It’s fairly apt that this week is called ‘Know Stress’ because on top of being ill this week I have also been putting off a lot of my responsibilities.
As each responsibility mounts, my desire to hide in a duvet ball watching Netflix increase at an exceptional rate.
Balancing work, writing, volunteering, socialising, boring life admin and finding time for myself has been particularly hard this week. It’s been one of those weeks where I’ve felt like I’ve been pulled in every direction and instead of solving each problem one by one I’ve just sort of…done nothing.
That’s right, I’ve tried escaping my life and ignoring my responsibilities, hoping they will magically sort themselves out. It turns out they DEFINITELY don’t, and now I just have one day to sort everything out. I’m an idiot, basically, and I know you’ve probably done this before too. So, grab a cuppa, put off your own responsibilities for a few minutes and join me in understanding why we all get stressed and how we can conquer it..
STRESS: A NECESSARY EVIL OR A BAD OMEN?
If you have any sort of ambition in life, you’re going to have to deal with stress in some sort of way. I remember a few years back telling my brother that I hated working in a shoe shop because my managers put too much pressure on me to make sales. He told me that work was supposed to be a pressured environment otherwise there would be no employee productivity. I gave him a call today to ask him if he still thought that way:
Stress isn’t the right word. No employer ever says that they want to put ‘stress’ on their staff. When we talk about stress in this way we are talking about it being detrimental to your health. What I’m talking about is pressure. For example, a personal trainer’s job is to put pressure and strain on your muscles in order for you to grow. A personal trainer who doesn’t do this is bad at their job.
So, in Mark’s opinion, the personal trainer analogy works in the workplace too – in order to get motivated employees you have to pressurise them. If you enjoyed your workout then there’s a slim chance that you actually got any fitter. I reminded him that he also had told me that if work wasn’t stressful, we wouldn’t be able to distinguish between work and leisure:
Again, it comes down to an analogy that I once heard: there’s a reason you enjoy taking your shoes off at the end of the day.
First of all, I never knew my brother was so full of analogies. Second of all, I love this one. Yes, the feeling of taking your shoes off is a relief but it’s also a feeling of accomplishment. That ahh moment is really gratification in knowing you’ve worked hard and now you have the chance to enjoy your free time because you feel you have done something to deserve it. If you’ve ever had a stint of unemployment or been particularly bored to death over University or school breaks, you’ll know that work actually makes you enjoy your free time and you utilise it more wisely. On the contrary, people with too much free time often find themselves down or unproductive because they haven’t got any strain in their lives to motivate them.
Safe to say, this is not the way everyone see’s work. On the other side of the coin, my best friend, Hazel, had this to say:
I don’t think it’s a necessity, stress is a bad motivator, businesses shouldn’t run on stress and a more positive goal is a relaxed working environment.
I don’t think anyone can operate under stress for an indefinite period. People say they thrive from stress but really I think it’s damaging in the long term and encourages bad habits like leaving things ’til the last minute.
Hazel’s right, as I discussed in my intro, I often let everything that stresses me out pile up until THE VERY LAST MINUTE when it absolutely MUST be done, and this only makes things worse. Stressing your employees by applying too many deadlines or increasing workload, in this case, encourages low quality work.
So who’s right? Well, the two opinions aren’t mutually exclusive.
Things that make us happy aren’t always easily obtainable. One of the obstacles to happiness is stress and yet, it also acts as a motivator; a kind of pressure that forces you to do things which inevitably end in accomplishment. If employers let us live in an enviroment where you just did things according to your own pace and schedule, things would never get done. Deadlines often seem impossible but they also work. I can tell you as someone who enjoys writing – I get nothing done without a deadline. It’s a necessary strain.
I think Mark and Hazel can both agree that stress is bad for you when it becomes detrimental to your health, but when we’re talking about pressure; the ticking time-bomb of a deadline or the feeling that you have to impress at a client meeting, then it’s important that we feel that certain rush or worry in order for us to simply motivate ourselves.
So, the big question on everyone’s lips, the hot topic, the big secret answer we’re all waiting for: HOW CAN I HANDLE STRESS IF I CAN’T AVOID IT?
I HAVE NO FREAKING IDEA
Well, I have some idea. You see, we all deal with stress in completely different ways, so there’s no point in trying to come up with a definitive answer. There is literally no point in buying some chamomile tea and assuming that is going to magically de-stress you, just because your friend that burns incense and smells of patchouli oil swears by it. Some people like to get up at 6am and meditate for half an hour before going on a run in order to de-stress. But do you know what? Knowing that I had to get up at 6am and do that would probably just make me more stressed. I would see it as yet another thing I have pressured myself into.
For me, the only way to sort stress out is to face it immediately, head on. Stress is our body’s way of making us react to a challenge – fight or flight. Flight is the procrastinators reaction of choice. I have to force myself to face challenges, otherwise I’ll always let myself take the easy route, which is avoidance.
Avoiding stress or challenges results in a lack of development. For example, I know that a worthwhile exercise in finding a job would be to send a cover letter to every employer I’m interested in. However, I know that takes time, effort and money that could potentially end in a lot of rejection. On my days off from work, the last thing I want to do is spend hours writing unique cover letters.
Yes, the idea of expending a lot of energy and putting myself out there only to potentially be met with a lot of rejection is disheartening. However, what is the alternative? I get stuck in a job which I don’t enjoy which ALSO stresses me out. In this scenario, stress isn’t a motivator but an obstacle to overcome in order to achieve something that I want.
WRITE IT DOWN
So I’ve learned to overcome my natural flight response. I make lists. I know, it’s ground-breaking, but bear with me. I write down everything that is niggling at me and everything I have to do and I just get through it. One by one, I methodically make it through my to-do list, and by the end of the day I can rest easy in my duvet ball of bliss knowing that I’m not putting something important off.
When everything you have to do is jumbled in a knot in your head, it’s super easy to think that it’s all too overwhelming. However, when you make a list, you find that a lot of the tasks you have set yourself could be achieved in half an hour or less. Suddenly your head becomes clearer because you’ve off-loaded your worries onto the page and can give yourself a pat on the back as you score each task out.
Don’t give yourself until ‘tomorrow’, because stress is a monster that grows with time. It loves people who procrastinate. I am definitely guilty of this, and I wish I wasn’t. I wish I could heed my own advice at all times but, I am only human.
Don't worry, be happy
The reason that it’s super important for you to find ways to deal with stress is so that you can have true down-time. If you try and have down-time when you are stressed, even subconsciously, your body and mind aren’t truly relaxing. Stress is lingering there, somewhere. This is something that all students know: putting revision or essays off in order to do something relaxing or fun ONLY MAKES YOU FEEL WORSE. So why not do the fun or relaxing thing AFTER you’ve achieved your goal? I know, it’s mind-bending.
Importantly, remember not to put too much pressure on yourself. There is only so much stress one person can handle before they have a meltdown. It comes back to the analogy of taking your shoes off after a long day: if you still find yourself thinking about work and stressing about it rather than allowing yourself to separate your work and life, then it’s a sure sign that it has become overwhelming for you and that things need to change. If you have too much on your plate, re-evaluate everything you are doing and find out what’s most important to you on two levels:
1.Important in your success and ambition.
2. Important in your happiness.
There should be a good balance between the two for you in order for you to be able to handle your stress well. For example, don’t quit on your reading group or your gym class in order to take on a larger workload.
Being unhappy AND stressed won’t lead to success and fulfilment.