Is work-related stress an egalitarian phenomenon? Stress lurks on every corporate ladder rung and leads employees in all fields to kvetch and commiserate.
Consider the stress-related admission from David Morgan, the former head of Westpac. Morgan pulled back the curtain and acknowledged that stress causes CEOs to weep from frustration just like everyone else. Morgan wanted to show the world that C-suite leaders carry hefty burdens at work. Though some people lambasted his confession as tone-deaf, it promoted a flood of Twitter discussions about the topic.
It’s not just the six-figure jobs that carry incredible amounts of stress, though. Nobody is immune to the stress epidemic.
Call it like it is
As if its very name were not enough to showcase the widespread nature of stress-induced burnout, the American Institute of Stress suggests that about 80 percent of employees feel some level of stress. That means four out of your five teammates could be on the brink of a meltdown. Moreover, about a third of workers may need pharmaceuticals to manage their stress, according to a survey by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
What makes work life so overwhelming? For starters, many of us maintain a ridiculously breakneck pace. We come in early, stay late, and scramble to finish projects during our weekends. At the same time, we may silently loathe the professional path or job we hold. Add a sprinkling of tension with the boss or a colleague, and you have a recipe for emotional, physical, and psychological strain.
Renewal strategies for the burnt-out and overburdened
Are we doomed to run on this hamster wheel with no relief? Fortunately, a few simple measures can head stress off at the pass and give us more control over our lives.
1. Embrace the ‘oms.’
It might sound hokey, but regular bouts of rhythmic meditation can release tension before it reaches critical mass. Incorporate five-minute breaks of deliberate breathing into your routine about three times a day. Find a quiet place, close your eyes, and concentrate on inhaling sharply and exhaling smoothly. Tune out any wandering thoughts and refocus on your breaths. At the end of the five minutes (use your phone as a timer), give yourself kudos for taking back a bit of mental control. Within a week of habitually meditating, you should find the process easier. Over time, your meditative moments will become excellent opportunities to decompress at work and home.
2. Laugh until your stomach hurts.
Your days have been crazy: Clients are yelling, your supervisor is threatening layoffs, and colleagues keep dumping responsibilities on your plate. Instead of allowing anger to get the best of you, embrace the power of laughter. Alison Gutterman, president and CEO of Jelmar (the brand behind CLR cleaning products) promotes laughter as the perfect remedy for workplace stress. “When we join in a lighthearted moment, we not only bond as a team, but we also let go of pent-up tension,” Gutterman explains. “Nothing fosters innovation more than a hearty belly laugh.” Remember to let loose once in a while; when stress piles up, a few dog videos on YouTube might be just what the doctor ordered.
3. Practice being grateful for little things.
When was the last time you were truly grateful for something? If you have a stress monkey on your back, it was probably a long time ago. Reverse this trend by adopting an attitude of gratitude. Starting is as painless as mindfully eating one meal a day. Focus on the pleasure you derive from the flavors on your plate. Recall fond memories related to the food groups. Give in to pure delight by concentrating on nothing but the experience of each bite. Even if that meal is the only calm and happy moment of your day, it can help reset your stressed-out mental state.
4. Nourish your body physically.
After a tense day on the job, resist the temptation to plop down on the couch. Instead, get outside or to the gym for some heart-pumping activity. Exercise releases endorphins, which can reduce stress-producing hormones. A brief 20-minute jaunt around the neighborhood — or the mall, if the weather is nasty — can shift you from hot-headed to cool and composed. Be sure to pamper yourself after these mild or moderate workouts by enjoying some well-deserved rest. The American Sleep Association indicates that 35 percent of adults are lousy sleepers. Try a sleep app to bring your slumber back into balance.
5. Pick up knitting.
Or crocheting. Or cycling. Or woodcarving. Or whatever. Don’t try to become an expert in a new field, but work to reimagine your purpose in life beyond the four walls and nagging Slack messages that define your corporate life. Regardless of the hobby you choose, go in fully committed and with an open heart. This hobby will give you the opportunity to disconnect and distance yourself from your stressors — and possibly to reinvent yourself while finding new avenues of enjoyment.
Stress sucks, but it does not have to suck the joy from your existence. No matter what kind of pressures you encounter at work, you always have the power to recharge at home. Once you learn how to de-stress, do your co-workers a favor and share a few of your favorite strategies. It’s likely they need a little help, too.