For those who didn’t know, the first Wednesday of every November is Stress Awareness Day. (Don’t worry, I didn’t know this either! My coworker just told me this morning). I figured this week’s column would be an appropriate time to address stress, what it does to you and how to better manage it.
At On The Dot’s See It to Be It Success Summit last month, many women let us know that they’d like us to talk more about self-care while hustling. While it’s so important to address and uncover the many women doing incredible things in their careers, it’s equally as important to talk to women about when it’s time to slow down and listen to their minds and bodies.
So let’s talk about managing that work-related stress you claim to not find the time to manage. (PS. We don’t find time; we make it! So today, let’s help you make time to de-stress).
What Stress Can Do to the Body
Firstly, it’s important to note that there are two kinds of stress: healthy stress and unhealthy stress. Healthy stress is defined as being short-term and occurs when, say, you have a big project or deadline coming up. Once the day of your project passes, along with it passes your stress, and you feel fine again.
Unhealthy stress, on the other hand, is classified as more of a long-term condition, is likely due to an ongoing issue and and is not centered around one single event. It also comes with a range of symptoms that might take a toll on your mind and body, like chronic fatigue, irritability and insomnia.
A couple of months ago, I was diagnosed with a chronic pain condition called fibromyalgia, and it’s forced me to alter every single facet of my life. Professionally, I’ve been working remotely, but I’ve incorporated other pick-me-ups into my life, as well. While I’m no doctor, I’m currently experimenting with a new self-care regimen and later, I'll share with you all what’s been working well for my stress levels.
Healthy stress is a short-term condition and doesn't negatively affect your health, while unhealthy stress is a long-term condition and can cause health problems.
Stressed Employees are Less Productive
Unhealthy stress isn't good for employees or employers. According to a Forbes article titled "Workplace Stress Leads to Less Productive Employees" in which 22,347 employees across 12 countries were surveyed, one of the highest causes of stress was a "lack of work-life balance."
Moreover, the more stressed the employee, the less productive he or she was; over half of respondents who reported being very stressed also reported feeling disengaged, while the least stressed were more engaged. Highly stressed employees took, on average, 4.6 sick days annually, while not-so-stressed employees took 2.6 sick days.
What's the takeaway? While it's fine to be passionate about your tasks and put pressure on yourself to do your best, it's also pertinent to put your foot on the brakes or you'll burn out.
How to Manage Your Stress and Still Be Productive
Prioritize. This is number one on the list of stress management techniques. Prioritize your day and week by creating lists for yourself. I didn’t start making lists until I became employed at my most recent gig.
Sometimes, a task comes up that’s more important and timely than another task, so I’ll classify it as “high priority.” In order to avoid any unnecessary stress, I ask myself: “What needs to be done right now, and what can be held off until tomorrow?” “How can I arrange my day so I don’t drive myself crazy because I’m feeling frazzled?”
Prioritizing what needs to get done now versus what can get done later will dramatically reduce your stress levels. So will taking large projects and breaking them down into smaller, step-by-step tasks.
Practice mindfulness and meditation. Meditation and what’s called mindfulness-based stress reduction are proven to improve the psychological health of an employee's mental health. So make time to meditate, even if it’s just 10 minutes a day.
Some people prefer to meditate in the morning, some at night and some like to break up their day with a little meditation sesh. Play around with what works best for your mind and body (I suggest meditating when you feel like you’re at peak-stress level). You can even do it at your desk!
Be creative with how you use your talents and skills. If your job is so stressful and miserable that it’s taking a noticeable toll on your overall health, your best move is to find a way to use your talents and skills in a lower-stress setting.
While your mother, cousin, boyfriend and employer may all have different opinions of what you should do with your career and why you should do it, only you know what you and your body are capable of handling. Modify accordingly: If you love working with people, for example, but your sales job is financially unreliable and stressful, maybe you can work in recruiting, instead. If you love writing but your freelance writing gigs just aren’t paying the bills and are making you stressed, consider taking on a full-time editorial role at a large or financially stable company.
Trust me, no job is worth your mental and physical health, no matter how coveted the title or position. When your body is telling you to slow down, slow down, otherwise the stress will add up and get to a point where it feels unmanageable.
Take time for yourself, every single day. There’s a misconception that self-care is limited to the bounds of $100+ spa days, weekly acupuncture visits and vacations that break the bank. If you think of self-care in these terms, I can nearly guarantee you aren’t taking care of yourself as well as you could be.
Self-care doesn’t need to be super pricey to be effective. Don’t overthink it, ladies. Self-care is just that: taking care of yourself. I’d think of self-care less in terms of doing one grand thing once in a while, and more in terms of small things you can do for yourself every single day.
There are a bunch of things you can do to take care of yourself every day that don’t cost a thing, like venting to and spending more time with your family and friends, getting enough sleep, and indulging in hobbies and activities that make you feel good in your free time. The more consistent you are with doing things that make you feel good both mentally and physically, the less stressed you’ll feel.