“No stress.” Yeah, right.
On a recent visit to a pain clinic, I was referred to a medical psychologist as part of the initial consultation process. The objective was to find out how I was coping with a long-term, chronic pain condition. Once we established that I was coping as well as could be hoped for, the psychologist’s attention turned to how I handled stress in my day-to-day job.
I shared, with the doctor, my usual advice to young folk: that you shouldn’t get into nursing unless you are prepared to work nightshift, and you shouldn’t get into advertising or design unless you can successfully handle stress.
It’s been interesting to watch how stress manifests itself in our hothouse environment of pressure. As one of my colleagues recently lamented, “Isn’t anything ever easy?”. There always seems to be someone to pacify, a fire to extinguish or a tetchy email to respond to. I joked that it’s because we are dealing with “people”. As long as we have people in the mix (coupled with deadlines and long hours), stress will follow closely behind.
As long as we have people in the mix (coupled with deadlines and long hours), stress will follow closely behind. – Sarah Ritchie
Of course, a lot depends on our personalities as to how we handle the stress. Some of us will explode (with or without expletives), and some will internalise (waiting for our bodies to tell us enough is enough). However you tend to deal with the “slings and arrows” of our industry, here are some tips that may help you the next time someone pushes your stress-button:
- Ensure your priorities are in order. Planning ahead of time (e.g. with a to-do list) will help.
- Go for a walk (preferably in the fresh air), removing yourself from the epicentre.
- Do something different. Swap projects and return later to the one that is troubling you.
- Clean up your act. If working in a mess stresses you, take time to clean up your desk and your inbox.
- Have a coffee break. Caffeine won’t really help with anxiety, but walking to the coffee machine just might.
- Vent to someone. A problem shared may help you arrive at a better solution.
- Breathe deeply. Intentionally slow your breathing down to help you relax.
- Do not disturb. If you are pushed to breaking point, ignore emails and phone calls and put a big “do not disturb” sign on your desk.
- Eat and drink. Food in your stomach will go a long way to helping your head.
- Exercise. You can always release your stress on a punching bag or cross-trainer.
- Stay positive. Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t do.
- Stop procrastinating. Is there a task you really don’t want to do? The longer you leave it, the more stress you will feel. Do it… you’ll feel better.
- Change the system. Is your stress resulting from inefficient processes? Help yourself and be a change-maker.
There are many things we cannot control in our working lives, but the one thing we can control is ourselves. Bad behaviour or constant negativity is not acceptable, even when your colleagues understand why you are stressed. Emotions are contagious, so the better you are at managing your own stress, the more you’ll positively influence those around you, and the less other people’s stress will negatively affect you.
If all that doesn’t work, and if the stress is intense and long-term, you may have to seriously think about changing your job (or career). Your physical and mental health and wellbeing must always come first.
Let’s be stress-conquerors and work-thrive-ers. Positive energy is contagious too!
A modified version of this blog post appeared on the Design Assembly website | 9 December 2013.
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