Work and stress seem to go hand in hand, don’t they? While you may assume an ambulance paramedic experiences more stress than a receptionist, results show otherwise.
Dr Peter Cotton, an occupational psychologist who has taken part in surveys of more than 55,000 employees across a range of professions, says the same things are stressful in every job, with a lack of support, boredom and too much responsibility the top three. “Interestingly, a homicide detective may be sleeping better than a kindergarten teacher, depending on these factors,” he says.
But what can we do to make work less stressful, aside from quit? Addressing the physical side is necessary: exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep. But how to unravel the knotted tangles of a stressed-out brain?
The symptoms of stress provide a clue: poor sleep, headaches, fatigue, relationship difficulties and lack of motivation are all symptoms which overlap with depression. So anything which improves your mood, helps you sleep, and takes away your headaches is going to help.
Jodie Clarke, a Melbourne psychologist, spent a year studying stress-relief practises on full-time workers for her PhD thesis. For the 100 individuals she studied, the answer seemed to be in the mind.
Stress is linked to tension, so it follows that any practise that promotes relaxation will help alleviate stress. The thing is, you don’t want to be too relaxed at work, where a meditative state might see you zenning out during a meeting. Oops!
Clarke took this into account and asked workers to practise techniques at home, not at work. The result? The single most effective stress-relief practise was guided visualisation after work.
“People who took themselves away, either through a tape or guided meditation, felt much better overall and displayed the best coping strategies with stress in the workplace,” says Clarke.
Studies the world over have proven people feel most stressed when they perceive a lack of control in their environment, so perhaps visualisation is so effective because you choose what you want to think and feel, even if it is only for 15 minutes each night. Regardless, it’s an effective technique to feel happier, live longer, and have more energy. Don’t tell your boss, but Clarke’s study also showed it makes you more productive.
So to give yourself a better day at work tomorrow, here are a few suggestions for getting into the habit of ‘seeing things better’ each night when you get home from work.
Listen to rainforest music or a waterfall CD for five minutes in the bath. Shut your eyes and picture the best things that happened throughout the day. When did you feel powerful? When did you feel good? What made you happiest about your work today? What did you do really well?
Download one of many guided meditations (Gabrielle Bernstein has some good ones) available on iTunes, pop your headphones in and sit on the couch with a glass of water while an expert leads your meditation.
If you’re completely anti-meditation, simply pop on some music which makes you happy, from any genre, and let it do the work of lifting your thoughts away from stressful trivia.
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