Christopher Harvey is the founder of Harvey Sinclair, an Executive Wellbeing Coaching Company. Educated at St Andrews (MA) and Harvard Universities respectively, with a background in psychology, a master of formalised coaching and 10 years of international corporate leadership for some of the world’s most reputable organisations, Christopher understands all the dynamics involved in managing a stressful work/life balance, striving for perfection and dealing with failure.
For Stress Awareness Month, he provides his top ten tips for overcoming stress in the workplace and living a more fulfilled life.
- Celebrate the little victories. Specifically take time to celebrate all the small wins that happen each day. If you had a successful catch up with your boss or nailed a presentation, treat yourself to something that makes you feel good, maybe some cheeky chocolate. Don’t wait until you get a promotion to pat yourself on the back. It is a perpetual cycle of success and reward that you want to maintain. Happiness breeds more success and in return success gives you more reasons to be happy!
- You are not a prisoner to your job. Take a minute and do some thorough catastrophising, it’s what we humans do best. Imagine the very worst situation of what may materialise should you hand in your resignation tomorrow. Very rarely is the situation so awful that you couldn’t see a constructive way forward.
There are people out there who keep a letter of resignation in their desk drawer in the knowledge that the option is always there. Resigning is the very last option on the table, however, removing the fear of the worst case scenario allows us to liberate our thinking and our choices, be less risk averse and ultimately less stressed.
- Embrace Failure. At work we are defined by our failures as well as our successes. Own them, learn from them and be a whole person with a rich and varied experience. If we shy away from risks we will never achieve the great successes, any professional who has achieved anything great, anyone who has changed the world has at some point made a choice to embrace failure instead of fighting it.
If you think about it, failure is just feedback; it’s simply showing you what’s not working so you can find out what will work. It’s necessary and can’t be avoided. If we didn’t have failure, how would we know what to do next?
- Fresh undies. A newly found millionaire was once asked what their one luxury was now that money was no object, fresh socks every day. Nothing quite beats that satisfying feeling of fresh underwear especially before a big event, so next time you have a stressful day in the diary, pull out a pair of fresh socks and/or pants and start the day with that feeling of self appreciation and comfortability. It need not be fancy nor expensive, just new.
- Retaining something that is just for you. Have time every day that is spent entirely by yourself, find your autonomy and regularly remind yourself that there are things that matter to you outside of the work place. Take a walk in the park, book a meeting room to release your artistic license on the whiteboard or if you have a full lunch break, unleash your energy on a punch bag or spinning bike at the local gym.
Something private about you that colleagues need not know about that you enjoy, your work will start to consume less of your energy whilst your performance becomes more effective and everyone can create fifteen free minutes if you set about it.
- Career speed dating. Set up a conversation with someone whose occupation is entirely different to your own and utterly awe inspiring. A person you admire (you may know them or not), ask yourself what it is you admire about them?
They might be a stay at home mum or a sailor on a nuclear submarine, understand the choices they have made that you envy and it will tell you something about your own choices. The grass isn’t always greener but it may show you what the other grass looks like, an informed choice is a better choice. We only envy things that feel as if they are within our reach, so get out there and start finding things you want, often we find discovery and inspiration in the most bizarre of places.
- A balanced physical diet promotes a balanced emotional state. With a busy work life comes a lack of time to consume a nutritionally balanced diet. When under stress and short of time we tend to reach for quick easy meals, particularly when we haven’t eaten for a while. The foods that the body craves at these times are usually energy dense quick fixes, such as sugars and fats. To support you in times of stress it is important to have access to healthy snacks and not to leave it too long between meals.
The longer you go without eating, the more likely you are to reach for that sugary snack. The closer food is to its natural state, the better it is for you and your stress management. Ensure regular meals are factored into your schedule, pre-prepare snacks of unsalted nuts and fresh fruit and cut out the excessive caffeine; your body and mind will thank you for it!
- Start breathing more deeply! Deep breathing or ‘paced respiration,’ is an easy quick win for managing our body’s stress response in the office. When you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs, yet for many of us, deep breathing seems unnatural. Whether it be the negative connotations associated with heavy respiration in our working culture or the fact that a flat stomach is considered attractive, so women (and men) tend to hold in their stomach muscles; these behaviours interfere with deep breathing and gradually makes shallow “chest breathing” seem normal, which increases tension and anxiety.
Shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion. The lowest part of the lungs doesn’t get a full share of oxygenated air. That can make you feel short of breath and anxious. Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilise blood pressure which again positively impacts our wellbeing. Start by breathing more deeply on the morning commute and slowly integrate it into other parts of the day during meetings and trips to the coffee machine, over time you will realise nobody actually notices it!
- Stop seeking the silver bullet solution. There is no such thing as luck, so stop envying what your colleagues or competitors have and what’s not fair and realise that you get out of work what you put in. To use Thomas Jefferson’s insightful words, “The harder I work, the more luck I have.”
Start creating your own good fortune today by applying yourself to hard graft and you will see results not just in your work but in your mood too. Stick to the goals you set, work hard and believe in your abilities instead of wishfully seeking a miracle to turn things around. Small steps today can mean big results tomorrow, even the biggest of trees started off as a seedling at one point and likewise every great success story started with a call to action.
- Asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness. If you’re struggling with some task or objective, ask for help. As with so many things that would serve us (and others), our fear is what gets in the way. Fear of over-stepping a relationship. Fear of appearing too needy. Fear of imposing. Fear of revealing our struggle and having our boss realise we don’t have it all together after all.
But here’s the thing; when you don’t ask for help when you need it, you assume all of a burden that might easily (and gladly) be shared. But you also deprive those who’d love to assist you of the opportunity to do so. Our lives are richer, not poorer, when we share our talents with others. So whether you need someone to lend you a hand, or you just need to borrow an ear, consider this: by having the courage to ask for help you’re not putting them out, you’re pulling them up.