By now, most of us are back in work.
But many of us still feel on edge, and that anxiety is being fuelled by uncertainty.
Can we build our businesses back up to where they were pre-COVID? Will we struggle financially over the next few months? And will we be plunged into another lockdown?
All these worries are playing havoc with our stress levels, and as many of us are back at the workplace, what better time to re-evaluate our working routines and find a way to deal with all the noise in our heads?
The truth is, there are lots of ways that we can improve our wellbeing at work. And for some, you don’t even have to take time away from your desk! From simple lifestyle changes, to introducing mindfulness to the workplace, there’s many ways you can work more healthily.
Let’s take a look at some of the easy ways to take the extra weight off your shoulders!
1) Deep Breathing
A simple exercise that you can do at your desk, deep breathing has been used in meditative practices for thousands of years, and has been scientifically proven to trigger your parasympathetic nervous system by stimulating the Vagus nerve to regulate stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
Some people call it 2-to-1 breathing, others may use 4-7-8 breathing, or 7-11 breathing, while in Yogic traditions, it is referred to as Pranayama, or ‘Ocean Breath’.
You may also wish to try other variations, such as Lion’s Breath (forcefully exhale while making a ‘hah’ noise), or alternate nostril breathing.
You can practice these exercises at your desk, in the lunchroom, or even during meetings – so long as you keep it quiet!
2) Plan Ahead
Planning your day is an important skill to have in any workplace.
But the act of planning itself may also have an impact on stress. A 2014 study suggested that anxiety is linked to feelings of uncertainty and anticipation, and these same feelings of uncertainty can be a contributing factor to depression in some people.
Therefore, planning in advance acts as both a coping mechanism and a practical aid for stress prevention, meaning it’s definitely worth spending five minutes at the start of each workday planning out how you want it to go.
Once you’ve laid out all of your commitments for the day, and identified which ones are your highest priorities, you can then see where you have some free time available to schedule in a bit of stress relief.
Maybe you’ll have five minutes spare before that stressful meeting which you could use for meditation? Or perhaps you’ll have time to go for a walk during your lunch break? Think about the points during the upcoming day when you’re likely to feel stressed, and schedule in some time before and after them which you can dedicate to your wellbeing.
3) Listen To Music
According to several studies which measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol, listening to relaxing music may be effective in reducing anxiety and stress.
Music and other background sounds may also help to boost concentration for those of us who struggle to stay focused and alert; one 2011 study on boys diagnosed with ADHD found that some of the boys’ productivity improved significantly when music was played while they studied.
There is also considerable evidence regarding the impact white noise can have – two studies in 2007 and 2016 both found that listening to white noise increased the performances of those diagnosed with ADHD.
4) Lunchtime Walks
Just like any other form of exercise, walking helps to release endorphins, improve mental alertness, increase overall fitness, and lower blood pressure – all of which help to ease stress.
In more general terms, walking gives you a reason to take breaks, to stretch out any muscles tense from hunching over your desk all day, and to get out of your head and into a state of mindful awareness.
You can also use this time to nurture connections by going for a walk with a friend or colleague, or to work on your state of spiritual wellbeing by pondering the deeper questions in life!
There is a link between stress and high blood pressure.
Many people know that anxiety and stress can cause high blood pressure, but not as many know that it also works the other way around.
There is a pressure point which helps to regulate your blood pressure and the associated anxiety – simply use your thumb to press on the side of your middle finger, and bring your other fingers in line with your middle finger to make a ‘pointing’ position.
In yoga, this is known as Vajra Mudra, and it is known to improve circulation and moderate blood pressure. It also helps to stretch out keyboard-fatigued hands!
And have you ever seen someone press their forehead when stressed?
There is an acupressure point between your eyebrows called the ‘Hall of Impression’ which helps to relieve stress. Simply touch the spot between your eyebrows and apply firm but gentle pressure, moving in circles for 5-10 minutes. You should then notice your stress levels start to drop.
Alternatively, you could try the ‘Heavenly Gate point’ – an acupressure point in the conch of your ear. Similarly, rub here in circles for 2-3 minutes.
Mindfulness has been shown to help with encouraging focus and emotional regulation in the workplace, such as by reducing rumination, stress, and emotional reactivity, while increasing attention levels, cognitive flexibility, and relationship satisfaction.
So, not only does mindfulness improve your own personal wellbeing, but when routinely practiced in the workplace it could also help to improve your team dynamics!
Mindfulness practice is currently making waves, with many employers booking their team in for mindfulness training courses and workshops. But mindfulness doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated – simply providing your employees with information about it, or setting up a mindfulness group for lunchtimes, should be enough to help your employees relieve stress.
This in turn will make them less likely to need time off work. Plus, mindfulness can help you to nurture your own wellbeing in the process!
7) Positive Reframing 1 – See The Silver Lining
Positive Reframing sounds like psychological jargon, and yes, it is part of a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy technique. But in short, all it really means is to see ‘the silver lining’ in things.
There are two ways you can do this.
First of all, you could look for the benefits in what appears at first to be a negative event. For example, let’s say you get swamped with work and have to stay at the office until 9pm in order to get everything done.
