When the title for this article, “How to stay stress free at work”, was first suggested I thought it would be a very short article.
Because my solution would simply be … you can’t; and you shouldn't’t want to!
But then I thought I should explain a bit further.
Firstly, it’s completely unrealistic to expect to be stress free in life; especially at work. Whether we like it or not, the world is not perfect, people are not perfect, no job or organisation is perfect and so, accordingly, things go wrong and not everything works out. At the same time, people do good things and we achieve success; these might be positives, but they can also lead to change or additional work or any number of exciting possibilities. Positivity and excitement and progress can all involve change , lead to new challenges or require adaptation. Either way, not surprisingly then, it’s inevitable that we’ll experience stress.
Secondly, this should not be seen as a bad thing. Some stress, or stress up to a certain point, can be useful. In fact, the Ancient Greeks used to have two words for stress – “eustress”, which loosely translates as “good stress”; and “dystress” which we now know as “distress” or “bad stress”. Good stress can motivate us; and energise us. When we’re working under the pressure of a deadline, for example, we tend to think more quickly and get more done. Performance and productivity can be enhanced by the arousal that comes from manageable stress.
But therein lies the secret. Stress is only “good” if it’s motivating and manageable. Once we pass that tipping point, and once stress is perceived as overwhelming or beyond our control, then it can start to have a deleterious effect on our performance (and on our mood and health and life more generally).
What I’d like to do, therefore, is change the topic from “How to stay stress free” to “How can we effectively manage stress at work and use it to our advantage”. If you’re happy with this, then here are my top tips:
- Keep things in perspective; regularly remind yourself of why you’re doing what you’re doing and why it’s important, meaningful and/or how it’s contributing to your ultimate purpose in life
- Take care of yourself (all the time, not just when you’re feeling tired and stressed). Ensure you enjoy plenty of good quality sleep and rest; eat a healthy, balanced diet; and keep active, exercising as regularly as you can
- Foster a health attitude of realistic positivity. That is, be grateful for what you have and focus on what’s going well; but at the same time, face up to whatever cold, hard realities exist in your world. Face them head on, acknowledging the challenge, but look for solutions rather than getting bogged down just in the problems
- Remind yourself that you don’t need to do it all on your own. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. More often than not, we work in teams; and that means there are people around you who’re ready, willing and able to help (it’s just that many of us don’t let them!)
- And finally, overarching all of the above, focus as much as you can on those factors that are within your control. Accept, at the same time, that not everything will be within your control so be wise and mature enough to know this
In summary, stress should not be seen as an entirely negative thing. In fact, quite the opposite. So, enjoy and welcome stress to a point; the point at which it helps and motivates you. At the same time, however, do all you can and use those around you to ensure that the level of stress in your working life does not exceed that tipping point where it has a deleterious effect on your performance, health or wellbeing.