How to reduce stress and be productive at work
Stressed out at work? Not sleeping well? Karen Meager and John McLachlan can help.
Where did it start? Did you get stressed about something that meant you couldn’t relax and this disturbed your sleep and made you unproductive at work, which made you stressed. Was it a lack of sleep that made you unproductive at work which made you stressed and...it's a vicious circle.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who has experienced it that regardless of where it started, it is a problem feeds itself and can be difficult to stop. The good news is you can start by changing your habits anywhere is this cycle to make an instant difference. Where will you start?
Getting a good night's sleep is difficult if you are worrying about going to bed and not sleeping or you lie in bed screaming at yourself to sleep. Three ways to help yourself to sleep better:
- Have a notebook by the side of your bed and pay attention to all the things that are running around your head and stopping you sleep. Write them down and tell yourself you’ll come back to it in the morning,
- Rather than tell your self to sleep ask yourself how much longer you would like to stay awake before you go to sleep.
- Create a routine at night that helps you to go to bed relaxed. An ideal routine is a gradual wind down so that your mind and body are in a relaxed state before you go to sleep. Avoid things that over stimulate your mind just before bed, like watching thrillers, checking your e mails or strenuous exercise.
How do you relax?
Stress is an unconscious process - it runs habitually outside of your awareness. Relaxation is a conscious process. You have to decide to do it. Relaxation is an activity, not just ‘doing nothing’, and boredom can be as stressful as being overwhelmed. The impact on your ability to be productive, think clearly and sleep well are all improved by relaxation.
Start with the simple things:
- If a run relaxes you - go for a run.
- If meeting up with friends relaxes you do that.
- If going out for a walk at lunchtime is a good way for you to clear you head do it.
- Even just taking a deep breath everything you sit down is effective.
Here is a simple relaxation technique you can do sitting at your desk in just a few minutes:
Breath in through your nose right down into your belly and out through your mouth. Starting with your head, slowly move your attention into each part of your body, moving down your neck, shoulders, arm etc all the way down to your feet.
At each point notice if there’s any tension, take a deep breath and in your mind direct your breath to any tension and let it dissolve. Some people find tensing then relaxing each muscle group as they work their way through their body helps.
Stress has physical as well as emotional factors. If you are in poor health, particularly if you have a poor diet, you are more prone to stress because there are so many neural connections in your gut.
Changing diet can be hard because we often tell ourselves that the things we know are bad for us are the very things we need to relax, like rich food and alcohol. This is not true. They are emotionally driven behaviours that have become habits. You don’t need to give these things up completely, just be more mindful about using these to relax when there are other, more healthy ways to do so.
What about your life habits? Do you have far too much in your diary, both in work and out of it? Where is your time to relax, downtime, time to regroup or reflect? The quality of your relationships both inside and outside work will have a huge impact on your levels of stress.
You need to be honest with yourself and you need to take back control of what you do. Becoming a master of your own habits will greatly reduce your stress levels.
Time to get going
Being productive and doing lots of things are not the same thing. The purpose of productivity is to engage in activities that take you forward. Avoid the seductive corporate addiction to ‘being busy’ and instead focus on achieving more by focusing on actions that make a difference to your work and life.
Once you are less stressed and more relaxed you will find it easier to think clearly and make better choices. Slowing down to speed up is the secret to success of many well adjusted business people.
This may seem like a lot to do, but it is easier when you select small steps you know you can do and build from there. Many people don’t change their life habits because the change feels too big; trying to do too much at once sends our brain into shock. Small incremental lifestyle adjustments are a much more effective way to live a more balanced and fulfilled life.
About the authors
John and Karen are the authors of the highly acclaimed book Real Leaders for the Real World ‘Time Mastery’ (both Panoma Press) and founders of Monkey Puzzle Training and Consultancy, a leading UK training company in NLP.
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