We all know that stress in the workplace is rampant. It is estimated that stress is costing the US economy over $300 billion a year. And yet, a tiny bit of stress is good for you, helping you create new neurons for quicker learning. It's the big stress that people talk about, that creates the numerous fan-pages and online forums and groups. And some of this stress stems from the workplace.
I can understand this, having been in work for over 10 years. I've had my fair share of targets to reach, emails that haven’t been opened, and a few meetings with colleagues, who wonderfully show their displeasure because a certain task wasn't performed. The thing is, if you really want to beat stress, you need to understand how it really works, and then find psychological techniques to try to combat it with ease…
Or that's what I thought. So confident was I in this theory, that I was even going to write an ebook about it. Then a recent event got me thinking. Reducing stress in an average workplace is pretty simple to do. But what about an intense workplace? One where you are thinking all the time, one where your thoughts have to be on the goal at hand, or the task to be completed. Bearing in mind, one of the best ways of reducing stress is by being in the present moment. But in the case of a busy workplace, this simply doesn't work.
Trust me, I've tried this. It's not so bad when the targets are within reach, or you have a bit of time on your hands. You can afford to take a bit of time, and keep stress to a minimum. I'm talking about when the going gets really tough, like every second (literally) counts. When you are looking at the clock slightly nervously, knowing that even a slight distraction is going to cost you valuable time. That place has no place for meditation. It has no place for any psychological tactics. It has no place for any comebacks. You are there, working your butt off, making damn sure that the task is completed on time.
So, is it really an impossible situation then? No I don't think so…there are ways you can lessen the damage, and make your self still relatively sane in this busy world. But cast away any meditative ideas to one side, they are simply not going to work (If they are working for you, than your workplace isn't busy enough to qualify for this article, sorry;-). Instead, what I recently discovered is that using some good ol' fashioned mental discipline actually went a long way, and your posture does actually help.
OK, I lied, sorry…some psychological techniques can work, but not that many as you'll discover. And besides like I said, every second counts, so you really don't have time to act out any techniques. You really have about a few seconds at best (and that's if you're lucky!) so really, the technique has to be very quick to work. And what I've found is that you also have to remember to use them…in other words, you can get so knee-deep in a task to complete, that you'll forget what to actually do when you are completely stressed out (and when I mean stressed out, I really mean hating anyone who speaks to you, because their distraction, although normally a nice one, is a huge inconvenience; or hitting the keyboard in frustration because you're making loads of spelling mistakes and that is also costing you time). So the trick is to remember that you do have a few tips on your side, and then to actually use them for them to work.
Here is a few techniques that I recently found worked quite well. I say quite well, because I still got a bit stressed (I would be lying if I said I didn't). But I was observing my bodies reaction quickly, and I was observing how my mind raced. Bear in mind, that I do practice mindfulness meditation sometimes, so I'm aware on how to observe your mind. But trust me, mindfulness meditation (or the ability to be in the present moment) is absolutely useless in the intense workplace. The thing is, for you to practice mindfulness you have to wait a least a couple of minutes, or be quite passive in your mentality. Put simply, you have to be in a relaxed state of mind. When you are really busy or super stressed, that is the last thing on your mind. Your mind goes essentially to being relaxed and passive, to being hyper-focused and aggressive. It's simply the wrong frame of mind to be using. For one to go from an aggressive mindset to a passive, relaxed mindset, you have to find a way initially to calm down…and that is something you cannot do in a super busy environment!
One thing I actually realized is that deep breathing helps you focus fairly easily. Scientific studies have shown many health benefits of deep breathing, and how it not only affects your body but also you mind (bearing also in mind that the body and mind are linked). So when you can remember, try to breath consciously through you stomach area, or at least breath feeling your stomach pulsating outwards and inwards. That should at least give you a tiny bit of mental clarity in order for you to keep your sanity and emotions in check.
I remember when I was super stressed in a busy environment, I got emotional very quickly. You have to be careful because you can easily build up resentment and bitterness. Why? When you are super stressed, you automatically feel like everyone should be busy as well (or maybe it's just me…) And of course when you are super focused, you get a heightened sense of attentiveness and alertness. Put simply, even though you are trying to focus with all of your might, you can still perceive, quite accurately, what other people are doing. This can be really frustrating, especially if you get distracted quite easily (like I do). You're in this aggressive, hyper-focused mindset, and it seems everybody else is having it easy. Well easier than you, anyway!
