Poor Susan Boyle. The Britain’s Got Talent darling, the ‘ugly duckling’ who took not only the nation but the world by storm (15 million viewers are tuning in worldwide to watch her and her YouTube clips are getting similar ratings), is crumbling under the pressure. Today it was revealed that her behaviour has become so erratic that ITV are in talks about whether they should pull her from the final.
But it doesn’t necessarily take tens of millions of pairs of eyes on you to push someone to dangerous stress levels. A new study held by Norwich Union found nearly half of the 1,400 business leaders, full-time workers and GPs asked felt stressed.
As an idea of the effects stress can have on the body, one in five of those asked were also suffering from depression, 46% suffered from insomnia, a third from migraines and one in five from anxiety attacks or palpitations.
On top of those symptoms, stress can also cause irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, irritability, and a predisposition to falling back into old habits and ticks. Not to mention premature heart problems.
None of which are exactly conducive to the fitness of body and mind you need to really execute a project well.
To complicate matters, many people don’t realise they’re stressed – the simply notice the symptoms. If you think you might be stressed, or you’re noticing any of the symptoms above and can’t find a cause for them, the following steps will help. While some of these steps may sound ineffective and trivial to you, the small things really do add up. If you’re consciously focusing on making yourself better in one area, you’ll subconsciously look after yourself in other ways too.
Spend time with people outside the company. Don’t talk about work. Break your mental cycle and take yourself away from it. Reconnecting with the outside world will remind you it’s there and and help take you out of your stress hole.
Eat lunch away from your desk. We know as well as you it’s often impractical or impossible to take a full lunch hour a day. But a change of scene, even if just for 10 minutes, gives you a mental break.
Tidy. There’s a reason people become obsessive compulsive – ordering and tidying things makes them feel they’re bringing order to a chaotic world. Use that psychology to your advantage. Trick your brain into thinking you can cope by creating mini-order.
Exercise out your stress. Cycle to work if you don’t have time to exercise outside of working hours. The endorphins and fresh air will sharpen your mind, and the physical activity will help combat your pent-up stress. Kick boxing or similar are particularly effective frustration busters.
Break the work-home-work-home routine. If the only thing you do outside work is sleep, you’re going to feel like there’s no way out. Stop for one drink somewhere with a friend, catch a film if you can, or just read a book for 10 minutes before passing out. Give your brain something to think about that’s not the piles of work on your desk.
Eat enough fruit and veg. Feasting on crap late at night is not going to do you any favours. Keeping your body topped up with everything it needs gives it the best chance of surviving the long hours.
Break work down into smaller parts. We’ve all heard this one before – but that’s because it’s so effective. The Guardian’s resident psychologist Linda Blair says: “If you make a series of small changes, things will start to feel more manageable. Choose to do something that will make a positive difference – however small – in your life quickly, say within one week.” Make lists and schedules – break every task down into bite-sized chunks.
Switch off. Meditate, watch mindless trash on TV, have a long, silly chat with an old friend on the phone. If you don’t give your brain a rest, you burn out. And if you burn out, you can’t work. If you can do something to switch off before going to sleep, all the better – work-nightmares and constant waking through the night never help stress. If you’re too busy burning the midnight candle to do that, make at least two half hour slots a week for switching off. And don’t be afraid to be protective of that time.
Treat yourself. Go for a nice meal at the weekend, buy yourself something you want. Congratulate yourself for working hard. Make it feel more worthwhile.