With furlough, cut hours and adjusting to remote work, the past year has been a turbulent time for many working professionals. Even as restrictions ease, a whole new host of challenges come into play, many now adapted to working from the comfort of their own home, and anxious about the return to the office.
While given the current situation, it’s only natural for many to experience stress during their work life, it’s important to keep this under control, and to protect your health and wellbeing.
For Stress Awareness Month, TechRound explores industry expert opinions on how to manage stress at work.
Our Panel of Experts:
- Lorraine Perretta – ION Nutritionalist
- Susy Roberts – Founder of Hunter Roberts
- Desiree Anderson – MD of Crest Coaching & HR
- Vikki Louise – Time Hacker at Vikki Louise Coaching
- Laura Dallas – Wellbeing Lead at Champion Health
- Cate Murden – Founder of PUSH
- Claire Cole – Founder of Movement for Minds
- Tamsin Chambers – Executive Coach & Community Director at The Heart Movement
- Linsey Huybrechts – HR Assistant and Office Manager at StoryTerrace
- Michele Don Durbin – VP of Marketing at Evernote
Lorraine Perretta, ION Nutritionalist
With restrictions easing and the end of lockdown in sight, this brings with it mixed emotions, with many people now feeling stressed and anxious at the thought of returning to ‘normality’.
The recently launched Brain Bio Centre at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition recognises the significance of stress affecting both mental and physical health, with it crucially having an effect on the immune system at a time when we need it to be fighting fit and to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
It is therefore vital to look for ways to help manage stress and support our immune systems as we navigate the coming months.
As we approach Stress Awareness Month in particular, Lorraine Perretta from the Brain Bio Centre, who is a Fellow of ION and the author of Food for Thought, provides her five top tips for supporting your immune health and combating stress:
- Limit ultra-processed food – Poor nutrition can lead to compromised immunity, so limit sugary, processed snacks and reduce your reliance on ready meals. There has never been a more important time to eat well and support your immune system.
- Supplement if necessary – For a well-functioning immune system, micronutrients should include vitamins A, C, D, E, B2, B6 and B12 as well as folic acid, iron, selenium and zinc.
- Take regular exercise – Meditation, yoga, walking, running and lifting weights can all help you manage your stress levels and relax. The important thing is finding what works for you and your body. Avoid over-exercising as this can increase anxiety especially high-impact exercise and running. Be gentle with yourself.
- Get into nature – Take the opportunity to get out into fresh air and nature. Not only is it good exercise but studies have shown that fresh air and being amongst nature can benefit your mental wellbeing.
- Sleep well – Studies have shown that sufficient sleep helps the immune system to work well, with chronic sleep deprivation another risk factor which impairs our immune system. Eating meals earlier, avoiding technology close to bedtime and winding down with a bath or listening to some music before bed can all help you to get a better night’s sleep.
Susy Roberts, Founder of Hunter Roberts
“Even with the best of intentions, many organisations aren’t following through with their mental health strategies at the moment. I’m doing leadership coaching sessions with people at all levels where instead of the usual personal development, they’re just crying in despair because the pressure they feel under is immense.”
“People don’t want to be seen as weak, so they’re taking on more and more and trying to juggle that with partners doing the same, children struggling with their own issues. Single people are doing all this with no support.”
“Whatever people’s job, personal circumstances or personality type, they are struggling. We have been living with the pandemic for over a year now and even the most introverted people who enjoy being alone are finding it increasingly difficult. Normally, we have outlets for all life’s little issues: we go to work and grumble about partners, we come home and offload about a tough working day; children go to school and play with friends. As far as I am aware, there is no individual or group of people who are still thriving after a year of this pandemic. People can feel lonely while surrounded by their families. They can feel stifled while rattling around a large house alone.”
“Organisations have to genuinely recognise the stress that people are under, the practical pressures they’re dealing with constantly, and make allowances for them. A strategy doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference if someone loses their job when they admit they’re struggling with mental health, or have to take time off to self-isolate, or help a child cope with the emotional distress of having no social life.”