This is where bitterness and resentment comes in, and what deep breathing can help control. It isn't so much that everybody else is having it easy, it's because you think they are. Your perception filter of your mind has been slightly altered, and deep breathing helps you keep this in check. I found that when I was deep breathing (when I finally remembered, that is) my emotions of anger and hidden resentment soon reduced in intensity. I was able to retain my focus and keep my emotions under control (that is one of the best techniques, incidentally, for any panic attack sufferer, or someone who is emotionally upset, and has been extensively used to treat such emotional cases). This naturally reduced my stressed. It didn't go away, just reduced it enough for me to carry on working.
One thing I realized, when I was quickly observing my own mind, was the ability for my EGO to think of melodramatic situations. I mean, maybe it wanted to relax or maybe it needed a timeout to play, but I found the resentment began to grow, and then a melodramatic situation would then play out in my mind. This of course, lost me time, and as I was trying to be hyper-focused, created an emotional tug-of-war.
This would lead me to create mistakes, due to lack of attentiveness. I realized that when I was hyper-focused, my mistakes were few and far between, but the second a melodramatic situation crept into my head, or my mind wandered into daydreaming or I began to fantasize, I lost track of what I was doing, and my mistakes quickly returned. This would actually end up with me being even more frustrated. So the trick was to find a way to keep deep breathing. This can be hard to remember at times, as when you are stressed you automatically go into shallow breathing, due to the body’s natural fight-or-flight response kicking in.
One thing I also found when I was hyper-focused was a calm, gentle loving feeling from my Heart Chakra. I suspect my main brainwave state was Gamma waves. Gamma waves is a brainwave state above 40 Hz, with Super Gamma around 100 Hz. This is due to intense focus and complete attention, amongst other things and people have reported a feeling of love coming out of there body, as well as improved cognitive motoring skills (having had a mild motor dysfunction when I was a kid, I can testify that listening to online Gamma waves while working has helped me to speak more clearly, and keep me super focused).
My Heart Chakra would begin to open, and I could feel a bit of love from it. For those of you who don't know, you body is made up of non-physical vortices between your physical body, and your non-physical body. Your Heart Chakra is positioned outside of your heart, and is your main connection to the spiritual world and your soul. I suspected that my brainwave state was emitting 40 Hz (or above), as I would be hyper- focused and primarily thinking using the left-hemisphere of my brain. I'm normally a right-hemisphere type of guy (being imaginative and creative as I am) so any intense focus would automatically put me in left-brain mode, and would automatically be a big deal for me.
Why? Because it's not my natural state, and it would be outside my comfort zone…a recipe for stress. You could argue that eventually, we would be using both hemispheres of our brain at full capacity, and there is also rumors circling in spiritual circles that the two sides of the brain will eventually merge (but that is for another day…and another article;-).
This is one that does require a little set up, but I found proved really effective in helping you control your emotions, being really focused, and also to have a burst of increased energy…3 for the price of 1! It does require you to have brought the Physiology Of Excellence DVD, or knowing a tiny bit of NLP and be familiar with mental/emotional triggers. I've had the DVD for a few years and watched it a few months back. It features Dr Harlan Kilstein, and shows a case study of him talking with one of his students about overcoming their personal problem, using a specific NLP technique. NLP is a very good way of understanding how the body and mind can co-operate and how you can use the simple act of just changing your posture so that you can be in control of your emotions, and be more confident in your ability, the latter being extremely useful for anyone who suffers from OCD, paranoia, or an anxiety condition. In fact, I believe I read somewhere that there have been tests on how just the very act of your posture can actually help change you inner self talk.
So this all makes sense that by saying a verbal command in your mind, and changing your posture, you can automatically feel more powerful in any given situation. While the situation may not of changed, your inner dialogue and your body would've, and this will be vital in combating your nerves and finishing your task in record time. I remember when I first watched the DVD before Christmas I knew I had a lot of work to do the next day, so I watched the DVD and did the mental anchors (The DVD isn't long, around 45 minutes or so). I have OCD when it comes to locking up my doors, turning the lights of etc, so it made sense for me to try this form of NLP out. While it didn't necessarily fully eliminate the OCD, it did make me super confident!
