“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”
I was facilitating a leadership class in Bahrain today, and we were discussing the subject of work and life based stresses. This seemed to be a big subject for many of the participants, so I decided to write something about it.
Back in the classroom, I walked around the room with a glass of water. I think everyone expected that they would be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on my face, I inquired: ”How heavy is this glass of water?”
Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.
So I went on to say that the absolute weight didn't really matter. It all depended on how long I could hold it for.
If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.
So I then went onto to explain that our stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.
Stress. A word frequently used in our daily vocabulary, and one which – ironically – seems to carry less weight with every use. Whether being “stressed out” is the premise of a popular music track, or a phrase you tend to pitch towards others multiple times a day; the phenomenon of stress is not a notion unknown to many.
Indeed, every age group, social demographic, and field of life carries ample amounts of stress-induced anxiety and fatigue. As such, the very concept of stress has often been whittled down to nothing more than a usual, everyday occurrence for the common individual in our contemporary society.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK during 2014/15, 440,000 people in the UK reported work-related stress at a level they believed was making them ill. That's 40% of all work-related illness.
However, the reality of intense bouts of stress – and their disastrous repercussions – is often not treated as severely as they should be. Stress can prove to be a gateway, leading one’s mind and body towards a plethora of damaging psychological and physiological issues.
Alternatively, stress might prove to be quite helpful for the average student or office worker; if you happen to be particularly experienced with procrastination, you will soon come to realize that stress-induced panic is what often pushes an individual to delve into a formidable pile of work. If you happen to finish your assigned tasks with time to spare, you might still fall prey to frequent bursts of stress, and this ultimately pushes you to execute a given task. An existence without stress might possibly stand as one without motivation; individuals might lack the incentive or drive to finish crucial work, and meet looming deadlines.
Allow yourself to take a step back and decipher why exactly you might experience frequent stress and anxiety.
Is it due to your earnest will to succeed, avoid an issue or obtain that promotion? Or perhaps you are driven by a diagnosable psychological disorder which prompts you to stress over minute details?
Primarily, we stress in order to avoid a possible outcome of failure. In the simplest of terms, it is your mind and body’s natural response towards particularly difficult situations, and the overwhelming need to greet this scenario head-on.
It is at this point where a classic “flight or fight” response comes into play.
Fight or Flight?
This phenomenon is often termed as a “stress response”. Once individuals come across situations, which might be challenging, harmful, or threatening, their physical and psychological responses kick into gear.
Whether you happen to face a madman wielding an axe, or you sink underneath folds of internal stress: a specific section of your brain – namely the hypothalamus – will enable a number of chemicals to be released into your body, and for your nerves to become primed. In short, your body will be tensed and prepared to either fight, or begin sprinting in the opposite direction.
During a typical such encounter, your heart will begin to pump faster, delivering more oxygen around your body and quickening your breathing; the pupils might dilate, allowing more light to filter in and sharpen your vision; the muscles will begin to tense themselves for a run. This natural response is instinctive, though it might do little for you when stress-induced toxins filter into your body.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) humans do not inhabit mostly a deadly planet, and might not require such drastic reactions in order to ensure their survival. If tax returns must be filed, and egregious amounts of work must be dealt with, an individual cannot realistically abandon ship. This is where the “fight or flight” response is suppressed, and we curb natural instinct in order to survive in the modern era.
If this situation is prolonged, one may begin to suffer from instances of high-blood pressure; with nerves continually standing on end; and with a body and mind utterly exhausted from being on constant alert. Health begins to diminish, energy levels skirt low, and motivation tanks.
What to do?
However, there are innumerable tips and tricks ready for one to internalize and abide by in order to quell stress, and break the cycle of nerves and exhaustion. Here are 7 top tips:
Exercise has been listed by the American Psychological Association as a solid means through which one can conquer stress. A brisk run or swim would calm the nerves considerably, and allow one to offer their exhausted brain a break, and approach the task with a fresher perspective. Moreover, any form of physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins; these chemicals are responsible for curbing pain, and ensuring a good night of sleep. You do not need to exercise for long – just 5-10 minutes per day will greatly enhance your physical (and mental) wellbeing.
Remove junk food and nicotine from your diet, and allow the body a genuine chance to function healthily. Research has discovered that 40% of people are prone to stress-eating junk food, or drinking alcohol and cigarettes. These harmful habits, in turn, make room for lung diseases and heart disorders to enter these individuals’ lives. In fact, stress and anxiety-related consumption might increase one’s chance of a stroke or heart attack by nearly 50%.
Take control of the situation, and avoid prolonging the period of stress. For instance, if you are assigned a month to complete a given task, set about to finish it as soon as you possibly can to cut back on how much time you would needlessly spend mulling over the thought of it.
Taking control would also imply that one should actively figure out the root cause of persistent
stress: could it possibly be a specific subject, or does a particular co-worker induce the most
stress? If it helps, maintain a journal listing the situation, work, and how much stress each instance produced.
Reaching out for help might translate into a number of options. You might reach out to a co-worker or team of friends to help plough through a challenging assignment; you might opt to visit a therapist, and objectively assess whether your condition calls for heavy medication, or several spa-days a week. If you cannot make sense of your taxes, hire an accountant or friend to help you sift through the work. Remember – 75% of Americans (according to search published by the APA) suffer from intense stress and up to 52% of Western Europeans. You should not suffer alone, and call for help – or even provide help! – whenever you truly need it. Competition should not always define your goals.
Think about yourself and promise yourself a therapeutic day every few weeks. Alternatively, set aside an hour or two per day when you focus on no one but yourself, and engage in an activity that calms you. Give your mind and body the chance to catch a much-needed break. Whether this means going out for lunch with friends, or sitting at home to watch a sitcom – figure out your needs, and cater to them as frequently as possible.
Laugh and smile. Ok, I agree, its difficult to laugh and smile when you feel the world is on your shoulders and everything looks bleak. However, it is scientifically proven to help your overall health by:
Sleep better. Everyone knows stress can cause you to lose sleep. Unfortunately, lack of sleep is also a key cause of stress. This vicious cycle causes the brain and body to get out of whack and only gets worse with time. As adults we should aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep. Turn the TV off earlier, dim the lights, and give yourself time to relax before going to bed. Good sleep will mean a healthier lifestyle all round. And, of course you will wake up more refreshed and able to deal with the day that is coming. This is specifically important, since a recent survey concluded that 44% of all stress-inflicted individuals do not sleep well. A rested mind and body is one which can tackle any task with ease.
Stress can be a disability as well as a spur into action. There's no quick-fix cure for stress, and no single method will work for everyone. However, if you at least try and incorporate some if not all the tips above then potential stressors might just melt away into the night!