Saturday, September 15, 2018

How To Deal With Stress From Work

According to Mayo Clinic, stress affects more than you think. 

It most commonly affects your physical body through headaches, fatigue, tension and pain in your muscles, inability to fall or stay asleep, low libido, chest pain and an upset stomach. 

It affects your emotional state by creating feelings of anxiety, lack of motivation and willpower, inability to focus, restlessness, feeling overwhelmed to the point of not being able to cope with simple tasks, anger or frustration, sadness and depression. 

According to them, stress also causes undesirable behaviors such as eating too much or too little, a tendency to seek out and partake in addictive behaviors like alcohol, smoking and drugs, anger outbursts, withdrawal from social occasions like family gatherings and exercising less often.

As you can see, stress wreaks havoc on your body. Most American adults name work as the number cause of day-to-day mental stress. So what are the best ways to reduce or deal with stress from work? 

7 Ways to reduce and deal with stress from work

1) Stay away from addictive substances

Skills You Need lists avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine as their number one way of dealing with stress. Ironically, stress increases your urge to do these things as your mind tries to find an escape from stress. These substances, in turn, increase stress levels within the brain - leading to a greater need to escape stress and therefore a greater tendency to use these substances. All of these substances make the brain feel good as they cross they blood-brain barrier and enter the brain; but leave it feeling worse off when they are eliminated. It is this drop to normal levels, or withdrawal period, which increases the amount of stress that you experience. 

Should you cut out caffeine completely? I would suggest reducing your intake and avoiding it every few days to lower the risk of dependency; instead of drinking multiple cups throughout the day. We know that coffee and tea have health benefits of their own, but too much caffeine can put your brain on a roller-coaster ride that prevents it from maintaining its own equilibrium.

2) Exercise regularly

Wikihow lists exercise as their best method to reduce stress. Here are over 100 benefits of exercise, including the mental and emotional perks. Exercise reduces the burden of stress in two ways:

A) Exercise clears stress that already exists in the mind and body

When you stress, your body releases cortisol, a stress hormone. This hormone is used as a survival mechanism to protect us from death. It initiates our fight-or-flight response, and halts certain bodily processes in order to focus on others. It halts the healing, digestion, muscle growth and relaxation (sleep, happiness) functions while initiating immediate energy production and muscle contraction so that we can get away from the perceived danger as quick as possible. In the wild, this was imperative in making sure that we survived any dangers might that came our way. In today's life, our bodies secrete cortisol whenever we stress - even though there is no physical danger to escape. Our bodies deplete cortisol levels when we exercise. This basically tells our bodies that the danger is over and that it can go back to its normal processes. 

Exercise increases blood flow to the muscles and brain, allowing for negative chemicals like cortisol to be released and enabling muscles to relax after the physical activity. The mental break (or positive distraction) lets the brain process thoughts in a positive manner, so that it can come to terms with the mental stresses placed on it. This is the reason why many people have their most creative thoughts during the shower: increased blood flow and positive distraction. I get most of my great ideas while working out in the gym.

B) Exercises strengthens the brain against future stress

As discussed in the 'over 100 benefits of exercise' link above, exercise strengthens mental function and emotional processing. Did you know that exercise increases the amounts of connective neurons in the brain? This means that cognitive function increases, elevating the amount of stress that the brain can take before it starts to feel overwhelmed. The body will also be more efficient at eliminating negative chemicals and delivering precious nutrients that speed up mental recovery - even during stressful work. 

3) Identify and eliminate unnecessary stresses

Help Guide explains that identifying individual stresses and dealing with each one individually is a very effective coping mechanism. Once you have identified your top stresses, you can separate them into different categories:

Stresses that you can eliminate

This can include people that you don't need to deal with, friends that add pressure instead of relief, tasks that don't add any value and thought patterns that make you feel worse.

Stresses that you can minimize

These stresses include tasks that you need to do but can do in a less stressful manner, like finding better ways to deal with the people that you need to interactive with and choosing to deal with one stressful situation at a time to minimize the harmful effects on your mental state.

Help Guide also recommends maintaining a stress diary where you record the different stresses you experience - along with the cause of the stressful situation, how it made you feel, what you can do better in response next time, what you did to feel better afterwards and what you can do to improve the entire situation in the future. Keeping a stress diary can be very effective at showing you how much power you actually have to reduce overall stress.

