How to Build Resilience to Cope with Stress at Work


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Stress is now the main responsible for time off work with over 12 million working days lost in the U.K. in 2017 (HSE survey). Stress can also be a silent killer, causing life-threatening mental and physical health conditions. The pressure at work is undeniably generating stress and anxiety.

Employees have to fill those vacant positions and the workload becomes hardly bearable. Communication is also often patchy with ill-defined roles and sporadic feedback. Office workers might not be able to change their situation at work and are left with the prospect of working, working and working until they burn out. If you’re under pressure, like a friend of mine who was once a buzzing executive, you might end up off-work for months with depression.

Whatever your job, if you’re constantly tired, sleep poorly and become addicted to anything that makes you feel good temporarily, burn out isn’t far! However, there is hope. A change in your lifestyle and way of thinking can preserve your health and make you resilient to life challenges.

Today technology is available non-stop: you may bring work back home and to top it up, be addicted to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s time to disconnect from the virtual world and reconnect with the real YOU.

The problem is your life has been hijacked!

When your mind becomes overloaded with a huge amount of information that is often unhelpful to you, your ability to think for yourself is affected and you are even more vulnerable to external influences. As Eckhart Tolle puts it: “You live in your head”. That means you are here physically, but your mind is somewhere else. Reading his book “The Power of Now” changed my life. Before, I was sleep-walking my life and often stressed beyond the healthy level as I was without any perspective.

Tiredness and the feeling of being overwhelmed trigger the autopilots. They are automated programs in the unconscious mind. Psychologists call them cognitive distortions. Black and white thinking, generalisation, distortion and deletion are a few of them. There are also other programs in the form of beliefs that have been carved through repetition since an early age. All of these are the filters through which we see the world around us. The mind is busy with chatter: comparing, criticizing, judging… The mind is often cluttered with unhelpful thoughts that fuel stress and anxiety. It’s mindlessness!

Mindlessness makes a person react defensively to challenging situations, and daydreaming, alcohol and other unhealthy coping strategies are called upon. This creates stress and anxiety, accompanied by a loss of self-confidence and control.

People in this situation have difficulty in communicating their feelings and be assertive. Their perceived lack of personal power makes them avoid situations because it’s painful and they feel unworthy. They don’t know how to deal with challenges and feel trapped and powerless. It can be a vicious circle of feeling trapped without any personal choice and using quick-fix coping strategies to feel good. The problem is still there!

 How to Reclaim Your Life?

First, recognise and accept that you’re stressed and need help. It took me a long time to accept and change my habits. As I was avoiding reality, the problem was there knocking at the door louder and louder until I lost my savings through poor investments, in search of an escape to paradise. Recognise that your current situation harms you. It’s the cornerstone of mindfulness.

Problems in your personal life impact your professional life and you need to sort them out, to be able to build resilience at work. Reclaiming your life is a matter of getting back into control. Then you follow your agenda, not someone’s else. And if you can’t do that, you become assertive and confident enough to work out a compromise.

When you’re aware of your talents and the choices available, you can negotiate. In reality, there are fifty shades of grey, not black and white only. Why would you work extra hours unpaid if you can use your experience to apply for another job? How can you get your line managers to put themselves in your shoes? And can you do the same?

The rule is simple: as I said earlier, the more you are aware of your situation and in control of your personal life, the more resilient you will be at work. Here are a few tips to build up resilience:

Disconnect from Social Media and Connect face to face (Socialise) Anyone who is glued to their mobile doesn’t pay attention to what’s going on around them. They bump into strangers in the street and don’t see their friend next to them on the train. This is a missed opportunity to socialise and find moral support.

Social media is addictive. A good start to disconnect is to turn off updates and remove Apps from your phone. It has worked for me and others. The trivial news like ‘I bought a new TV’ and the negativity of frustrated Facebook friends became too much. I had to unplug!

Develop your creativity and problem-solving skills. How can you use your interests and experience to help others? What can you learn to improve your job prospects? Getting involved in helpful activities creates a sense of worthiness and boost the happy hormones in your body like serotonin. You feel good or at least better.

It’s also about exploring the world around you through new learning and experiences and be open to new opportunities. A curious and inquisitive mind helps you to see beyond the daily routine and meet new people. What about trying the local salsa class or enrolling on a language course?

Practice Mindfulness and learn Personal development tips to update your beliefs and way of thinking. Reading articles and books on personal development help us recognise and understand our limitations. There are limiting beliefs that are opinions, not facts and are taken as the hard truth. One well-known belief is ‘money is the ‘root of evil’. If unconsciously you dislike money or think you don’t deserve it, you shouldn’t expect financial wealth in your life. Your beliefs powerfully shape your life and you need to question them.

The practice of mindfulness progressively cuts off the chatter in your mind. The energy that was wasted in unhelpful thinking is redirected to your focus point. Try this: sit upright for 10 or 15 minutes every day and observe your thoughts and feelings without any judgement, acknowledge and let them go. Scan your body from head to toes. How does it feel? Notice that the flow of thoughts is cut off when you focus. You create peace in your mind and space for new helpful thoughts.

Join a walking group to explore nature and build friendships. It’s about slowing down and socialising. We define ourselves and grow through real relationships. The Meetup site hosts many walking groups in London and outside. Social walks are a great way to reconnect. I discovered historical places and nature reserves and made new friends since I joined Meetup groups. I even set up one:

We have seen that when you’re tired, your energy levels are low and your mind relies on autopilots, subconscious programs (beliefs, habits, black and white thinking…) that aim at keeping you ‘safe’ in what you know. Most of these programs are outdated and you need to be able to update your thinking in order to adapt and show resilience.

The trouble is a hectic lifestyle with internet access round the clock doesn’t allow you to think much. As a result, you live someone’s else life and not yours. This disconnection creates stress, anxiety and depression.

In order to build resilience at work and in life, you need to reconnect with who you are. Take a break from the virtual world, a crowded but lonely place to socialise. It’s so comforting to meet people face to face from time to time. You can’t hug online, and you miss out on support.

Please note, this article doesn’t provide medical advice. You should seek qualified help if you suffer from severe anxiety.

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(photo: iStockPhoto/Gilaxia 2012)

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