“It’s just normal. Everybody gets stressed and everybody reacts to it differently,” according to Mick Gillingham, Clinical Director and owner of CBT Services. In fact, in the latest Britain’s Healthiest Company survey, almost three-quarters (73 percent) of respondents said that they suffered from at least 1 dimension of work-related stress, with 41 percent saying it was 2 or more factors. So if you are stressed, you’re certainly not alone.
But, how can you deal with work-related stress? And, even if you aren’t currently suffering, how can you spot any telltale signs to stop stress in its tracks? Mick believes that “if it’s a problem, talk about it.” Here, Mick gives his tips on dealing with work-related stress.
The first step is to stabilise
When anyone comes to a CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) session, the first thing I look to do is stabilise them. When you’re stressed, you tend to fall out of a routine – be it not eating properly, drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, or not sleeping properly – so by stabilising, it gets you back into some sort of regular pattern. Stabilising can be done in the following ways:
- Make sure you are eating properly. Stress can make you feel as though you’re not hungry.
- Reduce the number of caffeine-containing drinks you consume, with the likes of coffee, tea and fizzy drinks exacerbating the stimulants released by anxiety.
- Cut back on alcohol. Anxiety is heightened when your body is metabolising the wine or beer you drank the night before.
- Get back into some sort of sleep pattern. If you’re staying up all night worrying, when you wake up in the morning you’ll feel as though you’ve got jetlag and your body will be all out of kilter. Not only do you wake up tired, but you are also more vulnerable to the feelings of stress.
Relax and rejuvenate
It’s all very well saying “get your eight hours sleep at night and you’ll start to feel better,” but it’s another thing to be able to do that. That’s why I’d also show people different relaxation techniques to help them stabilise – when your muscles are loose and you’re relaxed, it almost fools the body into turning off its anxiety response. Now,when I say relaxation, I don’t mean sitting down in front of the TV with a glass of wine. I’m referring to progressive muscular relaxation which is a specific method of switching off the anxiety response. Other useful interventions can be:
- Meditation and yoga: it may sound a bit “tree hugger-y” but they really work to relax your muscles and calm you down.
- Exercise in general is also really good to get rid of anxiety. If you’re stressed and you’ve got a lot of anxiety stimulants in your body, they’re just sitting there. They’re going to need to get burnt off one way or the other, so you can either sit there and wait for them to be metabolised out, or you can get down the gym or go out for a brisk walk or a jog. Although you might feel dreadful prior to doing it, you’ll actually feel a lot better afterwards. Why not give it a go and see for yourself?
Single out the issue and make a plan
When a lot of people come to talk to me, they want to tell me immediately about their problems. But ideally I really don’t want to do that straight away because if you’re already stressed/distressed, sitting down for an hour just talking about how awful it all is can be quite an intense experience, and it is likely to make you feel worse. Taking time to talk but also stabilise and reduce anxiety is much more sensible so that you can view your worries from a different, calmer perspective. So rather than a mountain, it then becomes a molehill.
Once stabilised, work stresses can be analysed and put into perspective. Are the stresses singular or multiple? For example, is it all about the amount of work you have, or a problem relationship with a colleague, or an equipment problem, or a bit of all three? Look for the source of the problem(s). Once you’ve found that, you then need to look at how you’re going to deal with it. If it’s a massive problem, break it down bit by bit – what would you need to do first? Second? Third? Can you communicate your issues differently? Better? More clearly? Essentially, if you’re going to talk to somebody about an issue and you’re very stressed and very wound up, the chances are your raw feelings are going to come across in your communication. Is that going to be helpful? Can you do it in another way? Remember, how we communicate to others determines how they are going to react to us. Be aggressive and the chances are you’ll intimidate the other person or make them angry. By having a plan, you’ll be able to talk about the problem in a way that isn’t going to inflame the situation.
Spot these signs
You don’t just wake up one day feeling stressed or anxious. It’s typically a slower process. There are always some telltale signs that you’re getting stressed, with some very easy to spot:
- You’re waking up at night or you can’t get to sleep/enough sleep.
- When you’re watching the TV but not actually paying attention to it because you’re in your own head trying to work things out.
- You’re more irritable than usual.
- You’re more tearful than usual.
- You can’t quite put your finger on it but you don’t feel 100 percent right.
- You can’t really be bothered with the things that you used to like doing.
- You might have some gastro-intestinal problems, so you might have more indigestion, or you might be off your food, or some people might be eating much more – sitting down and going through a big bar of chocolate.
- You’re drinking more alcohol.
Although in the main we’re not very good at realising when we’re under the cosh, thankfully other people can pick it up straight away by the changes they can see in us. So, if you want to try and find out whether you’re experiencing stress, ask the person you live with because they’re likely to know. Once you realise that you are stressed, discuss it with somebody whose opinion you trust, get yourself back into a routine and be proactive.