How To Ascend Stress and Prevent Burnout!
“I feel like I’m working 24-hour days! Sometimes I even dream about work! How can I switch off?”
I hear similar comments and questions from people almost daily. These are not relaxed people. These are people who either take on too much or, more often, haven’t learnt many “chilling out” techniques!
As a nation, we’re working longer and longer hours
Nowadays it’s easy to get stressed with the problems, issues and challenges we face at work. Intensive international research shows that, far from working fewer hours we now, as a nation work more. It’s no wonder people are sometimes averse to taking on more responsibility. They may equate it with more stress and longer work hours and decide to remain where so they can still have some kind of life away from work.
Yet it doesn’t have to be like that.
Most forward-thinking companies nowadays recognise the need for people to have quality time with family and friends. They know that, in doing so, they achieve more at work. And, let’s face it, if you’ve had a productive day and achieved a lot, you probably feel like you’ve well and truly earned a free evening or weekend.
The more we’re able to enjoy our time away from work, the more productive we’ll be when we’re at work. The more productive we are at work the more we enjoy our time away … anyway, you get the drift!
What happens if you can’t switch off?
But what happens when you can’t switch off your brain when you switch off the office computer?
Problems with switching off from work seem to have reached epidemic proportions. Or does it just seem that way because I’ve had lots of clients who want to learn how to do it?
How to be more relaxed and productive
Here are some techniques you can use to be more relaxed and productive at work and to switch off outside work. Remember they only work if you actually use them. Just reading about them won’t make any difference whatsoever!
1. Establish some ‘switching off’ anchors.
People who are successful at separating their work from their non-work life, have ways of signaling the ‘switch off’ to themselves. Here are some examples:
- Take a shower when you get home and change into casual clothes. This sends a message to your body that you’re washing the cares of the day away, and changing into casual mode. It’s also invigorating and refreshing, signaling the start of a new part of your day.
- At the end of your workday and before you leave work, check your diary and your desk and make sure everything is as up to date as you can make it. Ask yourself “What’s the last thing I need to do now, so that I can switch off for the day?” You’ll get an answer – I promise. Then do it. Then, when you switch off your computer and/or the light in your office, mentally switch off your work mind as well! Leave your desk, office or workplace tidy – there’s nothing worse than facing a mess at the start of your work day.
- Put on some music in your car or your mp3 player on the way home. Make sure it’s something that will provide a change of pace. Maybe something upbeat if you’re feeling low on energy. Relaxing music helps if you’re feeling particularly “wired”.
- Learn how to anchor yourself into a relaxed state using a gesture.
2. Get it out of Your head.
Do you have a tendency to get totally overwhelmed and stressed, with tasks or assignments that seem enormous – you know, things that are way past ‘challenging’? One of those that, as you try to think about each different aspect, you find yourself going round and round in circles until you need to lie down for a rest?
Follow these tips to start feeling back in control:
- Think of an all-encompassing name for the task or assignment using a couple of keywords, for example, ‘Project Everything.’ Now, get a large piece of paper and write those keywords in the centre. Then start mind mapping all the tasks associated with that project, moving from the centre outwards to smaller and smaller details.
- Then identify the order in which things need to be done. Get started with number one! You’ll find that each element can be easily handled and you can just tick them off as you do them. And remember to add them to your accomplishment list when you have! (see below)
3. Get organised.
Disorganised people cause themselves and others untold stress. I know this from personal experience and my gradual evolution into a better-organised person. I used to spend endless time looking for information I’d ‘filed’ in some specially devised and unique system – it was so unique even I couldn’t remember how it worked!
You’ll know if you are also afflicted with this disease because your office looks like the aftermath of a recent tsunami and you can’t even find your diary, let alone use it.
There are countless books, articles and systems available to help you be better organised. Choose one, learn how to use it, practice it and stick to it. You need to use something consistently for several months before it becomes a habit.
So set up a system and then work it. Your blood pressure will thank you for it as you start to feel more in control of your life. Keep your diary with you – whether it’s on your phone or a paper version – so whenever you think of something you can write it down immediately and, more importantly know where to find it again.
Go for a walk, a run or a bike ride (usually better before the shower!) This sends positive chemicals to the brain and leaves you feeling great.
5. Try this 30-second stress buster
This is particularly useful to refocus if you’re feeling a bit distracted by tasks or information competing for your attention. Go on – do it now!
- Find a point in front of you and slightly above normal eye level, or focus your attention on the centre of your forehead.
- Fix your gaze on that point. Notice whatever details you can about that particular point.
- Loosen your jaw.
- Allow your mind to relax and let your awareness expand out to the sides of the room while still gazing at the spot in front of you.
- Notice what you can see, hear and feel in the outside edge of that space.
- Continue to expand your awareness all the way out to the sides of the room, while you continue to gaze at the spot.
- Once you notice your breathing has changed, lower your eyes to your normal level and notice your new sense of calm.
6. Realise you’re never going to get to ‘the end’.
There will always be more to do – unless you’re dead – then you won’t need to worry anyway! We’re often so used to looking at all the things we’ve yet to complete on our ‘to do’ list, that we forget to take the time to acknowledge our achievements.
Make a list of the things you have achieved each day.
Take just a moment to write in your diary (remember that?) the things that you have accomplished or progressed each day. Not only does it build your confidence to notice achievements, it helps you relax about the things still on your list.
7. Say “No” and mean it!
In my experience, being unable or unwilling to say “no” can be a major cause of stress and inability to switch off from work. You might worry that if you say “no” that something untoward will occur – maybe you’ll be turned in a pumpkin or a black toad.
But that’s because you’re probably not thinking it through clearly!
So let’s just look at the two options here; Yes and No, and at the ramifications of each.
Let’s say your boss asks you to take on a new project
You haven’t got the capacity and you know that taking it on will mean putting in untold work after hours.
In scenario one, you say “yes”. What does this signify to your boss? Perhaps:
- That you’ve got more capacity (whether you have or not is irrelevant at this stage – this is the signal you’re sending). Therefore maybe you weren’t working at full capacity to start with. Which probably means that when you’ve finished the current project, you’ll be given another to take up the “slack.”
- That you’re willing to take on more. Not a bad thing – if you had the time.
- Because you said yes to this, you may say yes to other things if your boss can’t find another way to delegate/off-load them. He may think you’re a pushover.
- You’re not being truthful or true to what’s important to you. (E.g. Having some time to yourself outside of work)
In scenario 2 you say “no”.
You explain to your boss that you cannot take on another project and the reasons for this. What does this signify to your boss?
- If he wants you to take on extra projects he will need to remove some of your current responsibilities.
- You’re being truthful and honest and backing yourself to have a life away from work.
- That you’re willing to take on more if something else can be offloaded.
- That you’re not a pushover.
People will treat you how you’ve taught them to treat you, based on your past behaviour. If you want to get different responses from people, you need to behave differently. If you don’t respect your own time outside of work – why should other people?
8. That’s right number 8!
This is a lucky bonus! ? If you can find 7 minutes alone in front of your computer (and let’s face it, it’s a bit sad if you can’t) visit The Calm Spot and I’ll have you relaxed, refreshed and ready to face the world (or at least work) again!
If the company you work for has a culture where everyone works long hours and it is expected or demanded, you have three options as I see it:
- Put up and shut up (a very stressful option I might add).
- Try to change the culture (not always easy depending on your position and the influence you have) or
- Change your job.