You struggling to concentrate. You find yourself making careless mistakes. You spending longer on basic decisions feeling ‘stuck’ in knowing what to do. You getting really irritable a lot quicker and a lot more frequently. You’re not even too sure you like yourself at the moment. You start opting out of social events, just not having the energy to put on a happy face and make small talk. You’re tired but you can’t sleep…or you can sleep but you’re still tired!
“What the heck is going on with me?” You might be asking yourself.
The problem? You’re at the end of your tether and your brain is quite literally trying to force a bodily shut down to make you rest. Chronic stress your nemesis.
Well the obvious solution is to take a break, but we work with enough stressed out individuals, especially at a senior level, for whom taking a break or opting for immediate leave is just not possible, or at least not right now. So what are your options?
You cant keep slogging – this kind of chronic stress has a significant impact on your ability to perform your job effectively – not to mention a negative impact on your mental health. This is a long term issue and we give you some advice on what to do about that at the end of this article.
For now, here are 5 tips to managing this nemesis in the short term…
- Get out the house, get out the office. Whether its for 15 minutes in the morning, midday or afternoon, get out and walk. Exercise is a known stress reducer, it boosts oxytocin and will improve your mood. It will help you shift gear from work mode to ‘there is more to life’ mode. Be intentional about not thinking about work related issues while on your walk / run.
- Notice the small things that go well. At the end of your day when you driving home or lying in bed, acknowledge at least three things that you did well today or that went well today. Use this as a way to affirm yourself (boost your competence) and force you to notice the more positive aspects which are often harder to see when you in a chronic stress mental fog.
- Connect with someone. I know you might not feel like it, or you don’t feel like you have the time, but research shows us that connecting with another person (ideally in-person) improves mood and reduces cortisol (stress hormone) levels. It can be as simple as talking to a neighbour or making a phone call to a friend or speeding a focused 10 minutes just playing with your child and letting them take the lead in the game. Notice the difference in how you feel before and after. It is just for 10 minutes and it is worth it!
- Get things off your desk. Create a clean and more organized work space. The clutter can make it harder to focus and more likely to provoke feelings of being overwhelmed. Things don’t need to be perfect (many of us are quite messy and that’s ok) but have things in some form of order, especially when it comes to documents and files. Move piles of files off your desk and create a workspace that feels less pressurized and more inviting, or at least more tolerable.
- Book leave. It might not be for another 3 months, but book the time off now. Knowing you have a break coming up can be the glimmer of light that helps you navigate this dark tunnel. Book it, mark it off in your calendar straight away, remind yourself each week / month that leave is coming up. In fact, set yourself a meeting request that reminds you “leave is going up in 4 weeks, hang in there Stephen!” This is a form of countdown calendar for adults and it is surprisingly effective!
Disclaimer: Know that this is a band aid approach. These 5 tips are really just that – they tips of the iceberg when it comes to reducing stress. They will help alleviate some of your tensions in the here and now but they are not long term solutions and they will run their course of effectiveness.
The reality is that if you want to address chronic stress seriously, it will require a change – a personal change, an organizational / system change or a change in leadership mindset about recognizing and understanding the impact of chronic stress on employees.
If you wanting to properly understand this issue we can offer you a workshop aptly called ‘Hanging by a Thread: the impact of chronic stress in the workplace’.
Until then, we hope these 5 tips get you through the month or two ahead until that glorious ‘out of office’ notice can be switched on.
About the author of today’s Tuesday Tip – Tamryn Batcheller-Adams
Tamryn Batcheller-Adams is a psychologist, leadership presenter, consultant and coach working internationally with TomorrowToday Global. As a practising psychologist with two Masters’ degrees in psychology, Tamryn focuses on leadership, team and individual development. Having worked with leaders across 20 countries, Tamryn utilizes frameworks with a focus on building adaptability, emotional agility, resilience, stress management, self-awareness, social awareness and team cohesion to enhance personal, professional and collective growth. She co-designs, facilitates and coaches in Senior Executive Leadership Programmes and is a registered Enneagram (personality) specialist based in Cape Town, South Africa.