4) Prioritize better sleep

The problem with too much stress is the fact that it puts you in fight-or-flight mode, blocking your ability to relax and get restorative sleep. This very sleep is important for your brain to recover, process its internal functions, and deal with the thoughts and emotions that you experienced. It allows your mind to grow to a point where you experience less stress in the same situation.

As discussed earlier, exercise takes your body out of the fight-or-flight mode, allowing your brain and body to relax and start the recovery process. Getting quality sleep lists great ways to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. These tips include following the same routine every night. This teaches your brain when it needs to be active and when it needs to shut down. This routine should involve cutting out screens near bed time, doing something relaxing like reading a book and dimming the lights before you hit the pillow. Bright lights from computers, televisions and phone screens trick our subconscious minds into thinking that it is still early in the day and that we need to be awake. Doing a relaxing activity (like reading: my favorite) allows the brains to wonder away from its current stresses. The above article also discusses breathing techniques and before-bed thought processes that are very helpful in getting high quality sleep.

5) Do something that you enjoy - regularly

I cannot emphasize how important this step is. When you do something that stresses you out, your brain releases a chemical called cortisol. When you do something that you enjoy, your brain releases feel-good hormones like dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. 

Dopamine is the brain's pleasure and reward chemical, released when we do things like listen to music or create something artistic. Our brains are better able to deal with chemicals like cortisol when it is balanced out with the release of other chemicals like dopamine. Your brain will chase negative behaviors like smoking, alcohol consumption and drugs in its pursuit for a good dopamine release to balance out stress. By doing something that you enjoy regularly, you give your brain what it needs to deal with the negative effects of stress.

Low levels of serotonin are linked to depression, inability to sleep and an increased negative response to mental stress. Physical activity, sunlight and positive social interaction cause the release of serotonin.

Endorphins are also released during exercise. Your body uses this hormone to mask pain and make you feel good through the stimulation of dopamine and serotonin production. 

6) Take a mental break

This might sound similar to the point above, but here I am referring to what you do during a stressful situation. If your work is computer-oriented, get into the habit of looking away from your computer every few minutes to readjust your eyes. I know of some people who drink lots of water during work so that they get up and use the bathroom regularly. This gives you a short mental break and the physical movement that a short, regular walk gives your body will improve the amount of work that you can do throughout the day.

You can relate mental work to a physical weight training session at the gym. A muscle can do 3 sets of 12 reps (36 reps in total), but won't be able to do all of this in one go. Your brain works very similarly. By taking small, frequent mental breaks inbetween work, your brain will be able to do a lot more work in a single day. 

Think of ways to break up your work load in productive ways. For example, an office worker might break up the bulk of his data-capturing work by phoning a client every 30 minutes - instead of rushing though all the calls in the morning and spending the rest of the day trying to get through a mountain-load of screen-time.

7) Positive psychology

This is my favorite of all the points: Tell yourself that you actually enjoy your work. You don't have to believe it. Just keep telling yourself this regularly. While working on your computer, think to yourself, 'Wow I am actually having fun!'

Your brain recognizes the information that it receives the most often as truth. I lied to myself and told myself how much I enjoyed the remedial tasks that sucked the life out of me. I didn't believe it, but I kept thinking those thoughts and surprisingly, the first day I did this had been more productive than any other day in the previous month.

When your brain perceives an activity as enjoyable, it will dedicate more mental resources to that activity. Think about how you can spend hours on social media without mental strain but struggle to go through your emails at work, or how you can watch TV for a lot longer than you can focus in a business meeting - Same amount of mental work, but different mental perspective.

When you find pleasure in an activity, your brain won't release cortisol because it doesn't sense any danger. It might even start releasing the feel-good hormones that we discussed in point 5 instead! As the days rolled on, the benefits of this method increased. I started to feel like I actually enjoyed those activities and, believe it or not, I started looking forward to doing them.

At first, I knew that I was lying to myself, but that didn't stop me from telling myself what I wanted to believe. I have a good imagination, so it was easy for me to imagine finding satisfaction in something that I didn't. Do this often enough, and your mind will follow suit.

On this point, I would like to offer you a challenge: Find an activity that you hate doing the most (but have to do) and tell yourself how you enjoy it every time that you do that activity. Do this for one week and let me know in the comments if it hasn't worked (I know that it will).

Figure out how you want to feel about an activity and blatantly lie to yourself about how you feel about it. Do this often enough, and it will become your new truth.

Here's to hoping that this improves someone's mental health. STAY STRONG!

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1 comment:

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    . Finally
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