So you THINK you’re stressed?

I used to feel stress; I almost delighted in coming home to tell my husband about how tough my job was. I felt well and truly sorry for myself. There was no time for me at all, all I could do was work, work and work some more, before collapsing into bed ready to get up early the next morning for more of the same. But I wasn’t unique; this is what life is like for a large proportion of workers. So who or what is responsible?

Let’s start with blaming circumstances. The reality is that most of us have to earn money to be able to live. We do this by taking a job, or setting up a business. There will be a number of things that have to be done in order to bring home the money. Of these things, some will be time-consuming, and some will be downright difficult or unpleasant. We can feel stressed when faced with a long to-do list of such things, and therefore we decide that this is the cause of our stress. After all, we can’t just quit, can we!

Or can we? Actually, yes we can. You can leave any job you want to. The reason why you don’t is because, of course, there are consequences. So a choice is made, the choice of being IN work, however stressful it may be, is deemed preferable to the choice of being OUT OF work. American motivational speaker, Tony Robbins, states that there’s no such thing as stress – we’re just fearful. He says that when people say ‘I’m so stressed, I’ve got such a lot to do and no time and my boss is putting pressure on me, etc’ what they really mean is ‘I’m fearful that I can’t handle how much I’ve taken on. I’m fearful that I may not be good enough.’ Susan Jeffers, late author of ‘Feel the Fear and do it Anyway’ says that we need to have a baseline of saying to ourselves: ‘whatever happens, I can handle it!’ Circumstances can’t ever fully be blamed because if this was true we’d all respond in the same way to any given situation – which of course we don’t.

The great news about recognising that our thoughts and fears determine our stress levels is that it means we have control. What are you doing that adds or reduces your stress level? We can add to our stress by saying ‘yes’ to something that we really want to say no to, by wanting to please others and by wanting to avoid confrontation/criticism. We can reduce stress by taking regular breaks and having hobbies/activities outside of work.

So the truth is that stress IS created and felt internally, but we are influenced by our experiences and circumstances, which means it can appear to come from the outside world.

What can we do about stress?

1) Start by recognising that stress begins with your thoughts and fears. You may be mind-reading (they think I’m not good at my job so I’d better work really hard) or catastrophising (it’s all going to be a disaster!). Challenge yourself to focus on all that you’re doing well and on thinking in more constructive ways.

2) Physical stress, which is caused by malnutrition, and a lack of water and exercise will seriously deplete your energy levels making emotional/mental stress much harder to deal with. It isn’t nice to eat good food and move, it’s a MUST! You’re not a robot; you cannot thrive on takeaways or the office biscuit barrel. No boss wants to have to pay for months of sick leave; they want you to take time to breathe properly, eat and drink properly and move. If your office/business has the culture of people being chained to their desks then YOU can be the one who influences them by setting a better example! Gandhi said ‘We must BE the change we wish to see in the world’ be your change.

3) When feelings of overwhelm come in, it’s great to give them an outlet like writing them down. Keep some scrap paper or a cheap notebook for this purpose, write EVERYTHING down that’s bothering you. For example ‘I am SO angry with June for asking me to run the meeting tonight when I’m so tired. Plus I’ve got to get the report done before 4pm, my emails are horrendous and I’ve got to sort out the cat’s visit to the vet on Friday. Argh! just remembered its Dave’s birthday next week and I haven’t got him anything…’ When you’ve finished you can then create an action plan by asking yourself ‘What am I going to DO about these things?’

4) Avoid the temptation to moan. If you find yourself moaning ask yourself; ‘ how much am I loving the attention I get from things being wrong?’ Our brains can only consciously focus on a few things at a time, so by focusing on all that’s wrong your brain will keep those things on your radar. Negativity spreads round a room so quickly, if someone else is moaning the most natural thing to do is join in! If your office is full of moaners don’t add to them, let them moan – you have others ways of looking at things!

5) Remember the 80/20 rule. We spend around 80% of our time doing things that aren’t productive. Give yourself regular breaks so you can be more effective, and manage your distractions. Stress thoughts can build up when we’re busy gossiping/facebooking/checking our emails continually, instead of dealing with tasks. Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog! Suggests that people have tasks that are tadpoles, baby frogs or big frogs. He says that most people choose to ‘eat’ their tadpoles first, meaning that they never get round to swallowing the large frogs (the things that will actually move us forward). He recommends choosing your biggest, ugliest frog and ‘eating’ that one first. Everything else will fall into place afterwards.

6) Breathe! According to Paul Wilson, author of ‘The Book of Calm’ one of the simplest ways to deal with stress hormones which have been released in the body is by following seven/eleven breathing. This means breathing in for a count of seven, then out for a count of eleven. Simples!

Your stress levels really are in your control. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that being stressed is normal or that it’s a good thing because it shows what a hard worker you are. All it actually shows is that you’re not great at managing your mind or looking after yourself. Decide today to make stress a thing of the past for you; it’s time to do something different – starting with your thoughts.