Rather than getting annoyed because extra work is coming in, or berating yourself for not being on top of things, why not tell yourself that, “being busy means I am a successful person, and that my business is taking off”. Or, you could perhaps say, “I have worked until 9PM. This shows I am a dedicated, hardworking individual”.
And if you really can’t see the positive in a situation, then ask yourself, “what can I learn from this?”.
For example, perhaps you lost your keys this morning and was late to the office. If you can’t find a positive in this, then you might instead learn to pack your bag the night before work, so you have more time and less stress in the mornings.
8) Positive Reframing 2 - Examine The Evidence
Alternatively, you can ask “what is the evidence for my perception?”.
By being late to the office, you were perhaps worried you would seem unprofessional. But your colleagues treated you with respect when you arrived, and nobody said anything, so you might conclude there is no evidence to support your worries.
By reframing things and examining the evidence, you switch your thought processes from ‘emotional mind’, to ‘logical mind’, and this helps you to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
The great thing about reframing and examining the evidence, is that it becomes easier with time. Thanks to a neurological phenomenon called ‘neuroplasticity’, our brains are capable of regrowing certain neural pathways associated with specific thoughts and behaviours. So the more you practice positive thinking, the easier it becomes.
9) Communicate Effectively!
You would think with the current drive towards good management, employee health and wellbeing, and fostering strong team dynamics, we would all be mini-therapists by now.
But in spite of the training, the paperwork, and the conversations in the break room, evidence from US firm Gartner shows that up to 70% of business mistakes are due to poor communication.
So why is communication important? Why is it so difficult to implement effectively in the workplace? And how do we improve our communication with others?
Firstly, good communication is essential for running an effective team. It improves collaboration, boosts growth and productivity, enhances innovation, increases employee loyalty and engagement, and helps to resolve problems and conflicts between staff.
All of these things will help to reduce the stress levels of your employees. In addition, good communication
and active listening may help you to effectively recognise the talents and weaker points of your employees, so you can put them to best use.
However, it can be difficult to sustain good communication in the workplace – even if you’re usually a good communicator!
There are several reasons for this:
• The Mix Of Personalities – If you are interacting one-on-one with somebody, it is less likely you will have a conflict with them than if you were interacting with six other people. This is simply down to probabilities. If you have six people with six different personalities all working together, it is simply more likely that some of them will conflict with each other.
• The Dynamics – As a business owner and an employer, you are automatically entered into a position of power. You may not consider yourself to be ‘the boss’, but chances are, your employees will consider the power to be in your hands. This means they may well be reluctant to broach certain subjects (such as pay, working hours, or holiday time etc.) in a direct manner. These issues can build up and lead to conflict at a later date.
• The Stress – Any kind of stress makes logical thinking (and therefore, sensitive communication) difficult. This is because the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline kick in, making your fight-or-flight response activate. As a result, you feel the need to say something or to do something NOW! Consequently, you might not think through your actions as well as you would do in a different situation. And naturally there will be a higher level of stress in a work environment, so it is easy for this to become a place of conflict.
So, what’s the best way to counteract these factors?
• Choose your team wisely and organise their shifts and roles accordingly. If possible, it is better to choose a team that you feel have a range of skills, and similar (or complementary) personalities. In cases where you have already hired an individual who doesn’t get on with another member of the team, think about how you can make allowances for this. Can you put them on separate shifts? Or in different offices? Or can you simply give them different roles, so that they are always working on different things?
• If you need to have a conversation with an employee who is reluctant to bring up a subject, bring it up with them yourself! Remember, you are in the driving seat here. Your employee will be expecting you to take the lead as the manager and/or business owner. Usually, they will respect you more for taking ownership of the situation.
•When in an emotional state of mind, nobody can think straight. If you are predisposed to stress and anxiety, planning your words carefully is of utmost importance in ensuring they come out right. For example, there is nothing to stop you from taking notes into a stressful meeting, or from thinking about what you’re going to say in it, half an hour or so beforehand. This should make things go much smoother.
• Use breathing exercises to combat stress. Reducing your stress hormones will help you to think more clearly, and to not be as emotionally reactive. And the great thing is, you can do breathing exercises anywhere and anytime, so pick a time and place which suits you.
10) Cut Down On Caffeine
Caffeine has long been associated with late nights and stressed-out working, but do we drink caffeine because we have a lot of stress from work? Or do we have a lot of stress because we’re drinking caffeine while we’re working?
When times get busy, many of us turn to caffeine for help – but it may not be the best way to cope.
Caffeine affects how several hormones work in your body; it inhibits adenosine (the ‘calming’ hormone), increases adrenaline and cortisol (the stress/‘fight or flight’ hormones), and increases dopamine. The dopamine release may mean that caffeine initially makes you feel good, but after you ‘peak’, you will begin to get irritable, anxious, and restless.
According to a 2018 study by Callaghan et al., caffeine also affects your sleep by keeping you up for longer and decreasing the quality of your sleep. So if you’re feeling groggy at your desk in the mornings, maybe it’s time to cut back on the coffee a little!
But don’t panic, most of the sleep-depriving effects can be reduced if you don’t drink caffeine after 4PM, so there’s no need to miss out on your morning brew(s) entirely!
And The Best Way To Stay Well At Work?
Schedule your ‘wellbeing time’ the same as you would anything else, and listen to your body when it tells you that you need a break.