“Don’t stress about it” is easier said than done
We all know what it’s like: once we’re stressed, it’s a vicious circle. The simplest tasks become insurmountable obstacles – which in turn has an impact on the office climate. The result is a tense, grim office atmosphere, which doesn’t necessarily make the task any easier.
The last two articles on this month’s theme #antiburnout looked at what a burnout actually is, how it comes about, and how to recognise one.
Now we’re getting down to business. We want to show you what you can do to ensure that stress – in particular work-related stress – doesn’t even begin to manifest itself.
Because let’s be honest: we spend so much time at work that we should care about maintaining a relaxed atmosphere in the office. An 8-hour day ultimately goes by much quicker if everyone pulls together and builds positive working relationships with colleagues and managers.
In this article, we’ve come up with 7 ideas that will help you lower your stress levels and allow you to become more Zen.
1. Go about your day mindfully instead of rushing
Mindfulness is the key to a happy life. That’s not just a cheap Instagram quote, it’s an important step in creating a more relaxed daily routine.
But mindfulness isn’t something you learn overnight. Rather it’s a continuous process that can and should be practised. It involves doing things consciously instead of reverting to autopilot mode.
For instance, you’re in a meeting and start to feel so overwhelmed with anger that the red mist starts descending. That’s the moment in which you decide whether to revert to particular behaviours or whether to consciously question yourself.
Instead of reacting and losing your cool – even inwardly – you could ask yourself:
- Why is this getting to me right now?
- How does this anger feel exactly?
- Is it like a contraction in my chest or more of a prickling sensation all over my body?
- What are the potential reactions to this feeling of anger, which I’m experiencing really consciously at the moment?
Important: this isn’t about suppression. That would only serve to make your anger greater, because at the end of the day, your anger wants to be seen – it’s trying to tell you something.
Instead it’s about giving this anger space, experiencing it consciously, maybe even sharing it with others to give it room to transform into something more pleasant. Because suppressed anger has the tendency to fuel passive aggressive behaviour, and we all know how unpleasant that can get. And it’s even more unpleasant when suppressed anger causes physical symptoms.
If you struggle to stay mindful in those kinds of situations and find yourself constantly reverting back to old habits, (which happens to mindfulness experts as well, by the way), it may help to keep a stress diary.
You can use it to record situations which you perceived as particularly stressful and why – either in the moment itself or in the evening when you get home. It will help you recognise the moments in which you become overwhelmed by stress.
2. Set your own limits and communicate openly
This month’s theme has made us aware of the fact that burnout is often linked to an inability to recognise our own limits as well as by ignoring them for too long. Excessive stress thus overwhelms your personal capacities.
If you stay mindful and listen to your body, you will quickly realise when your personal limits have been reached.
Here’s how that could look: your manager asks you to come in early again and everything in you recoils at the thought. You get that prickling sensation, your stomach contracts, and you can feel the anger rising.
You can feel it physically and it impacts your mood. This is precisely the moment when you need to have your own back. For instance, you could say: “I need a bit more personal time at the moment. Unfortunately, that means I can’t come in early, but I’ll do my best during regular working hours. Is that ok with you?”
You can’t control your manager’s response. But you can control your reaction. You’ll see that once you set clear limits, your environment will respond with increasing levels of respect and tolerance.
3. “Nobody is perfect” is so much more than a cheap phrase
You may be thinking “not another one of these lame quotes”. Maybe, but there’s a lot of truth in it.
Burnout happens when you place excessive demands on yourself. These demands have likely formed over a long period of time – mainly through external influences such as family, work environment, social media etc. “You should learn how to do this or that”, “You need to make something of yourself”, “This is how you should look” or “If others can do it, why can’t you?”.
To maintain this external image, you keep going until you reach your physical and mental limits, rendering yourself incapable of action – a warning signal to ensure the status quo doesn’t continue.
The result: you have no strength left to maintain this externally devised image and it collapses on itself. This is usually very painful and is experienced as a deep crisis. But precisely therein lies the magic of a new beginning: you now have the opportunity to create an honest, authentic version of yourself that matches who you are.
People who have experienced burnout all agree that they were able to leave behind all these unnecessary self-images afterwards. Internalising the idea that nobody is perfect will help you accept your mistakes and deal openly with your demons, enabling you to transform them and ultimately integrate them. After all, we’ve all got them, haven’t we?
4. Your workplace should provide everything you need to support your physical and mental wellbeing
You can solve a lot within yourself, but our external environment also plays an important role.