“There has to be a huge change in the way employers react to practical and emotional problems. We need practical help and support and talking therapies in the workplace, not just frameworks and platitudes. It has to be real, it has to be a massive cultural shift. You can bring in the best professionals to develop the most progressive personal development plans, but if the workplace culture doesn’t allow for the actions then they’re useless.”
“Employee benefits should include independent programmes with health professionals who can offer confidential support and treatment. This could mean signing up to helpline service or offering sessions with mental health professionals, and offering these sessions during working hours.”
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Desiree Anderson, MD of Crest Coaching & HR
Desiree Anderson has worked for some of the UK’s leading companies in HR and now coaches business leaders and teams to increase commitment, trust and success.
“In the post-pandemic world, our brains are still whirring with the fight-flight responses we have adopted. Our families have been disrupted, we’ve lost loved ones, had to distance ourselves from friends and we’ve had to pivot ourselves in order to keep our businesses and our jobs.”
“Boundaries between work and home life have blurred, especially whilst working remotely. This is all adding to our stress levels and overwhelm.”
“MIND, the mental health charity in the UK gives guidelines for identifying signs of stress.
Some of the signs we may spot in our employees are:”
- “finding it difficult to make decisions
- constantly worrying
- high pitched or defensive tone of voice
- lack of interaction/disinterest
- avoiding situations that are troubling them
- snapping at people”
“Having safe places to express ourselves in workplaces is so important, as are wellbeing policies and resources.”
“Leaders need to be in tune and more self-aware of their own behaviour so that they can improve their own communication and positive impact on others.”
“Some tips for leaders are:”
- “Be your own cheerleader. You will make mistakes but you are also unique, and have a lot to offer
- Improve your own work-life balance: identify what is important to you, set boundaries in terms of time and practice gratitude for all the things that are good in your life
- Ask for feedback on your impact and take the learnings from this to adapt behaviour
- Be authentic about your own struggles and talk about these to encourage others to be more open and get help.”
“Challenges are inevitable in work, but stress is not healthy.”
Vikki Louise, Time Hacker at Vikki Louise Coaching
“It’s important to remember stress is a scale, and so often we find ourselves going from zero to 100 really fast, then was to go back down to zero as quickly. That immediately puts pressure on ourselves creating MORE stress.”
“The three simple questions that I have used to pull myself out of panic attacks, and help hundreds of clients with anxiety are this:”
- What is happening?
“Here you want to focus your brain on where the stress is, where are you feeling it exactly, is it hot or cold? Get specific here.”
“This has two benefits, first, it gives your brain something simple and manageable to focus on away from what was creating the stress and two, it stops any resistance to that stress which would only compound it.”
- Why is it happening?
“We only move to this question when we feel the stress dial has gone down. What were you thinking about? What was creating the stress?”
“For example, maybe a deadline coming up and thinking we won’t get everything done.”
“The important thing here is to remove the “I don’t know” from the conversation which leaves us powerless and fuels more stress.”
“From here you can add, ok, so if I miss the deadline, then what? Our stress is triggered and blown up based on how we evolved (when failure = death), we want to show our brain that we can miss deadlines and we won’t actually die.”
- Reminder: This is temporary, we have experienced stress before and survived
“Again here, we evolved to have stress, which allowed for the release of hormones that would allow us to run faster, longer and feel less pain. Really useful facing a predator in the wild, less so in our day to day lives. Our brain releases hormones and our body receives them, then reports back that we may die. This is why so often we think stress is threatening. Which creates more stress. When we remind our brain we will get through this, we always do, we are teaching our brain and body that stress is no longer life threatening and the intensity declines”
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Laura Dallas, Wellbeing Lead at Champion Health
“When delivering workplace stress awareness training, the first point I clarify is that stress is not a mental health condition.”
“Stress is our body’s natural response to threat, and with that in mind, it’s not always bad for us. Some stress is good for us; when we use it to our advantage, it helps us to perform at our best and motivates us to get things done – inside and outside of work.”
“But if we experience high levels of stress over a long period of time, this is when it can have a negative impact on our wellbeing and lead to mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. That’s why it’s important to be aware of and manage our stress levels effectively, to mediate these negative effects.”
“Stress occurs when we feel we do not have the resources to manage the challenges or demands we face. This is the basis of the Job Demands-Resources theory.”
