Stress is everywhere and has become a normal, accepted part of modern life. It’s true that a degree of stress can aid us in getting stuff done and meeting deadlines. However sustained stress, the type that many of us experience today, is far from positive. It makes us less focused, less productive, and less connected. It sucks the joy out of our lives and is bad news for our health and relationships. Sound familiar? Here are three small but powerful ways you can take control and begin to regulate your stress levels:
1. Get comfortable saying ‘NO’
When you’re feeling burnt out and exhausted at the end of a stressful week, remembering about that social engagement on Friday evening can be the thing that tips you over the edge, especially if you’ve been day dreaming about ordering a Deliveroo and watching series in your pyjamas.
They say prevention is better than cure and this is definitely the case with stress. I am an avid user of Google Calendar for keeping tabs on my work and social commitments, as well as scheduling in time for wellbeing and personal development. If a new event or appointment arises, I’ll look at my calendar app and I’ll immediately know whether or not I should commit based on the response of my body. If there’s a tightening sensation in my stomach at the mere thought of it, then I know I’m at risk of overloading myself.
Start tuning in with yourself in this way and get comfortable saying no when you feel overwhelmed. I’m not talking about blowing off your best friend’s birthday or missing an important family gathering. This is about taking full responsibility for your self-care and managing your life so that stress doesn’t engulf you. It may feel awkward saying no to people, but nine times out of ten they will understand. If they don’t then that’s kinda tough - your wellbeing is the most important thing.
2. Switch off
PR and communications professionals are notoriously overworked. Whether you’re staying late at the office to work on a last minute pitch or following an international news story that’s blown up over the weekend, it’s likely you’ll be putting in more than your contracted hours.
This overworking trend is growing. The number of PR and communications professionals who work a 45-hour week has risen by 24% since 2016. It is increasingly common for senior management to work 55-60 hours a week and this group is more likely to have the additional pressure of juggling family responsibilities around their work. The very nature of working in media is also stressful. The news agenda is inherently negative and being exposed to it all day can at times lead to a warped sense that everything is falling apart and the world is about to implode.
To combat the effects of these unhealthy working habits it is essential to completely switch off for at least an hour or two every day. I would also recommend changing your phone settings to permanently turn off all unnecessary notifications. By turning on airplane mode and not checking email for the first and last hour of your day, you avoid the surge of stress hormones, and the many other unpleasant effects of your body’s fight-flight response, which are often activated when you see the number of unread emails in your inbox.
There are an endless number of beneficial things you can do instead - go for a 20-minute walk in nature, breathe deeply, go to a yoga class, or clock up another hour’s sleep so you that you get your full eight hours.
3. Practice self-acceptance
Much of the stress we experience is self-generated. Comparing our performance at work to our colleagues’ and constantly striving to achieve, do, or attain more in life are experiences we can all relate to. There is a misconception that giving your inner critic air time and being tough with yourself are prerequisites for success. The problem with this mindset is that it is nigh on impossible to satisfy the demands of your ego (which are, by definition, limitless). The feelings of inadequacy and failure that result are potent fuel for your stress levels.
The good news is that, with practice, we can re-train our brains to move from an overriding story of ‘not enough’ to one of self-acceptance. From this place of self-acceptance we are actually able to achieve so much more AND boost our sense of wellbeing. We feel strong and confident, rather than fearful, and we don’t berate ourselves for not getting to the zillionth thing on our to do list. Holiday Phillips is a meditation teacher with a focus on cultivating self-acceptance. Her free, guided meditations are just five minutes, perfect if you are time limited.