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Ask Lawrence: What's The Best Way To Deal With Workplace Stress?

30 Aug 15:00 by Lawrence Akers

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Last time, I wrote about when it is time to consider changing jobs, or more specifically when the culture at the work environment becomes so toxic that it impacts on your own mental health and well being.

Continuing this thread of work related mental wellness, I wanted to write this week on something equally as important – stress and self-care.

Whether you like it or not, the reality is that you’re going to have stressful days at work. This is simply because work is often going to be fast paced and the best jobs are often going to have challenges in them that may test you at times. 

In the creative industry, this time of year can be especially challenging. For a creative, increased deadlines, volume of clients and the need for ‘fresh conceptual ideas’ or ‘volume turnaround’ can really be exhausting. For those managing it, including recruiters, last minute requirements and last minute changes along with a lack of existing resources can often mean exploring options b, c, d and e more than anything else.

Stress isn’t something that someone ‘gives you’. Having said that, in some environments where people are being bullied and the workplace is toxic, their ‘fight or flight’ is going to be activated due to a perceived threat and that is going to cause you to feel anxious and stress. Aside from that, it is important to recognise that sometimes a little bit of stress can be beneficial in our working day. A last minute change of plans is likely to cause you to feel some level of stress and that can be useful in helping you to find the focus and drive required to complete the job successfully. The stress you’re feeling is an internalised creation based on what you understand the workload to be and your own perceived levels of how successfully you’re going to be able to achieve this.  In short, YOU are creating your own stress. And guess what? Congratulations, you’re human and we ALL do it.

Here are some tips to help you during those days when the pressure is on.

1. Plan out the day 

Where possible, plan out your day. Block out the hours and what you know you need to be able to achieve. Is this likely to change? Absolutely, you have to factor in that there is always going to be last minute additions, amendments or new jobs thrown into that mix all together. The benefit of planning out your day though is to bring an awareness of what it is that you absolutely need to achieve. 

An extra tip, often get the hardest thing out the way first and that way, everything from that point is going to be just that little bit easier.

2. Communicate

Manage expectations from people. Ask questions about if you were to achieve ‘x’, would this be the outcome we would want? Express your concern if you’re overwhelmed and request support. Often those environments where these cries go unheard are the ones you need to watch out for. Otherwise, if you are professional, assertive and solutions focused, you should be able to work with everyone to determine what is a realistic outcome for the day without everyone losing their heads.

3. Be Mindful

Some people might view it as ‘woo woo’ however when you dig a little deeper, you can find that there is an enormous amount of empirical evidence to support the research on mindfulness. 

Having a mindfulness practice will allow you to do a handful of things.

It will allow you to be present to this moment, not the stress and anxiety of the future that your mind may be attempting to take you to.

It will allow you to train the mind to determine what it will focus on; either the distraction of ‘the thought’ (which may or may not be true – they are, after all, just thoughts of your creation) or the distraction of your choosing, such as the breath.

It will allow you to become an observer of your thoughts too. When you begin to detach from your thoughts and to recognise that they are just thoughts, they can often lose a bit of their emotional impact and allow you to redirect your attention, focus and energy to where it can be the most useful.

If you don’t like mindfulness or it is a little too ‘out there’ for you, then go for a quick walk. Research has shown that people are less productive when they don’t take a break, so stop arguing with science, get off your chair and go move the body. Even a quick walk around the block is going to help you to shake off what you’re feeling and to renew your energy.

If you’re interested in free mindfulness options, you can check out headspace or even my own mini-mindful meditation.

4. Rest Up!

If you have a stressful day and you’re feeling exhausted, go home and get a decent rest. It will allow you to feel refreshed, walk up with resilience and approach your work with a renewed vigour ready for a new solution to be found. 

If all these fail, then perhaps you need to consider what is getting in the way for you. Is it the workplace environment, the amount of work to get through, the lack of resources behind it (a good creative recruiter can help there, wink wink) or is it you getting in your own way. If so, there are options around each of these but they’ll often involve some self-reflection and some honest, genuine decisions.