“We all experience demands, especially in work environments. High workloads, lack of support and long hours can take a toll if we don’t have the appropriate resources to balance them.”
“This can be challenging in the workplace, where the demands placed on us are often outside of our (and our employees) control.”
“So, for leaders looking to reduce the negative impact of stress in their workplace, it’s important to focus on ensuring employees have the resources to cope, so they can effectively manage their stress.”
“There are several ways to do this. Promoting autonomy within the workplace, becoming a more empathetic leader, being more transparent and setting clear goals will all help your employees be more resilient and less susceptible to negative stress.”
Cate Murden, Founder of PUSH
“Stress is naturally a part of our everyday lives and as we start – for many – the dreaded return to the office, it is important to come up with a set of tools to help us manage these unwanted feelings. The following are three tips I use to maintain work life brilliance and keep my mental wellbeing a priority – in and out of the office environment:”
First and foremost, know when to give a f*ck.
“Know that you’re not perfect, and neither is anyone else. We’re all trying to muddle through somehow, so don’t give a f*ck for f*cking up, and don’t be hard on anyone else’s f*ck-ups.”
“Also, stay in the present. Past situations aren’t worth giving a f*ck about. If there’s nothing you can do about the past (tip: there usually isn’t) then leave it behind. Same goes for the future. If you can shape it, great. If you can’t, don’t worry.”
Secondly, question your thinking.
“Once you understand your belief structure (ie – when and when not to give a f*ck) you can begin to expand this awareness by questioning your thinking. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should constantly challenge your view of the world – rumination isn’t always helpful and can lead to procrastination and a kind of paralysis where, rather than just doing something, you do nothing, and opportunities go by (ie – stress bells ringing).”
“Instead, you can follow the pattern of your thoughts and see which are useful (and which aren’t) by journaling. Writing down how you feel at any given moment can help you to see what is stressing you out and why. It is easier then to look into methods for changing this.”
Finally, approach life with curiosity.
“All situations are fundamentally neutral, so it is up to us to make the best of them, exploring them non-judgementally and with a childlike curiosity. Even in the direst of circumstances, those open-minded enough will always be able to take a positive from a situation.”
“Basically, reframe a boring or stressful situation and step out of your comfort zone; approach your stress head on and rethink it.”
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Claire Cole, Founder of Movement for Minds
“When stress affects the brain, the body feels the pain. Stress is the body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. Although a little bit of stress is healthy, when we are faced with the pressures of long hours, tight deadlines, and job uncertainty, too much stress can leave us feeling off balanced, anxious, and depressed.”
When we feel stressed, our bodies release Cortisol. Often labelled the bad guy, Cortisol is a natural hormone that is vital to the healthy function of the body and mind, controlling our blood sugar levels, metabolism and blood pressure. Too much Cortisol and we can feel strung out and jittery.”
“Hunched shoulders, a tight jaw and poor posture can restrict the flow of oxygen to our body and brain. Think about your heart and lungs as an engine, hunched tense posture restricts the flow of oxygen to the muscles and the mind. Our brains need 20% of our oxygen supply, without it we can experience mood swings, depressive thoughts, and poor concentration.”
“Exercise is often used to release stress, but when your body and mind are feeling overwhelmed, a workout might be the last thing you need. The body treats exercise as a form of stress therefore when we workout we produce Cortisol. If your stress hormone levels are already high, then dialling back the workout might be just what your mind needs.”
“Here are my top tips for managing stress with exercise:
- Get 7-8 hours sleep.
- Eat regularly to keep blood sugar levels stable.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Workout late afternoon/early evening when Cortisol levels are naturally lower.
- Less is more, exercise little and often.
- Dial down the intensity of your workout with stretching and strength exercises.”
“Feeling stressed? Try https://movementforminds.com/stress for a De-Stress workout plan to balance your mind and body.”
Tamsin Chambers, Executive Coach & Community Director at The Heart Movement
“Now more than ever we need to be proactive about managing our stress. Wellbeing doesn’t happen by chance. My top 5 tips for conscious wellbeing at work are:”
- “Slow down: Our nervous systems respond to the pace we are moving at. High speed triggers an active physical stress response. Consciously slowing down calms these responses in the body and returns your brain’s thinking capacity – increasing clarity and reducing the energy drain associated with stress.”
