The total number of working days lost in Great Britain due to work related stress, depression or anxiety in 2014/15 was 9.9 million days.
As the culture of working long hours becomes more ingrained and developments in technology mean that clients expect fast and around-the-clock service, the mental and physical health of everybody working in the corporate world is suffering.
Stress at work not only affects your personal life and physical health, it can also be detrimental when it comes to your career prospects and professional success. In 2014/15, stress accounted for 35 per cent of all work related ill health cases and 43 per cent of all working days lost due to ill health. It can be difficult to know what to do, when the demands being placed on you at work are just too much to manage.
However, there are several strategies that you can use to manage stress on a day-to-day basis. Here are ten small lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce your stress levels at work.
The UK Health and Safety Executive’s Labour Force Surveys have indicated that the main work factors causing work related stress, depression and anxiety are workload pressures, including tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support. Ambitious and driven to succeed, it is easy to want to please your boss/team and to take on more than you know is achievable or manageable. When your seniors are not effectively managing your workload and delegating work reasonably, you have to take this into your own hands.
Don’t feel guilty for saying “no” sometimes. Tell your boss that you cannot take on more work and do not offer to help those around you if you have not got the time. Whilst this may seem selfish, everyone stands to benefit from you protecting yourself from getting run-down. You will deliver the work you are doing to a much better standard, you will be a happier person in the workplace and much easier to work with and you probably won’t have to take several days off sick later in the week when you would have otherwise been completely burnt-out.
Prioritise your health
You have probably grown up being told that it is a good thing to want to help others and this is of course a great thing. However, if you are helping others with their work or worrying about pleasing your boss to the point where you just are not feeling great anymore, your list of priorities may have been become muddled. Above all prioritise your well-being. When you are feeling physically and psychologically healthy you will be able to deliver work of a much better quality and will actually enjoy your career. So do not let your pursuit of professional success get in the way of ensuring you are feeling great because it may just end up leaving you tired, over-worked and unable to actually achieve all of those professional goals which otherwise would have been easily attainable.
Don’t work whilst you eat
You probably end up having lunch at your desk every now and again or maybe even every day. You just have so much to do that it seems an effective use of time to take bites from your sandwiches as you type out your memo. Regulation 4 of the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 states that “Every employer shall so plan the activities of users at work in his undertaking that their daily work on display screen equipment is periodically interrupted by such breaks or changes of activity as reduce their workload at that equipment.” This legislation demonstrates the importance of taking breaks from your computer screen. Whilst every employer may not encourage you to take these breaks or plan your day so that you get as much time away from the computer as you should, you certainly can at least ensure that you eat your lunch away from the desk to give yourself a short break.
As you feel the stresses and the pressures of your day building up, take a moment just to stop and imagine yourself doing something relaxing or to picture yourself in a beautiful, peaceful place. Just these mental images of a less stressful situation or experience will work wonders in reducing your stress levels immediately.
Don’t forget to celebrate your achievements
When you have a long list of things to do, it is easy to spend all of your time worrying about what you have to do rather than what you have already managed to accomplish. It is exactly this process that can leave you feeling overwhelmed. When your list of things to do just keeps growing and nothing seems to get you any closer to the finish line, the only way to make your working day/week/month manageable is to celebrate every little task that you complete along the way. Tick off the item on your list, take a brief moment to celebrate your accomplishment and then continue with your endless list of tasks. Just this small step will make the process of getting through a lot of work, more rewarding and more manageable.
Have a relaxing song on your ipod ready
Is there one song that makes you feel incredibly relaxed or at peace? Perhaps it reminds you of a time when you were on a very relaxing holiday or a yoga class that you really enjoy. Play that song to yourself in those moments at work when you can feel your stress levels rising. Our bodies very cleverly associate certain emotions and even physical states with certain sounds, so just hearing a few minutes of this relaxing song could work to instantly calm you down.
Try to find 10/15 minutes a day to meditate or just relax
When you are extremely busy, taking time out to just do nothing may feel like a complete waste of time. However meditating or just taking a short while to relax every day can bring about significant physiological changes that can actually make you both more efficient and productive when you go back to your working day. Research carried out in America and published in the Journal of Psychiatry Research Neuroimaging demonstrated that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had increased grey matter in the hippocampus, an area of the brain important for learning and memory and decreased grey matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. So taking some time to meditate may just make you less anxious and save you a lot of time as you get through your day’s work much more efficiently.
Re-evaluate what the word “urgent” really means
You will have often been told that a task is “urgent” or that you have to complete something “as soon as possible”. So you skip lunch, try to avoid taking toilet breaks and run around frantically to complete this piece of work by the end of the day, only for your boss to not even notice you have sent it to him until two weeks later.
With technological advances and people working long hours, everyone seems to expect everything to be completed immediately. It is for you to draw your boundaries, making time to take lunch and to work at a reasonable pace (so that you can produce work of good quality).
Make time to sleep
When you are stressed and worried about the thousands of things that you have to achieve by the next day, sleep often takes a back seat. You would rather work until 11pm and get everything done than go home leaving lots of things to finish off tomorrow. Research has shown however that those who don’t sleep enough are more likely to be overweight, get depressed and age faster. So choosing to work-late over getting a good night’s sleep may just be causing you to feel low and anxious when you come to work the next day.
Don’t doubt your abilities if you can’t achieve something
If you fail to meet a deadline or your boss is not happy with the work you submit, it can be easy to doubt yourself and your abilities. Whilst it should not be the case, employers will often try and get away with as much as they can. Why should they waste money employing two people, when one can work 16 hours a day and get everything done? Why should they give you three days to complete a project when you can stay up all night and get it done by tomorrow morning?
We all make mistakes and sometimes the deadlines and timeframes forced upon us are just not realistic. Do not get disheartened or doubt yourself if you just cannot manage everything that a very demanding employer expects you to get done.
About the author
Shelley Cho, a former finance lawyer, of www.justsensiblehealth.com runs workshops to enable her clients to optimise their professional performance through stress management. Having worked in a demanding corporate environment for several years herself, she experienced first-hand how effective stress management could really improve the professional lives of her colleagues. Reducing stress levels made employees more satisfied with their careers, improved their career progression opportunities and their enjoyment of their personal lives.
Shelley decided to train in a range of disciplines to enable her to help those around her to manage stress and improve their health including, meditation, nutrition, neuro-linguistic programming and clinical hypnotherapy. She now uses a combination of techniques to help her clients to achieve significant improvements in their mental and physical health.