Have a think about how comfortable you feel in your place of work:
- Is your chair comfortable and ergonomic?
- Do you feel at ease or would you benefit from some more plants, for example?
- Is your environment tidy? Does it enable clear thinking?
If not, it’s high time for a change. Speak to your manager or your colleagues and aim to create an environment that is conducive to your creativity, concentration, and wellbeing. Your tasks will become easier to manage.
5. Going for walks is a great way to improve your quality of sleep and facilitate a healthy lifestyle
There’s nothing worse than having lunch at your desk and forfeiting your own lunch break. The misconception here is that it saves you time, but in actual fact you’ll only end up feeling more drained, which in turn results in less effective working. In short, you end up chasing your tail.
There’s nothing wrong with choosing not to spend your lunch break with your colleagues and taking some time out instead, for instance by going for a long walk.
Various studies have shown that mental wellbeing improves significantly after even short walks. Walking has also been shown to reduce the risk of depression, burnout, and even physical ailments such as diabetes.
You’ll notice that a midday walk clears your head and gives you a boost for the rest of the day – allowing you to manage your tasks with energy and enthusiasm. Especially if there’s a tense atmosphere in the office or you’ve just had a challenging conversation, it can help to get out for a bit.
Nature, physical activity, and fresh air restore your emotional balance and put things into perspective.
6. Practising mindfulness makes you more efficient and level-headed
In a study, 60 employees from a digital marketing company were introduced to mindfulness through workshops and exercises over a longer period of time.
- The employees were better able to balance out stress factors such as a high workload or frequent distractions in the workplace.
- They spoke of an increase in job satisfaction.
- They claimed to be experiencing a better work/life balance.
Mindfulness may be a grand concept, but it’s actually really easy to learn step-by-step and to integrate into your daily life.
Our Humanoo app contains numerous mindfulness exercises. Just a few minutes a day will create a foundation for better emotional wellbeing and keep stress at bay. In the long term, this will improve your awareness and your ability to identify stress.
7. A social safety net doesn’t just make you happy, it keeps you healthy
One of the negative side effects of stress is that we have less time to spend with friends and family. And this is where the vicious cycle begins. When you interact less with the people you value, the sense of being overwhelmed is felt more intensely.
We all know how beneficial a good chat with our best friend can be. Suddenly the world doesn’t seem quite so gloomy anymore.
So as soon as you start thinking about cancelling your plans, you should actually be considering how to reduce your workload. Because time spent with loved ones will always be an antidote for stress.
There is evidence that loneliness impacts both your physical and mental wellbeing. A study conducted by Sarah Pressman revealed that being overweight reduces life expectancy in 20 percent of cases, consuming alcohol reduces it in 30 percent, smoking in 50 percent, and loneliness in up to 70 percent of cases.
Another study showed that the number one cause of death – heart attacks or heart disease – increases by 30 percent in people who feel lonely. By contrast, the immune system is strengthened, life expectancy increases, and depression is reduced in those people with a supportive social network.
Stress: a question of awareness and a decision
This monthly theme has taught us something important about burnout: it’s not this horror hanging over you, waiting to overwhelm you.
Above all, it’s your body’s natural alarm system that is telling you: “Hey, something’s going really wrong here, you need to take a closer look!”.
Those who internalise this will be able to see burnout as an opportunity for a clear mind, a healthy set of values, and a new type of self-acceptance. But to do this, we need to stop resisting, give in to the moment, and accept what is happening without fear.
This approach is particularly prevalent in the teachings of tantrism. Diana Sans describes it as follows in her book “The Big YES to Life – Tantra as a Path to Inner Liberation”:
“The fearless heart” describes the open, marvelling breadth with which we approach things. It describes the ability to transform our pain, our anger, our fear by accepting them into the midst of our heart, exploring them, and welcoming them.
We face our inner demons fearlessly and realise that behind their dark façade, there is a friend waiting. Or even a prince.
A wonderful example of this kind of transformation can be found in the well-known fairy tale of the Frog Prince. A slimy toad follows the princess around like a shadow – wanting to eat from her plate, wanting to sleep in her bed… until she finds the courage to face it: depending on the version of the story, she either kisses the frog or hurls it against a wall. The rest is history.
We can all liberate and transform our demons in this way. The alchemic transformation from poison to nectar – or in the case of the fairy tale, from frog to prince – takes place within a fearless heart, and it begins with a YES.
We hope this article was encouraging to all our readers struggling with stress. As always, we look forward to comments and would love to hear about your personal experiences of stress and burnout.
Your Humanoo team