Its stress awareness month in the UK and we’ve been speaking to lots of groups and individuals about what causes them stress and might lead to compromised performance or lack of engagement or enjoyment in their work.
In many cases we can create or aggravate stress with the dialogue that runs through our mind each day. Here are 5 common elements of our internal dialogue that can increase stress and reduce feelings of control but which, when challenged and reframed, can instantly boost mood, energy and effectiveness.
Stress thought 1: ‘I’ve got too much to do.’
In truth, many people do have a lot to do and it’s usually because they keep packing their schedule until there’s barely enough time to think. Often this is part of wanting to be successful and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
There are only so many hours in the day however so, instead of focusing on what you’re adding to your To‐Do list, think instead about what might drop off the list. Note down tasks and jobs that can be delegated, done differently or removed from your list altogether.
It’s one thing to be busy but an altogether different thing to be effective, so carve out short moments each day to establish what you can do to enhance your effectiveness for the rest of the day and week.
Create a ‘done’ list to help you acknowledge there are plenty of things that you complete but that sometimes go unnoticed. This will boost your sense of achievement and self-confidence and you can also use this list to assess which of the items on the list should remain sitting with you or can be completed by someone else so that you can free up valuable minutes or hours.
You should also have a ‘Not to do list’ where you can keep track of things that currently occupy your day but that should, in time, with careful planning, be removed or delegated.
Resilient thought: ‘I take proactive steps each day to manage my workload.’
Stress thought 2: ‘I don't have time.’
Time is never a question of time but more a question of priorities and planning. But what if you don’t have time to plan?
In actual fact, the vast majority of people we work with are able to cite evidence of examples – personal and professional – when taking time to plan their routine actually saved them minutes, hours and sometimes even days. Minutes, hours or days during which they can either work more efficiently or spend time on other areas of life beyond work.
One thing is certainly true – planning brings with it a sense of control and focus rather than the feeling that may people live with of spending too much time being reactive, feeling overwhelmed and running to keep up with themselves each day.
Allocate just 5 minutes today to establish your top 3 priorities and schedule clear slots to tackle these. Also plan 5 minutes at the same time tomorrow to review your progress. You’ll quickly get into a regular habit of ‘plan, do, review’ and you’ll soon find that you adopt this as a default way of managing your time and priorities throughout the week.
Resilient thought: ‘I plan so I can make the best use of all my time.’
Stress thought 3: ‘I just need a break.’
When you’re busy, busy, busy, it can feel as though things will never ease up. The key here is to do what feels counterintuitive and actually step away from everything.
You might only need to pause for a few minutes or even less than this to take a breath, clear your head and gather your thoughts, but these few minutes, taken strategically through each day, can dramatically alter the path of your working week for the better.
If possible, when you take short breaks, get some fresh air, some daylight, move or stretch your body and, depending on your preference, reach out and connect with someone or allow yourself a few moments of quiet to recharge your batteries.
Resilient thought: ‘Regular mini breaks help me optimise my time and energy.’
Stress thought 4: ‘I wish ‘they’ wouldn’t do that.’
It often feels that every day could be easier if it weren’t for other people, the things they say and the ways in which they organize themselves.
In reality, most of us need to interact with others so it becomes imperative to take control of our relationships and be as clear as you can about how each one would work best for you.
Be proactive by defining how you’d like your relationships to be, and communicate this clearly and appropriately to those involved. All interaction with others should have a clear purpose and a positive intention.
Reviewing and updating relationships might sound like a stressful task but it’s a lot less stressful in the long term than leaving things that aren’t to your liking the way they are. Remember, you don’t need to be confrontational and you don’t need to ‘fix’ everything in one go but if you give some thought to where you’d like to end up with each of your relationships you can begin the process of change in a way that works for all involved.
Resilient thought: ’I make the effort to ensure successful and mutually beneficial relationships.’
Stress thought 5: ’I can’t believe that happened again.’
One of the biggest stressors for many people is repeatedly finding themselves in situations where the outcome is not to their liking.
A useful guideline to follow here is that you’re not allowed to complain about something, or someone, without coming up with a strategy to improve the situation should the same circumstances arise again.
Things happen every day that we can’t predict or control. What we can take charge of is how we react to these situations and what we learn from them that will help us grow in the future.
In these situations take a moment to review how you’re feeling, why you feel this way, how you’d prefer to feel and what you can do differently moving forwards to avoid any repetition of the negative results.
Resilient thought: ’No matter what happens, I take control for how I respond and learn lessons for the future.’
Adopt a holistic approach to reducing stress with 7 healthy living tips to build resilience and achieve peak performance
So far we’ve discussed how you can change your inner dialogue and attitude to reduce stress and optimise performance. Getting physically prepared to be your most resilient self is also crucial so here are 7 things to keep in mind.
If you’re feeling less than 100% resourceful at any time, chances are that making a change with your attitude and actions in one or more of these areas will greatly improve your resilience every day.
1. Hydration: Dehydration can make you irritable. Avoid it at all costs
2. Caffeine: Can help you focus but too much may impair your performance
3. Alcohol: May help you relax but beware disrupted sleep and low resources tomorrow
4. Sleep: Rest and recovery must always be a priority, not just a ‘nice to have’
5. Exercise: Channel excess energy, reduce stress hormones and aid creative thinking
6. Food: Will calm and energise or leave you feeling agitated or sluggish. Choose options carefully
7. ‘Me time’, balance & boundaries: Appropriate life balance requires planning
Taking charge of how you deal with stress, both mentally and physically, is liberating. What will you do differently from today?