IT seems pretty impossible to avoid stress at some point in the working week, but is stress a word we use too easily? Neil Shah, world-renowned well-being expert and director of the Stress Management Society, offers a straightforward definition when he says we cope with life like a bridge: when the structure has more and more stuff piled on it we must either lighten the load or increase the support. Along with Lina Lotto, director of SenSpa retreat in Hampshire, he runs a Stress Management Day in the New Forest, with morning sessions on how to manage stress and an afternoon spent unwinding in the spa's many chill-out areas. Here they offer CityA.M. readers advice on getting that elusive work/life balance.
Q&A: stress management
Q: I have so much on my plate at once I feel overwhelmed. What can I do?
Director, Push Group
A: What you focus on determines the results you get in life. If you are working to a deadline and you tell yourself that you have too many things to do to get the report in on time, the chances are you will be correct.
Take a few minutes to mentally plan the next set of activities in your mind and see a positive outcome. Then, don’t overload yourself, rather concentrate on the one thing you’re doing without distractions and create time buffers to help you deal with the unexpected. Managing your time well will give you a greater sense of control.
Q: I don’t know how to deal with my demanding boss. Should I ignore him?
A: First rule: take action. Ignore the problem and you will either wilt under the pressure or walk away in circumstances that might be hard to explain to another employer. Say how you feel. State that you find this behaviour aggressive and unacceptable. Say that you would like this not to happen again and that if it does, you will need to take further action.
Stay calm and civilised. Give examples of the problem (try using the words, “I find X aggressive,” rather than, “You are always putting me down”). Be specific and be neutral.
Then ask them to stop. This may do the trick, especially with people who don’t realise that their behaviour is interpreted as aggressive or demanding. Act quickly, but be composed.
It’s critical to be calm when you make your move, so if you need to take time to compose yourself, do so. But try to act sooner rather than later. If you can’t face your boss, it is fine to email instead. Keep a diary of incidents. Note down times, places, witnesses and what happened. This gives your complaint evidential backup. Ask your colleagues if they find the person difficult to deal with, too. At the very least, you’d have someone to talk to about it, and at best you may have a stronger case if you take things further through the grievance procedure.
Q: My long commute really stresses me out. What do you recommend?
Business analyst, Accenture
A: There are often some aspects of a job that are not dependent on you being in the workplace all the time. If you can determine exactly what you could do just as well – or even better – from home, you may well have a valid case.
If not, using your commuting time for something that gives you pleasure or helps you to relax will reduce tension and frustration. Whether in traffic, or on a train or plane, you can listen to a comedy download, a talking book or learn a language. If you’re on public transport, listen to a meditation or relaxation track (see box).
If you are in a car, do some exercises to release tension while waiting for lights to change or in traffic. Of course, the long-term solution could simply be to find a good job closer to home.
Q: I feel disheartened with my job, I’m completely unmotivated and I feel stuck. What can I do?
Financial controller, AIG
A: We all require a certain amount of pressure to feel enjoyably challenged, motivated and stimulated. However, if there is too much pressure for too long, we can feel overwhelmed and disheartened. On the other hand, too little pressure makes us bored, listless and directionless.
Ask yourself the following: does my job have enough variety to make it interesting? Are there enough complex tasks to stimulate me? Do I feel empowered to make decisions?
Do I receive acknowledgement and recognition? Am I clear about what is expected of me? Am I being asked to do tasks by people or departments that conflict with one another? Are my deadlines unachievable? Do I have enough support from my colleagues? Is my workload unrealistic? Is there open communication with my manager?
Usually there are two or three answers indicating where change is required. Speak with your manager about problematic areas and, ideally, have some potential solutions. If your manager is part of the problem, ask your human resources department for assistance in tackling the issues.
Q: I just have too much to do and too little time to do it in. Help.
Employee benefits consultant, Smith & Williamson
A: Stress often results from a general difficulty in coping with day-to-day problems and responsibilities. When you make a list of all the things that you need to do, list them in order of genuine importance, noting what you need to do personally and what can be delegated. Note what needs to be done immediately, in the next week or next month.
Getting rid of what’s not important so you have a realistic and manageable set of tasks spread out over an achievable time frame should make things a whole lot more bearable.
Q: I don’t even get time for lunch...
Derivatives operations, Deutsche Bank
A: It can be difficult to buck the trend if your colleagues just motor on through the day. But the reality is that we are far more productive, focused and lucid when we allow ourselves a bit of time out. The minutes that we “save” by working through lunch are easily outnumbered by the benefits of taking proper breaks.
When we are stressed, our perception and clarity is compromised. Our body requires basic care in order for us to consistently respond to the pressures of work. That means giving it proper nourishment and allowing some time for digestion. It also requires regular breaks. These don’t have to be long – five minutes for a stretch every now – but it is important.
CHILL WHILE ON THE MOVE
You can do this relaxation and mini meditation in a plane, train or in a car when waiting at the lights or in traffic. This exercise relaxes your body, and like all meditation techniques, focuses your mind on one thing, bringing calm and tranquility.
Start with your shoulders. Lift and then drop them, rotate them. Feel how your muscles relax. Clench your fists and contract all the muscles in your arms, then release on an out breath. Gently tilt your head from side to side. Clench your stomach and buttock muscles, hold for a moment, and release. Tighten your thighs, hold and release; tighten your calves, hold and release. Finally, flex and then point each foot, and relax. Rotate both feet. Breathe naturally and freely. Observe the sensations in
your body for five minutes or however long you wish.
SENSPA: WHERE TO DE-STRESS
Careys Manor & SenSpa in the New Forest is running Stress Management courses for individuals and corporate groups in conjuction with the Stress Management Society.
Scheduled courses take place on Wednesday 23 September 2010 and Wednesday 1 December 2010, and prices start from £299 plus vat per person. For more information, visit www.senspa.co.uk/stressmanagement or call 01590 624467. Careys Manor, Lyndhurst Road, Brockenhurst, Hampshire.