- “Create opportunities for success: Our brains crave achievement and long To Do lists cause overwhelm. Take 3 things from your long list and create a short list. Three things feel achievable and your brain will respond positively to ticking items off. Celebrate these small successes. If you complete all 3, celebrate another success and create another short list!”
- “Invest just 10 minutes in yourself regularly: take 10 minutes throughout your day to consciously stop, take a few deep breaths and just stop doing tasks. Don’t worry about time. 10 minutes invested now, will make you more effective later and you’ll still meet that deadline.”
- “Connect with others: When we’re busy or stressed, it’s easy to tell ourselves we don’t have time to see friends, chat with a colleague or attend a social event. Prioritise the time it takes to connect with people, especially about non-work things, our brains find it easier to be less defensive when we realise there’s more going on than our own stresses.”
- “Take care of the basics: eat and sleep as well as you can, and make time for exercise. Taking care of our physical needs can often slide down the priority list, but we’re a system, and physical wellbeing is vital for mental wellbeing.”
Linsey Huybrechts, HR Assistant and Office Manager at StoryTerrace
“Stress Awareness Month has been held for several years now and having a background in Occupational Therapy, staff wellbeing is always at the forefront of my mind.”
“Following a year filled with lockdowns, frustrations, fear and even loss, we can all use extra support and care. Luckily, due to the wealth of information out there, it has become easier than ever to educate ourselves and pass on knowledge.”
“At StoryTerrace, we value collaboration and we promote a culture of unity and empathy, picking each other up when they have a bad day or week. During the entire month, we are dedicated to creating and increasing awareness about stress, anxiety and mental health for all team members.”
“We actively share useful websites, tools and techniques to better cope with stress. It is very important to protect and maintain a healthy work-life balance, which means taking regular breaks and leaving the house for at least 20 minutes a day. For those who need a bit of help, add a tool such as Breakbot to your calendar.”
“We are organising activities such as yoga (led by one of our US Editors, who is also a certified yoga instructor, bringing our teams together globally) and a meditation session. We send newsletters which include specialised calming webpages, from Rainymood to Sound of Colleagues, for those missing office interactions! Research also shows that acts of kindness and helping out others, or volunteering, can decrease stress levels.”
“The goal is to create an environment of trust and to show honest support. Doing this allows the organisation to truly help its people to be themselves, become their best selves and give them the tools they need to succeed. When an employee feels comfortable enough to open up and allow you to help them, that to me is success.”
Michele Don Durbin, VP of Marketing at Evernote
“Unsurprisingly studies have shown that increased stress can lead to reduced productivity in the workplace. By working with your brain and your biologically-influenced energy rhythms, it’s possible to reduce stress and become much more productive. Ways you can do this include:”
“Focus on doing one thing at a time. Studies show that instead of making us more productive, task switching costs us time. ‘Single-tasking’ will help you get more done in less time, de-stress, produce better work and ultimately work smarter, instead of just harder. Despite facing a long to-do list or large project, you are more efficient when you focus your mental energy on one and only one task at a time.”
“A common misconception is that we should be focused at work all of the time. However, that’s not always possible. Research shows that the human mind can only intently focus for a limited amount of time before we get distracted. So, instead of charging yourself with working straight through to wrap up projects or meet tight deadlines, try breaking your work into smaller more manageable chunks, ideally around 45-50 minutes long. This way won’t be so overwhelming and you’ll feel more productive and less stressed.”
“This may sound strange but allowing yourself time to daydream in sustained chunks (in the form of 15 minute breaks) throughout the day helps to recharge the mind and maintain stamina. This idea is backed by a large body of research on “the default mode network,” or the “resting” mind, which shows that mental downtime heightens creativity, aids memory consolidation, and even improves decision-making.”
“Finally, it’s also worth thinking about the times of day when you are at your most productive. These are influenced by our circadian rhythms, for example, most people reach peak productivity between 9:00 am and 11:00 am, dipping in focus around 2:30 pm. By identifying when you’re most productive, you can schedule your challenging tasks for when you have maximum alertness and brain power.”
For any questions, comments or features, please contact us directly.