Work-related stress, depression or anxiety is defined as a harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work. In 2020-2021, it accounted for 50% of all work-related ill-health cases in the UK, with the highest prevalence in education and human health and social work industries.
Those working in professional and associate professional occupations were also statistically significantly more likely to experience work-related stress along with people in sales and customer service occupations.
So if you know you are statistically more likely to experience stress, depression or anxiety because of your job, are you taking action to bolster your wellbeing and increase your resilience?
Here are 6 things you can do to improve your wellbeing and increase your resistance to stress:
1. Create A Sleep Routine
One of the most impactful things you can do to help reduce stress is to ensure you get enough high quality sleep. Despite our modern lives, our circadian rhythm (part of our body clock) is still attuned to environmental cues and the setting of the sun tells our bodies it is time to prepare for sleep. The blue light we expose ourselves to by watching TV and using electronic devices late into the evening can disrupt this cue and make it harder for you to fall asleep.
TV and social media are designed to lure you to continue watching - automatically playing the next episode of a series for example - this means we often consume more digital media without thought. How many times have you stayed up past midnight binge-watching a series without even realising?
Take back control and try to be more intentional about your use of time in the evening and choose what you will watch (if anything) and how long you will watch for.
Start to unwind at least 30min before you want to go to sleep by using low lighting, such as candles, doing some gentle stretches, and breathing exercises. Try to keep your phone away from your bed (to avoid temptation!) and if you need to, write down any thoughts or worries so you can reflect in them in the morning with a clear head. For more sleep hygiene tips, check out my post 'How To Sleep Like A Baby'.
2. Start A Mindfulness Meditation Practice
As a trainee mindfulness meditation teacher you might think I'm biased, but in truth the research speaks for itself and has shown multiple physical and mental benefits of regularly practising meditation. These include; increased focus and attention; lower stress levels and decreased cortisol; improved problem solving, and control over reactions and emotions; effective pain relief; a healthier cardiovascular system; lower blood pressure; and even better relationships and contentment with life.
And all it takes is just a few minutes a day. Actually even a one minute break several times a day is enough, so here is a 60 second meditation;
Start by sitting upright in your chair, but allow your body to relax, focusing on your shoulders, neck, jaw and allow softness to come into these areas, noticing where you are connected to the chair and the floor.
Take some deep inhales and exhales and bring your focus to your breath, noticing where it enters and leaves your body and on the sensation of your lungs expanding and contracting.
Scan the body from the top of your head, down through your shoulders, arms, hands, stomach, hips, legs and feet, checking what's going on inside and identifying any tense areas you need to relax. Breathe into them and allow the tension to drift away.
Bring your focus back to the chair, the room and slowly open your eyes.
Repeat this meditation whenever you start to feel stressed or overwhelmed at work, it is enough to release oxytocin and disrupt your bodies production of cortisol, which will lead to lower stress levels.
3. Build Better Boundaries
I've talked about it before, but knowing your values (what's most important to you in your life) will make it easier to set and maintain your personal boundaries. If your family or personal time is important to you, you need to find a way of leaving work stress behind when you finish for the day.
This might be spending the last 15-30min of your day at work writing down everything you need to do and deciding what you will focus on tomorrow, or it might be listening to a particular song that calms you on your commute home. Other strategies include; not having your work emails on your phone (most companies now understand the wellbeing importance of not disturbing employees out of hours); showering/changing as soon as you get home and visualising the work stress melting away as you enter your work-free zone; and making appointments or scheduling social events straight after work so you have to leave to be on time.
If you are a manager or leader, make sure you lead by example and leave at a reasonable time to maintain your own wellbeing too. Trust me when I say that it won't matter what you say to your employees if they see you emailing late at night/early morning, staying late or arriving ridiculously early they are going to feel the pressure to do the same, or they may wonder why you are unable to do your job in normal work hours. Either way, it makes for a stressful workplace culture.
(You can download my guide to identifying your values here.)
4. Set Personal Micro-Goals
Feeling a sense of achievement or accomplishment is understood to be one of the pillars of wellbeing. Whether you experience this through your professional or personal life is not important, but identifying, acknowledging and celebrating your success is.
When I mention setting goals to people, their first reaction is often to shy away from the idea. They hear the word goal and think big life goals, which puts them off.
The thing to remember is that goals don't have to be big; but they do need to be clever. Each week, set some micro-goals (preferably related to your values) to help you improve your mental or physical health, or stay organised. This could be as simple as think of three things you are grateful for each day, or it could be to go to bed at the same time each night.
You could also pick two or three (realistic) things you want to achieve this week and plan when and how you will achieve them, how you will stay accountable and how you will celebrate when you have achieved them. Remember, the focus isn't on the size of the goal, it's on the sense of achievement.
5. Take A Walk At Lunch
This is probably one of the easiest ones in principle, but one of the hardest ones to make yourself actually do. It's also one of the most beneficial!
Getting outside, preferably into a green space, for 30min of fresh air and exercise can make a huge difference to your stress levels. A brisk walk improves your circulation and oxygenation levels and releases endorphins which are natural painkillers and can boost your mood.
When you get back, you will feel refreshed and can approach the afternoon with a calm, clear mind, allowing you to reset your daily to do list and be more productive.
6. Avoid Multi-tasking
We have long been fed this myth that we are capable of multitasking, i.e. performing two tasks simultaneously, switching from one task to another, or performing two or more tasks in rapid succession.
But research shows that there is a cost to this kind of mental "juggling," disrupting productivity by slowing you down, reducing your understanding, attention, and overall performance and increasing the likelihood of mistakes.
Think of your brain as like a computer, the more tasks you try to run, the slower the system gets...until it breaks. According to one article, multitasking may also 'reduce your ability to focus, increase feelings of stress, and exacerbate impulsiveness. It can also worsen your performance at work or school, which can lead to further negative feelings and anxiety.'
Instead, try focusing on one task as a time for a minimum of 20 minutes, or time-blocking so you know which tasks will be completed when. If you do suddenly have to switch tasks, make a note of where you were up to and what you were going to do next before starting the new task. Taking a 60 second meditation break between tasks will also help.
I hope you have enjoyed my article explaining six self-care tips for people with stressful jobs. Please feel welcome to share it with your network, or get in touch and let me know which tip helped you the most.
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