Ten Top Tips For Managing Workplace Stress

Workplace stress

No self-respecting blog is complete without a Ten Top Tips list – and this is ours. Ten Top Tips for managing workplace stress.

1. Focus on the things you can change or influence
The only thing in life that you can directly control is yourself and your decisions. Focus your valuable energy on the things you can change. You might not be able to change the situation you are in, but you can change the way that you respond to it.

2. Learn to let go
We all hold onto things, whether it is possessions, bad habits, relationships or past mistakes. We revisit these things in our head again and again; we don’t need to. We can let go, allowing our feelings of frustration and regret to float away and acceptance and peace to take their place.

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Breaking The Ruminating Habit

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The way that we think can impact on our mood and result in depression. In particular, there is a strong link between the thinking style of rumination and depression.

Rumination describes a tendency to compulsively focus on the symptoms and causes of your unhappiness and distress. It is the need to constantly ponder on the things that are causing you distress without taking any positive action to identify and make changes. It is that point at which you are wallowing in unhappiness with the mistaken belief that by focusing on your distress and your past failures you will find a way out to resolution and happiness.

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The Art Of Positive Thinking

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I met up with a friend recently and asked him how his work was going. “Miserable” he replied. He then stopped himself and said: “Do you know, I have to stop doing that. Work is great. I have a good job, I am well paid, and I will get a great pension. But we are all miserable, we have all got in the habit of telling everyone how miserable our jobs are – and it is infectious. You begin to believe it”.

This reminded me of an article I had read recently which talked about how negative thinking in school staff rooms was affecting teachers: “All teachers need the odd whinge, but our workloads and mental health would improve greatly if we stopped mithering and focused on the highlights”.

Yes negative thinking can be infectious, but so can positive thinking. Research has shown that we can change the way that we think, and by doing that we can change the way that we feel and behave. We can learn to see the positives in our day and as a result feel happier and more fulfilled; and – as a bonus, evidence suggests that happier workers are more productive workers and score more highly across all performance indicators.

Here is an exercise that has been shown to help boost your happiness and change negative thinking into more positive thinking:

At the end of each day write down three things that brought you happiness and joy. You may wish to create your own happiness jar – each evening write down the things that made you happy and add them to your jar. When you are feeling low you can read your pieces of paper and remember the moments that brought you joy.

Learn to see through the fog of habitual misery and spot the silver lining.

Can We Really Make Stress Our Friend?

In her inspiring Ted Talk health psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as our friend. By viewing the physical changes that we experience when we are stressed (increased heart rate, breathing faster, sweating etc) as signs that our body is energised and prepared for the challenge ahead we can ameliorate the damage that stress does to our bodies.

This is backed up by research; Jamieson et al (2013) conclude that cognitive reappraisal (reshaping how you think) leads to more positive experiences of stress and benefits to us physically.

I am all for cognitive reappraisal. As I stood watching train after train being removed from the departures board at Waterloo train station last week, I reframed my experience as a perfect opportunity for a slice of cake, a cup of tea and bit of people watching. I understand that cognitive flexibility is an important tool in stress management, but I do think that we have to be a little bit careful not to be too simplistic in our definition of stress.

The argument above is defining stress purely as the physiological changes brought about by the ‘flight or fight’ response. This includes (amongst other things) a rush of adrenaline resulting in increased blood flow and heart rate, dilated pupils, increase in blood glucose and a narrowing of our mental focus. This state tends to be very short lived, with our body returning to its normal equilibrium as the threat (real or perceived) disappears.

The problem with this is that it is not the only definition of stress.

When we describe ourselves as feeling ‘stressed’ we are not only talking about the physical response to feeling threatened. We often use the term to describe our experience of negative emotions such as feeling undervalued, overwhelmed, disillusioned, loss of control, frustrated, or low self-esteem. All emotions that can leave us feeling burnt out and stressed but don’t necessarily result in us feeling energised and prepared for a challenge (how ever much we try and reframe our experience).

But it is true that these negative emotions do tell us something (we need to make changes in our life) and that in itself is an important reappraisal – recognising the emotion and doing something about it. We achieve this through greater self-awareness.

