good idea to try a few things out (one at a time works best for us!) to see what has the biggest impact on how you feel, and your approach!
7 top tips to try out to manage your stress levels:
1. Breathe through stressful moments
Stress triggers the body to release hormones like adrenaline, the ‘flight or fight’ hormone, which makes your heart beat faster as your body gets ready to deal with the perceived danger. This physical reaction also makes you feel more stressed and it can be a self-fulfilling cycle.
Breathing exercises can really help deal with stress in the moment! Slowing your breathing down lowers your heart rate and helps you be in a place to deal with the issue calmly. Try taking 3 deep breaths – or inhaling for 4 seconds and exhaling for 4 seconds (square breathing). There are lots more combinations to try out to find what works best for you. Headspace has lots more exercises to try, as does The Free Mindfulness Project.
If you’re feeling stressed at work, take a moment to breathe. This could be at your desk, but it really helps to move away from your devices, either to another room or outside, to help you recalibrate and calm down. Breaks are important and can help you focus more, rather than trying to work when you’re panicked.
2. Practice gratitude to ground you
When we feel under pressure at work, or feel stressed out by something, it’s easy to get into a fatalistic mindset. You can experience negative thoughts or beliefs, like ‘nothing is going right’ or ‘I’m a failure’. But it’s important to remember the good things in your life, which stress distracts us from. These can help you keep a clear perspective and ground you.
By expressing gratitude, we can identify a few things in our lives that we are grateful for. It can be as simple as being grateful that the sun is shining, a glass of clean water or even a friendly hello. If you’re stressed at work, take a moment to think about the things you like at work. It could be your team, your manager, the office kitchen! You could try noting these down in a gratitude journal – so you can look back on them in future moments of stress.
No one should be taking home work stress, and if you’re struggling to think of anything you’re grateful for about your current role, then this could be a sign that the job isn’t right for you. You deserve to be happy at work, to feel comfortable and safe and valued. If this is not the case, and you realise your environment is contributing to negative feelings, then this could be the time to start thinking about where you’d be happier, in another role or company.
3. Sleep helps you function through stress
Sleep is medicine for the brain and the body. If you are currently under a lot of stress at work or in life, being tired on top of it is not an ideal situation. Getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night is the daily recommended sleep for adults to function at their best, and getting more sleep is a proven way to help manage stress at work and at home.
If you’re struggling with sleep, there are a few things you can try:
- A bath or shower before bed could help you relax and switch off.
- Some people sleep better in cooler temperatures – so try cracking a window or sleeping with a fan.
- Try to give yourself a break from screens before turning in.
- Many people find moving their phones and devices out of the bedroom also helps sleep, and keeps the room darker.
- Try some of the techniques in this Sleep Better guide from the Mental Health Foundation.
If you prefer to work late, or have to due to time zones, ensure that you are adjusting your hours to rest and recover. It’s important to take time back if you’re able to, otherwise you create unsustainable work processes that can lead to burn out.
4. Exercise helps you cope with stress
Exercise is an amazing tool to manage stress and negative feelings as it leads to your body releasing endorphins. These chemicals interact with the receptors in your brain and reduce your perception of pain while triggering positive feelings.
Committing to a strict exercise regime can be overwhelming and often we don’t know where to begin! Remember, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and sometimes setting yourself ambitious exercise goals just gives you more reasons to worry or criticize yourself. You could start off by trying to get out on a 10-minute walk outside.
If you’re struggling with the idea of exercise – try to isolate parts of it you do actually enjoy . It could be time to reflect outside, or it could be losing yourself in competition, or playing as part of a team. Understanding the parts you enjoy and focusing on that is a good way to build a habit around exercise in a positive way, instead of being another chore for your to do list!
If you’re feeling stressed by work, trying to exercise as part of your morning routine can help to feel good before starting your work day. If you’re not a morning person and getting up early doesn’t work with your sleep pattern, try blocking time over lunch or at the end of your day to exercise. Taking a break and recharging your body will help you feel better about work and manage your feelings throughout the day.
5. Visualization keeps you focused on positives
We hear about visualization working for top sportspeople and athletes – who work to envision themselves succeeding at their chosen sport: whether that’s lifting the trophy at the end of the match or hitting the ball in the perfect spot. Visualization is a great tool to use in your day to day work life, you could try imagining yourself closing that deal, sending that proposal or finally pitching that idea to your boss or stakeholders. If you’re job hunting, visualize what success looks like. We tend to think of all the ways something can go wrong but if you visualize success and positivity, you can begin to shift that thought to, what if it goes right!
This can really help build confidence when you’re applying or interviewing for somewhere – but remember to be kind to yourself throughout the process. Take breaks to breathe or go for walks if the process gets too intense or you feel overwhelmed.
6. Goal setting helps you work through stress
This may sound intimidating but setting 1 or 2 simple and achievable tasks for each day can help you break apart big projects – whether that’s a presentation or report at work, or preparing to apply or interview for a new role!
There are lots of productivity tools that can help with planning your day, week, month and year – and can help you split tasks into different categories to manage them. If you’re more analogue, try using a notebook or post it note to get all your tasks down on paper.
Stress can make us feel like we aren’t making progress or working hard or fast enough. Often that’s not the case – you’re just busy and having to reprioritize tasks. Having the right mindset really helps reframe tasks to be manageable – we like to use the pillars of success to help get us reframe how we’re thinking.
You could also try writing them down and ticking them off once completed can give you a tangible sense of accomplishment – and can also serve as a reminder that you are accomplishing things, even if they weren’t the projects you were most excited to work on.
We love Todoist’s productivity method quiz – which helps you decide on time and project management techniques that work for your brain type and role. A great one to trial if you have lots on your to do list is Get Things Done.
7. Unplug from sources of stress
Being constantly connected to our screens can be detrimental to mental health in all sorts of ways. The light of your screen can make it more difficult to sleep, notifications from work can make it hard to switch off at the end of the day, and social media feeds can make us feel like imposters or failures.
Your phone might help you feel more in control, able to keep an eye on things or your competition, but even when we’re having fun online (or feel like we are) we’re still working our minds and stimulating them.
Try to take 10-15 minutes each day where you completely switch off: whether you’re on that much-needed walk, taking a nap, reading a few chapters of your book, journaling or even cooking yourself a wholesome meal. See how you feel with time away from a screen – and if it’s something that has a positive effect on you, try building up those intervals to a detox hour or evening or even weekend!
As people’s stress levels can vary, it is also important to note that you need to find whatever works for you and your lifestyle. Finding simple ways to de-stress can help reduce and manage stress. Remember to not overcomplicate or compare your ‘self-care’ routine with others – as this can look different for each individual.
Sometimes stress is our bodies and brains telling us our environment isn’t working for us. You deserve to feel safe, happy and valued in your workplace. If you don’t, that isn’t your fault. You work better and more productively when you’re happy and healthy, and environment is an important factor!