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Controlling the stress – you’re the boss

Work stress is a strange phenomenon – it’s caused by worry about getting all our work done or doing our job well and yet it often has the opposite effect; causing our work quantity and quality to suffer.

So what can we do about it?

The first step is to recognise stress for what it is – a state of mind caused by ourselves and one that only we can control. Sounds easy when you say it like that, but of course the symptoms caused by this state of mind can be debilitating and self-perpetuating.

Stress manifests itself in different ways, some of which can be physical and very serious:

• Headaches

• Lack of concentration

• Fatigue

• Insomnia

• Lack of appetite

• Stomach problems

• Low immune system

• Heart problems

• Breathing problems

• Feeling irritable

• Feeling overwhelmed

• Panic 

It’s quite a long list, isn’t it? And the problem with many of these symptoms is that they do nothing to help the cause of the stress and in fact, cause us to worry more and feel more tense and anxious.

By recognising these signs of stress in yourself you are half way towards being able to control this demon: it’s called empowerment.

It’s about reminding ourselves that we are in charge of our state of mind. Tell yourself: “I am irritable and unable to sleep because I am getting myself in a state of worry over work and it is doing me no good at all. I can’t let the stress control me, I need to control it.”

Take a step back

Once you have recognised the stress and what it is doing to you, it’s easier to get it under control. Obvious stress busters include: 

• Making time to relax and switch off from work worries

• Exercise

• Healthier eating

• Prioritising

• Time management – including breaking work up into manageable ‘bite-size’ chunks

• Using the support of family, friends and work colleagues

• Tidying your work space

• Taking regular short breaks

• Remembering you are not superhuman and keeping your expectations reasonable

Take a break

The advice you will probably have been given when studying for exams is very valid in work life: if you try to work solidly for three hours without a break, your quality and quantity of work will suffer. If you take regular short breaks, you will come back refreshed and likely to be more productive. 

When you do take time off, be strict with yourself; no checking in on emails, no thinking about work. Make your time off count.

Identify the cause of the stress

As well as identifying the symptoms of your stress, look at the main causes. In many cases, the stress may be coming mostly from you – your desire for perfection (I am certainly guilty of this). We are our own worst critics. Try to accept yourself as not perfect, stop comparing yourself to others and maybe even give yourself a pat on the back every now and then!

If it is a customer or boss causing your stress, it may be worth finding a way to talk to them about it. Explain your issues and work together on some prioritising or delegating.

Using stress to your advantage

We shouldn’t be trying to eliminate stress completely – just learning how to keep it under control. Any performer will tell you that they feel nervous before going on the stage and it’s this stress that helps them perform well. If you are going in to an important meeting or presentation, your body and mind will become stressed in order to prepare you for any eventuality.

By understanding, accepting and welcoming these feelings, we can use them to fire us up, to carry us through a scary situation. Tell yourself: that’s my adrenaline kicking in, getting me ready to perform with great energy.

Top tip:

We can save ourselves a lot of stress in our personal life by accepting the fact that not everyone will like us. This is also true of our work life. Not everyone will like the way we do things and accepting this can reduce a lot of our stress.

Tell stress who’s boss

Finally, at the risk of sounding cheesy, take a look in the mirror every now and again and remember – you’re the boss of you!

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