While experiencing some stress can be useful at work, helping motivate us to meet deadlines or performance goals, too much can negatively impact our wellbeing and our productivity. Here are three ways to strengthen your resilience to stress.

Spot the signs

If you find yourself feeling stressed, ask yourself whether the stress is helpful right now (if it is, carry on), or making your day harder.

While each of us experiences stress differently, there are some common signs to watch for.

  • Physical – body tension, aches and pains, breathlessness or agitation.
  • Emotional – feeling overwhelmed, anxious or irritable.
  • Cognitive – memory and concentration difficulties, having trouble seeing the big picture (tunnel vision).
  • Behaviour – finding it hard to settle and focus, increasing caffeine and/or sugar, being less efficient with tasks.

You probably know your own stress signals, but if not, it can be helpful to track them. Next time you notice a surge of adrenalin or that you are feeling stressed, see if you can spot your personal signs.

Action recovery

Consistent scientific research has shown we perform best and maintain stronger well-being when we experience stress or challenge for specific periods of time, then balance this effort with recovery (when we purposefully recharge our mental and physical batteries). Oscillating between periods of challenge and periods of recovery is ideal, with planned and regular recovery as optimum.

Here are some good recovery strategies to try.

  • Slow down your breathing – check you are breathing from your diaphragm not your chest and take slow breaths for a few minutes. This helps to flip your body and mind in a calm state.
  • Unplug – take a “no technology” break – even five minutes is useful.
  • Deliberately move more slowly – notice the urge to rush and resist it. 
  • Do something pleasurable – try a five-minute quiz, chat to a colleague you like, or plan something you enjoy for actioning later.

Remember, if you feel like you are too busy to take a recovery break, it’s a sign you need one.

Prioritise wellbeing habits

Psychological science tells us to set up and practice wellbeing habits rather than set goals – established habits require less mental effort and energy. Use your daily routines, and reward your wellbeing efforts to strengthen habits and make them stick. There are a number of things you can aim to do every day to enhance your wellbeing.

  • Sleep well – try relaxation exercises or a meditation app, herbal teas and light reading to wind down ready for a restorative sleep, and have a consistent bedtime routine (this tells your brain it’s sleep time).
  • Eat well – choose the most nutritious foods you can as often as you can. Carry plenty of high nutrient, energy-enhancing snacks with you and stay away from the processed energy sapping choices.
  • Move more – be as active as you can, as often as you can. Meet friends for a walk, swim, yoga or dance class. Ask colleagues to join you for fresh air breaks, walking meetings or stair challenges.
  • Connect with people who are important to you – talk, share experiences, offer support and ask for help when needed.
  • Increase your experiences of positive emotion. Think of, or do, something that helps you feel grateful, content, hopeful or satisfied. These experiences help to buffer you when you are under stress.

Jacqui Maguire is a Registered Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director of Umbrella. Gaynor Parkin is a Registered Clinical Psychologist and founder and CEO of Umbrella.

Find out more

Umbrella provides corporate wellbeing services with clinical psychologists committed to making a positive difference in the workplace by using specialist skills to enhance wellbeing alongside high performance. Find out more at umbrella.org.nz or call Rebecca Dixon on 0800 643 000.

This article was originally published in the March 2018 edition of EG