Take control of your stress
The key thing to understand about stress is that it's not something that 'happens to you'. Of course, external factors like your workload, a pressurised job, long hours, the culture of your workplace and organisation, your boss and colleagues, and financial pressures, all have a major part to play in how stressed you feel. But in cognitive therapy, the way these factors impact on you depends on your thoughts and beliefs. This is called the 'ABC' model, which works like this:
A = Activating event (redundancies are imminent in your organisation)
B = Beliefs and thoughts ('I'm bound to be made redundant'; 'If I lose this job I'll never get another one'; 'If I can't find a job I'll lose everything.')
C = Emotional and behavioural Consequences – you become anxious and stressed; your work suffers as a result, so you feel even more worried about being made redundant; you become irritable and snappy with your colleagues, further affecting your performance at work, making you even more worried, anxious and stressed...
Although no-one would underestimate the stress-inducing nature of imminent redundancies, it's the fact that you feel sure they will affect you (which sets in chain a string of negative, anxiety-provoking thoughts predicting the absolute worst – what's known as 'catastrophizing') that makes you so stressed. Then at C, it's clear that this stress affects your emotions and behaviour in ways that make you more stressed, and so it goes on.
Being human means we must deal with bereavement, heartbreak, illness, failure, disappointments – they are part of all our lives, to a greater or lesser extent. The key to managing them with grace lies in the way we interpret them, what we believe about ourselves and the world. You can't avoid A, but you can control B, which affects how you feel at C.
That said, there are a number of simple, practical tools at your disposal that will have an immediate impact on your stress levels. These include:
- Learning breathing techniques to reduce anxiety.
- Using visualization and mindfulness meditation.
- Taking regular exercise, even if that's just a short walk every lunchtime.
- Eating well (three meals a day with healthy snacks in between) and minimising your caffeine/alcohol intake.
- Getting enough rest and sleep every night.
- Maintaining your work/life balance and investing the same amount in your relationships as you do your career.
The good news is that you have the power to manage your stress levels, through modifying unhelpful thoughts and beliefs, and using these simple tools on a day-to-day basis. After all, life is too short to spend feeling stressed out and unhappy.
I run workshops through my company, Calm Self Workshops, for people struggling with stress. The Overcoming Stress workshops take place one Saturday a month at my East Finchley office and cost £150 for a full day.