Stress management is an enormous topic, one that is addressed in countless books, podcasts and Ted talks. I’ve also previously done a blog post on stress management and some helpful tools to help lower stress levels and cope with stress. However, someone asked me a question last week and I believe it is something that we all struggle with and so I thought it was worthy or readdressing this topic, purely to answer this one problem.
The problem – Work related stress
Okay let me start of by saying unfortunately this is just a part of the modern world and arguably some degree of work-related stress is unavoidable. So, while I do believe we can significantly reduce our work place stress, I also agree it is likely impossible to completely get rid of it, so I won’t even try to claim that I’ve discovered a ‘miracle stress relieving trick’ that will turn even the most stressful jobs into a dream, because it just isn’t true.
So the issue which I’m talking about is ‘taking our stress home with us’. I often see it during sessions with a client between the hours of 6 and 9pm they are working out, but at the back of their head they are still trying to decide whether ‘that decision was right’ or ‘did I upload that’ or ‘I need to do that’ and so on and so on. The problem is as I mentioned in a previous blog post, we aren’t designed to be stressed 24/7, stress was designed to help us escape immediate danger, then levels drop back to a ‘normal’ level. Unfortunately, now it isn’t common to see someone stress from 6am Monday morning, through to 6pm on the Friday and then likely spend the entire weekend thinking and stressing about what the next week holds.
This is something which I have an awful lot of experience with. What a lot of people don’t realise about jobs like Personal Training is that you don’t usually get whole days off it’s very common to work 6-7 days a week, with some sessions in the morning and some in the evening (around the times which most people are free). So essentially your ‘free’ time can often become the 5 hour gap you have in the middle of the day between the morning and evening blocks of sessions. So, if it takes you 3 hours to ‘wind down’, by the time you’ve wound down it would be just about time to start getting ready again. Some of the things which I have found most helpful with this are:
1. Change your clothes
Our minds respond really well to mental cues and also very quickly draw associations, to poorly reference and really stretch it to the fullest of its applications, I’ll reference the study of Pavlov’s dogs, where by a group of dogs were trained to recognise and react as though food was present in response to the sound of a bell (bear with me here, don’t just think I’ve completely lost it!) So, one of the strongest associations your brain makes with a situation is with what we wear, so as soon as you get home, change clothes and use this as an opportunity to ‘flick the switch’ and try to mentally distance yourself from the stresses of work.
2. Don’t look at your phone or emails
I know this isn’t always possible for everyone, but having a set time when you don’t look at these is so important, there is no opportunity for your brain to even try to turn off and relax if you keep hitting it with stuff to worry or think about.
3. Do something you enjoy
This can be anything, working out, cooking, watching a funny programme, reading a book, it just has to be something you enjoy. Try to remember most/all emotional states caused by the brain are based on various chemical reactions either excessively taking place or not taking place enough. Or the level of a specific chemical being too high or low. With this in mind it’s important to point out chemical reactions take place as a consequence of all stimuli, not just negative ones, so if you do something you enjoy, then positive chemicals will start to be secreted in your brain. Think about it very metaphorically, if you were making a soup and it needed more salt you wouldn’t think twice about adding more soup, so if you feel stressed it is just your body and mind signalling that it needs more enjoyment and relaxing chemicals.
4. Set cut off points and parameters
As much as many motivational videos and possibly Elon Musk’s reported 80 work weeks would have you believe the opposite, we do all need time where we just switch off and relax. If we don’t the quality of our work and importantly the quality of our sleep will go down. Once the quality and duration of your sleep starts to drop it’s a pretty sharp fall down to feeling rubbish. So, to help with this set barriers or cut off points, for example I won’t look at my phone after 9pm or when I go on a walk in the woods I will put my phone or aeroplane mode. Mobile phones have been an incredible invention in so many ways, but if there is one criticism of them it has to be that it means there’s no escape, you are constantly reachable and no longer is a quiet walk in nature necessarily a relaxing experience, because 5 minutes in you may get a call from work about a problem then the whole walk just becomes an opportunity to think and debate what to do about work.
To conclude, a certain level of work-related stress is 100% natural, it may not be pleasant, but it is natural. Additionally, some jobs carry more stress than others, without ever having done a single day’s work in either of these fields I feel fairly confident in assuming a brain Surgeon would be a more stressful job than a post man. However, with this said I do honestly believe we could all benefit massively from a mental, emotional, physical and social standpoint (because often it is the stress of work being taken home which causes us to push away friends and family) if we were better able to ‘switch off’ and stop the work stress from following us home.
I hope some of the above tips help to give you some ideas of how to better switch off from the stress and never forget that diet and exercise play a very important role in how your body generally feels and operates. So, if you are eating poorly and not exercising this stressed out feeling will just get even worse!
If anyone has any questions please just drop me a message and I would be more than happy to help.
Next week’s topic – Swimming, Running or Bike which one’s the best?