It is important that we all recognise our own early warning signs of stress. How does stress make us feel, think and behave? One sign for me is that I begin waking up in the early hours of the morning, or I become quite withdrawn. By recognising these as my early warning signs of stress I can begin to think through what is causing those feelings and plan ways of increasing my capacity to cope.

Self-awareness also gives you insight into experiences that you find stressful – for example your Monday morning team meetings, or delivering presentations. When you are aware that these are triggers for you, you can plan for them and approach them with more certainty.

So yes, stress can be our friend in that it tells us something and acts as a prompt that we need to be making changes, but it is not something that can always be viewed as an energising response that is preparing us for the challenges ahead. Often it is a subtler and longer-lived feeling that if recognised can serve as a pointer for where changes are needed.

10 Top Tips For Achieving Happiness

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There is strong evidence that happier people are more creative, healthy, productive, wealthy and successful, they live longer and they develop a greater number of significant, lasting relationships. Plus, research shows that this is a two-way relationship; it isn’t only our success that creates happiness, our happiness creates success. Here are our ten top tips for creating a sustainable boost to your levels of happiness:

1. Appreciate the sad times
Sad times are important. If we didn’t experience sadness then we wouldn’t appreciate the things that make us happy. It is often through the sad things in life that we find the greatest life meaning and wisdom.

2. Focus on your strengths
We all have our own personal strengths. Strengths are traits such as curiosity, wisdom, honesty, kindness, courage, perseverance, forgiveness and enthusiasm. Understanding and using our strengths in all elements of our lives help us to feel more energised, effective and happy. It is not enough just to recognise our strengths we need to be putting them into practice, and finding new ways of using them.

3. Learn to be grateful
People who practice being grateful become significantly happier than people who don’t. Try it for yourself. Over the next 8 weeks, once a week, spend 10 – 15 minutes writing down 3 – 5 things that you are grateful or thankful for. By spending just a few minutes a week counting your blessings and focusing on the big and small things that you are grateful about you can sustainably increase your levels of happiness.

4. Adopt the ‘As If’ Principle
Research has shown that by acting as if you are experiencing an emotion, you are more likely to experience it. By adopting a powerful pose (think of an athlete expressing triumph) you are more likely to behave in a powerful, confident way, (you don’t need to do this in front of people, you can hold the pose for 2 minutes in private and still feel the benefits). By smiling, even if you don’t feel like it, you will feel happier. Sitting up straight will help you both appear and feel more confident.

If you want to feel enthusiasm, confidence, bravery, or happiness act as if you are experiencing them and the feelings will follow.

5. Be kind to others
Committing acts of kindness and helping others can boost your levels of happiness. Try it for yourself. Over the next few weeks, for one day a week, complete 5 acts of random kindness. Examples include, donating food to a food bank, cooking a meal for someone, smiling at others, or buying/picking flowers for someone. Vary your acts, so you are not completing the same ones every week.

6. Practice meditation
Meditation has been shown to decrease feelings of anxiety and depression and to boost levels of wellbeing. There are lots of books, CDs, and YouTube videos that can tell you more about meditation. WorkGuru has three Mindfulness meditations that you can download.

7. Share with others
There is a lot of evidence that having the support from people close to you, whether they are a supportive partner or family, or close friends, has a positive impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. Keeping your friends in your thoughts as you face a challenge has been shown to help you meet the challenge more easily, and sharing news of a positive event with others will give you an extra boost of happiness beyond that of the positive event itself.

8. Improve your physical health
Our mental and physical health are deeply entwined. Happiness is good for our physical health, and our physical health is important for our mental health. What small steps could you be taking to begin to improve your physical health?

9. Pursue goals that are important to you
Having a life goal that is positive (focusing on what you want to achieve not what you want to stop or prevent), important, meaningful, and focused on personal growth, is linked to long-term levels of happiness and life satisfaction. Spend sometime thinking about life goals that are important to you.

10. Live by your values
We all have core values. Values are the things that give our life meaning, a map by which we navigate the world. Our core values are the values that we just would not want to compromise on. Sometimes in life we lose sight of our core values. Spend some time thinking about the values that are really important to you.