Going to work the following day, I tried to do the mental triggers in my mind, and completed more tasks than ever before. I couldn't believe it! So it was well worth the investment, and I have since used this technique multiple times over the months, especially when it gets busy. When you have a lot of tasks to do in only a short amount of hours, a quick burst of energy, mental clarity and the feeling like you are the most powerful being in the world, goes a long way in helping you reach your corporate goals. And you actually feel good at the same time, which reduces stress dramatically. I will say, to be really brutally honest, that you have to keep working at the mental triggers most of the day, to get the most out of it. You can’t, for example, use it once and think it will work for the rest of the day. You've got to keep saying the mental trigger a few times during the hours for you to get the best (at least, for me, anyway).
The Physiology Of Excellence DVD is an excellent resource, or you can alternatively go to your local library and read about how your body language and physiology helps with your thought patterns, and put it to the test. This will be helpful in reducing future stressed out scenarios, not confined purely to work, but also to your personal and social life as well.
Of course, some people can say that if you were to manage your time effectively, you wouldn't find yourself in these situations to begin with. I must confess, I don't agree with this, as work and family situations can change very quickly and out of nowhere, you can be knee-deep in something which was fine about 5 minutes ago. The average working day can change quite dramatically, especially in regards to workload, and families can suddenly have an argument, the repercussions can be felt for many hours afterwards, completely changing the family schedule for the day, if not the week. While it is nice to think that by going to bed on time (which is vital for any of the above to work) and having a diary will be the ultimate solution, it is naive to think that this alone will get you out of trouble all of the time.
The truth be told, I very rarely keep a dairy schedule, business, personal or otherwise. The reason being that a schedule can easily change, and if you can't keep to all of the commitments (or at least some of it), you'll only feel bad about it afterwords. I do keep a general guide of how many hours I want to work and when to have off, but I try to keep it very general so if there are any changes it won't make the day too bad for productivity reasons. That way, I can still be productive with my work yet be flexible enough such the situation changes.
I thought I'll include this last, and most of this has already been insinuated or mentioned in the above paragraphs, but just thinking of positive thoughts (when your mind does invariably wonder, as it probably will do from time to time) is crucial in getting your head out of the super-stress zone. Emotional and mental discipline to one side, it's a good tactic to use during the day anyway, but I have found that I'm at my most stressed out self when I think I'm going to fail, or there will be a disastrous consequence to my actions (neither any, to date, have occurred). I firmly believe that if you stop thinking of the worst case scenario, and see the stressed-inducing event as a refreshing challenge instead, your stress would automatically be reduced, and significantly so. I haven’t had too much time to prove this theory, but as I'm writing this, I will be consciously thinking of it and seeing what the results lead to.
This, of course, would mean that you have to take your personal history out of the equation and change you perspective. Being mindful during your break-time can be a good way to do this, as only thinking one day at a time (I used to think a few months at a time, but mindfulness has thankfully stopped that). You couldn't do this, for example, if you've been in a job for a long time, and you're unwilling to change your perspective. You subconscious will most likely throw up images of past failures, making your job even more stress inducing.
Truth be told, in my years as an adult, the worst case scenario very rarely occurs. And when it does, it's not that bad and you do find coping mechanisms to overcome it. I've recorded that in my own life, 95% of things that I worry about, never come to pass. And that's a good thing, because you can use this law of average to help reduce stress at a moments notice (or at least try to).
So thinking that it’s not the worst thing in the world if a task isn't completed on time, will go a long way for your own peace of mind. Some people could argue that it does depend on the type of scenario or job/career that you have. While I'll admit that for nurses and doctors (or anybody in the medical or fire profession, like a fire attendant) this may hold true, for most of us the, ‘worst case scenario' road does more harm than good, and is never beneficial to any companies end goal.
Being super-stressed is never nice, but there are ways you can turn it on it's head, or at least give you mental breathing room so you don't go mentally insane. Try the above techniques, and see for yourself the impact it can have on your professional and personal life.