April marks the month of Stress Awareness, and today is World Health Day. While it can seem like we are leaping from World Penguin to Pizza day, awareness measures and months like this one are important for reminding us all to take some time for ourselves. In this chaotic world, it is easy to let things overwhelm you and forget to set aside time to look after your mind.
The Labour Force Survey have said that in 2015/16, stress accounted for 37% of all work-related ill health cases. On top of this, a huge 45% of all working days lost can be attributed these ill health cases. Moreover, there are many of us who are suffering in silence too, without taking a break, as 75% of the population report feeling some symptoms of stress every two weeks. These statistics show it is a huge problem that we need to tackle head on.
So, in light of Stress Awareness month, we chatted to four speakers to find out their top stress-buster tips. Combatting the issues from psychological and mental angles, we hope Pete Cohen, Paul McGee, Cally Beaton and Simon Cohen will be able to offer you something to find your own state of calm and wellbeing in the workplace and beyond.
Pete Cohen, motivational speaker and life coach, comments that “one of the worst things people can do when they are starting to feel stressed is to tell themselves that they are getting stressed. This comes from the study of psychoneuroimmunology, which is the interaction between your immune system and your brain. So, if you are telling yourself you are stressed, your body will be affected by what you think. As the mind and body are so intrinsically linked, you can combat stress from a position of strength by saying ‘I am aware there is stress there’ rather than saying ‘I am it’.”
Pete promotes the idea of acknowledging the problem to stop your body reacting negatively. Paul McGee, keynote speaker and expert on helping others deal with challenging situations, agrees with this, but asks us all to consider our actions. He says “don’t deny it or suppress it. It is ok to feel angry, but before taking action ask yourself, ‘Is my response appropriate and effective?’ Remember, if you strike when the iron is hot, people can get burnt.”
Interestingly, Paul also goes on to coin the tip of ‘Change Your T-Shirt’. He states “the reason so many people feel stressed is they think, feel and behave like a victim. In fact, they might as well wear a T-shirt that has ‘victim’ emblazoned on the front. They blame circumstances and people for all their stress and never look to themselves as a possible cause. Take responsibility. Ask yourself ‘How can I influence or improve this situation?’”
So far, we know to become aware of our stress, rather than let it engulf us; to consider our actions before we react; and to take responsibility for what we might be able to improve.
Cally Beaton, comedian and Viacom International Senior Vice-President advises that we “control the controllables! Most stress is caused by things you can't control, or may never happen, or often both. Know what's within your control - your response to the other person or situation is all you can be sure you have the power to change.”
Similar to Paul’s tip of not playing the victim, Cally suggests to “try to put yourself in the other party’s shoes – what's it like for them? Why might they be acting in a certain way? Try to talk to them, rather than about them to others.”
She goes on to ask us to “adopt a curious, rather than judgemental attitude. Running the phrase 'isn't that interesting' through your mind will help you to stay objective and calm, as well as make you genuinely interested in and open to other perspectives.”
It is so easy for us all to forget everyone around us and just react when we are stressed. Noticing this in yourself is a truly valuable first step to stress-busting, as Simon Cohen, entrepreneur and thought leader, remarks from personal experience. He says “first, look up the common symptoms of stress. If it feels like you’re reading an autobiography, admit that you are actually stressed. Hardest step: complete. I failed to do this. Two months in bed later, I listened.
Now, think: Where? How? Now?
Where? Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Where are you experiencing stress? Pinpoint the places in your body.
How? A tightness in your chest? A throbbing pain in your spine? What thoughts and feelings are you noticing? Describe them.
Now? Stress is no longer a vague, overwhelming mishmash of stuff. It is specific: you are experiencing it in distinctive ways in specific parts of your body and mind. You are no longer stressing about what’s just happened, or what could happen. You are in the now, like a mindfulness master. Only at this point, is it helpful to ask ‘why?’ and ‘what next?’"
These practical tips are echoed by Pete as he says “we live in a world where it is so easy to get stressed and think tiny things are priorities, but what we all forget to remember is that the single most important thing is breathing.”
Pete continues “breathing is a hard skill to master, as we need to not just do this once, but practice this skill a number of times. If people performed breathing exercises, not just when they are stressed, but all the time, then they would be in a much stronger position to combat stress when comes up.”
To summarize our experts’ suggestions, we need to acknowledge the symptoms, be aware of the surroundings, control what you can and, in terms of practical lessons, practice taking a step back and breathing. Importantly, don’t underestimate the value taking a simple breath can bring. In a busy world, most of us are guilty of neglecting to find the time for mindfulness, but working on these stress-busters will help us all kick the stress and find some calm.
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