For as long as I can remember, I battled stress and anxiety. Sure, I could easily blame my pretty crazy childhood which was full of stressful situations, but that’s just really an excuse. The fault really lies in my inability to seek solutions to my stress. I just always accepted it as a part of life and especially business and never really worked at managing it. I saw it as just part of the “job”.
The clenched jaw. The rapid heart beat. The sweat. The headaches. The nausea.
When I initially entered the workforce in my early 20s, I learned how to use my stress to build a successful business. My stress propelled me to work harder, achieve more, be fearless (fake) and to turn my challenges into personal missions of redemption. And it worked. But I was miserable inside. I was choking on my own stress.
As well as my career was going, I never did come to grips with my stress. I would be stressed literally 24/7. Anxious all the time. Constantly playing negative scenarios out in my head over and over again. After twenty-five plus years of living like this, I finally had enough and decided to find solutions to overcome my stress.
One of the really important, yet obvious discoveries about stress is that it’s ALL in our head. The type of stress I am referring to isn’t physical (although many people work in physically stressful jobs), it’s mental and therefore controlling your thoughts is the only way to overcome stress. Changing your environment, your job or your career doesn’t actually solve stress, it only prolongs the cycle. It will definitely return at some point unless you kill it at the source…your thoughts and the narratives you build inside.
I eventually found the solution — for me, in Buddhism, yoga, mindfulness and meditation. As a result, I can honestly say that it’s the most stress-free period in my fifty-two years on this planet. And I am living this way while running a growing start-up which is just about one of the most stressful environments you can imagine, full of tremendous uncertainty and pressure on a daily basis. And now that I have developed coping tools, I can take on these challenges while keeping my insides calm and stress-free.
Now that I have found the keys to conquering my own stress, I see more clearly how virtually everyone I know is stressed at work. I can see it on their faces, in the way they breathe, in their tone and yes, even in their emails. I guess when you are in it, it feels normal since everyone is acting and reacting like you. When you’re not in it, it’s really quite shocking, and scary.
I am now on a personal mission to change this and help anyone I can who are in a similar position as I was. It’s one of the main reasons I write this blog actually. To share my journey of overcoming stress and to hopefully help others seeking solutions to overcome theirs. And along the way, on my own journey, I have come to understand this really important truth…
Besides the obvious impact on your health, stress can ruin your relationships with loved ones, friends and actually hurt your career (although that is probably the least important reason). And it just leads to a really hard, unfulfilling way to live every single day with too many wasted and lost moments not enjoying this precious, short journey we have here on Earth.
So, here are the five ways to help combat your stress in the workplace. I use them every single day, over and over again. After all, you can’t control the situations around you, but you can control how you react to those situations. And if you practice these five techniques over and over again, eventually they will become your natural reaction to situations that would normally cause you to be stressed.
1. Breathing. Simply the most important thing you can do when you feel stress coming on (accelerating heart beat, rising body heat, negative thoughts, etc..) is to focus on your breath. There are many breathing techniques you can eventually explore but the simplest is to just be aware that you have probably shortened your breath when your stress arrived and now you need to get control over it. Immediately start taking deep breaths. Feel them in your chest. Count four seconds in and four seconds out. Repeat this for a minute or so and then see the impact it has on calming your nerves. Throughout the day be aware of your breathing. It is more important than you realize to keep calm and carry on:). Here is a good read on breathing and stress.
2. Change your narrative. I have learned the power that your internal narrative has on your life. What you think, you attract. What you obsess about, becomes reality. So in stressful situations, don’t focus on the negative. Build a different narrative like “this will be a growth opportunity” or “there is a lesson or bigger opportunity in this situation” or simply “I am sure there is a good reason why this is happening and I trust the situation will work out for the best.” A good read on the power of positive thinking.
3. Move. Exercise is proven to have a powerful impact on how the brain operates. When you find yourself stressed, go for a walk. Get up and move. While not everyone has the opportunity to simply get out from their desk and go for a long walk, everyone can find a way to move whether it’s before work, during work, or after work. Exercise in any form is key to battling stress. Read more about how exercise is key to reducing stress.
4. Empathy. As a practicing Buddhist, one of the core teachings we learn about is how to have empathy towards every living thing. And the core teachings of Buddhism can be a really useful way to help alleviate stress in the workplace. Buddhism teaches us to feel compassion for everyone, especially those that may be unkind to us. We see their own struggles as the reason why they may be causing others harm. And when you realize it isn’t you, you don’t take their actions personally or give it power and you find sympathy instead. Very powerful tool to default to while in potentially confrontational situations with people at work. See their struggles and therefore you will turn them into an ally as opposed to an enemy. Buddhism is a wonderful practice for learning to be empathetic towards everyone in your life.
5. Mindfulness. Perhaps no other tactic works better as a stress relief for me than my mindfulness practice. It’s the ability to focus on the moment at hand rather than dwell on the past or the future. So much of our stress at work is us playing movies out in our head that actually never materialize. We worry. We think of the worst case scenario. We obsess about the past or future. Mindfulness returns us to the present with an absolute focus on what we are doing and experiencing at that very moment. Learn more about mindfulness here.
As you can hopefully see, most of these techniques are quite simple and don’t require you to do too much. They don’t cost any money and don’t require much time either. They are all about the thoughts in your head and simple techniques involving your breathing and your physical activities. And once you get this and get control over them, you will undoubtedly see your stress level drastically reduce.
And so next time, when faced with challenging situations at work, you will understand how to better cope by simply following these great words of advice…