According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) “stress accounted for 37% of all work related ill health cases” in 2015/16. That’s a significant statistic and a sobering reminder that avoidance of or poor management of stress can actually exacerbate health issues which isn’t good for the individual, their colleagues or the business.
Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the workplace has a tendency to test limits, and it’s often the circumstantial context that can bring out the worst in us. When the the day’s responsibilities begin, this is when fears – many of which are irrational or exaggerated – begin to creep into our minds. This can often lead to a downward spiral of anxiety, demotivation and activity, which can escalate throughout the day.
Consequently this creates more anxiety, as when we reflect back on our day we realise we haven’t been as productive as we wanted and needed to be. Plus, the work we haven’t progressed today, is still there for us to do tomorrow along with everything else we haven’t done and anything that will come in overnight.
I am sure this is a pattern that is familiar to many of us, but what’s the best way to conquer this kind of stress? How can we build resilience and execute tasks more efficiently and reduce anxiety in the process?
In short, the answer lies in our ability to manage disappointment and find meaning in the routine commitments of an ordinary day. The ancient alchemists believed they could create gold from crude materials in certain optimised conditions. Similarly, an “alchemy of resilience” is a method of optimising performance, creating golden moments in the most hostile or stress-inducing environments. The following tips are an “alchemical” formula designed to help boost your resolve and facilitate a thriving work ecosystem.
- Start the Day with a Meditation
Meditating is one of the best ways to anticipate and address stress factors, and its benefits have been praised by philosophers for millennia. The Roman Stoic philosopher and emperor Marcus Aurelius said that everyone should wake up in the morning and recite a kind of mantra, reminding themselves of the difficulties they are guaranteed to meet as the day runs its course. In the workplace, this kind of morning visualisation essentially helps one to do three things: foresee potential challenges and prepare strategically for them, set goals, and counteract negative thinking. It also helps us to approach the day from an anchored and calm standpoint.
- Prioritise E-mails.
Most of us, as Maura Thomas says in a Harvard Business Review article from 2015, have a “dysfunctional relationship with work email”. Here’s a tip to start tackling this troubling situation. Once you’ve opened your inbox, try not to get overwhelmed by the new messages. Breathe in, breathe out; scroll calmly and mindfully before choosing the most pertinent messages to answer. They are, after all, messages and messages should be responded to with accuracy, clarity, and sincerity. You can’t do this if you’re in a hurried or frenzied state. It’s important to resist the urge to respond too quickly so that you ‘get the job done’. Instead, take your time to think about your response. Resisting the urge to respond too quickly, not only helps the quality of your response, it will also help you to avoid the all too frequent trap of overcommitting in the heat of the moment or not asking the relevant questions and hence creating more work and hence, stress.
It is also important to set realistic boundaries between work and home life to avoid the habit of constantly ‘checking in’ after a certain hour. This checking behaviour can affect our ability to relax, connect with our loved ones, recharge and rest overnight, which is essential for our wellbeing and high performance.
- Tone Down or Turn off Social Media
It’s common knowledge that Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms can be addictive. Not only do they distract us, they also can make us depressed. For example, Psychology Today, Psych Central, and other publications have provided information from studies about the effects of excessive social media usage. When it comes to the workplace, social media can condition your mental “atmosphere”. Sensationalised stories or images are specifically designed to elicit passionate responses, and can easily direct your attention elsewhere, causing you to become unnecessarily distracted, preoccupied and agitated. This is precisely the kind of agitation that can stay with you throughout the day, accompany you on your way home, and resurface at the dining table during your personal time – quite often with negative consequences.
- Avoid Personal Conflict
This seems obvious, but the reality is that our lives are made up of relationships, and it’s almost impossible to spend several years at the same office without making acquaintances. Yet, as we’re all probably aware, the intimate workplace environment can also be a double-edged sword. Somewhere down the line, we’ll encounter colleagues who will get on our nerves, have a different working style and ethic to us and rub us up the wrong way. Because most companies like to foster a “team” community, it’s important that we don’t let our biases or prejudices cloud our judgement and disrupt our performance capacity. To do so, we need to rethink the way we categorise our “enemies”. Changing the language, giving those people who make us anxious alternative names, helps us to neutralise our personal aversions and improve our ability to work wholeheartedly. It also enables us to redefine the boundaries of conversation, and avoid the very common habit of generating office “factions”.
- Be Spontaneous
Sometimes levity is needed to refresh our state of mind. Routine work of any kind is inherently tiresome, which is why temporary entertainment can act as temporary therapy. Plus, occasional comedic indulgences can help build team camaraderie. Researchers at the Wharton School found that laughter in the workplace can enhance team cohesiveness and productivity. So, it’s worth considering ways in which you can bring some spontaneity and laughter into your working life. Not only will you benefit from the entertainment factor but taking a healthy control of your environment is also empowering and motivating, both of which help us build our resilience and reduce our stress.
I hope these “alchemical” tips will help you to prosper and avoid unnecessary negativity in the workplace. Alchemy, as the great psychologist Carl Jung believed, has always been about ‘’transformation’’ – I know from experience with my clients that having a healthy, positive outlook can transform the most taxing circumstantial aspects of the office dynamic.