By Devashish Chakravarty
The tragic death of Cafe Coffee Day Founder V.G. Siddhartha highlights work pressures and stresses that lead to an extreme outcome. Not just entrepreneurs, but professionals of all kinds experience work-related anxiety and often suffer alone.
Studies have shown 50- 80% of employees in India experience stress at work while a British study reported that three out of four employees felt overwhelmed and unable to cope at least once in the previous year. Are you suffering too? What you feel is real, but you also have the power to alleviate your suffering. Here’s how.
The three major causes of stress are work, money and family. Others are changes in personal circumstances and societal factors. What begins as work related anxiety leads to stress and depression if not tackled early. Fear of losing a job or source of income, overtime, impossible targets and deadlines, relationship with bosses and peers, long commutes, and lack of a family support system are some of the reasons that could be causing your anxiety.
Do you feel constantly irritable, anxious, sad, sleepless or demotivated? Do you regularly experience backaches, headaches, fatigue, clenched muscles, increased blood pressure, upset digestion, chest pain or breathing trouble? Do you have trouble concentrating or find yourself procrastinating? One or more of these symptoms recurring often indicates that your stress level is going beyond your control and you need to take corrective action immediately.
Your first step is to seek out positive relationships in your circle of friends, family or colleagues who can provide a safe non-judgmental listening. Verbalising your feelings reduces anxiety and, in some cases, clears your mind. Secondly, sharing your challenges permits your support system to keep you grounded by intervening and steering you away from a harmful mindset.
To create and maintain such positive relationships, make human connections a priority. Block time regularly to engage with people at work and life and encourage sharing of vulnerabilities and meaningful experiences. Consider professional counselling to deal with clinical depression and anxiety related medical conditions.
Resilience is your capacity to recover from difficulties. Resilience increases when you take care of your body and mind. The three big factors are food, sleep and exercise, in that order. Eating good food at the right time instantly reduces your stress.
Binge eating of sugary or fried foods makes you lethargic and less inclined to take positive action. Get 7-8 hours of sleep daily. Exercise to boost energy reserves and mood. Take a brisk walk at lunchtime or on your commute. Take a water break often, do deepbreathing exercises and spend a few minutes stretching when you reach home.
- Set your routine and calendar
One of your most fundamental needs is to have a sense of control. To regain that, establish a routine for your workday. Get up early to have some personal time for exercise, breakfast and reflection. Leave home and work at the same time daily and take regular breaks. To succeed in your routine, refuse to overcommit yourself and set boundaries between your work and personal time. Let go if following the routine itself becomes a stressful obsession.
After you have your calendar going, deal with individual projects or tasks in three steps. First, prioritise your list and ignore or delegate the rest while you focus on the most important. Break large stressful projects into digestible baby steps that empower you with a sense of progress. Finally, chalcompromise on perfection to seek results that are workable and do not exhaust you.
Take a step back to figure out habits or personality traits that contribute to your stress levels. Perfectionism, negative thinking, disempowering stories about people/ circumstances are common traits of anxious personalities. Rethink or seek help to change your interpretation of what happened and what it means for you to build an empowering context. Indulge in humour and fun to shift your frame of reference. Establish a set of habits when you return home from work to dissociate completely from your work stresses.
Identify real problems and discuss solutions to these stressors and triggers with your friends, boss or colleagues. Outlining your job description, changing roles, avoiding conflict/ negative people/gossip, taking a break and quitting your current job can be potential answers. Apart from money, seek jobs that have meaning for you. Alternatively, find a higher purpose outside of work, whether in family, community or society, that fuels your motivation and mood.
Learn to relax and calm yourself. Practising daily gratitude for positive life situations and people is extremely effective. If music is your thing, then put on your headphones during your commute. Guided meditation apps or self-taught mindfulness helps to distance yourself from the constant recording of your mind (look up Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction or MBSR).
Make stress work
Kelly McGonigal, author of The Upside of Stress, says stress is what happens in your brain and your body when something you care about is at stake. It can also be used to make you happy, healthy and successful. To do so, fi rst observe and understand how stress affects you and your body.
Next figure out what really matters to you that is being affected by your circumstances. Is it your concern about losing your job due to budget cuts that will affect your ability to pay your home loan EMIs? Are you afraid of losing face in public? Is your concern genuine or irrational?
Can you label your emotions differently? Imagine the feelings of a cricketer before he is called out to bat. Instead of stress, he calls it excitement and the impending event a challenge. That helps him understand his reactions and acknowledge that he can choose a response. Think likewise.
If you are anxious about public-speaking, you can use your stress to pump in energy and life into your presentation. If you are an athlete, the stress pushes you to your personal best. Recognise the additional energy arising from stress and apply it positively through the strengths you bring to the situation.
When you make a mistake on account of stress, take a break and ask yourself what did you learn. When you acknowledge each mistake as an opportunity for growth, you expand your abilities and bring back hope and self-forgiveness leading to greater resilience.
(The writer is founder and CEO at Quezx.com and Headhonchos.com.)