Most people out there work extraordinarily hard with very high workloads. There are, of course, times to simply knuckle-down and work hard to get the job done.
But when this continues over time, difficult clients and constant change are added into the mix, the effects on people's health, well-being and relationships can be detrimental.
So, what do you do to take good care of yourself while dealing with the challenges, both at work and home? Here are some of the protective factors identified by the research on resilience over the past 30 years:
- Cardio-vascular exercise
No matter how stressed one might be feeling, just a minute or so of cardio exercise can cause any stress to dissipate. Anything that gets your heart rate going is good for you, health conditions withstanding - walking, running, gardening, cycling being a few examples.
The real challenge is making time for this and motivating yourself to take action. It is always easier to exercise when you find an activity you enjoy doing. Or it might be helpful to remind yourself of other benefits, such as becoming a less-stressed, nicer person for your loved ones and workmates. Many people find it helps to schedule time for exercise and organise their life around it. Others hold themselves accountable to others, perhaps exercising with a friend, or measuring progress over time. What is going to motivate you?
Many people work very late most nights and also on the weekends. While it is admirable to want to stay on top of their work and do it well, the absence of downtime means that often these people are not working at their best.
We need time to rest and recharge - times when we are not thinking about work, focusing on other things, and yes, finding time to sleep. When we sleep our body is resting, expelling toxins and stress hormones, and the brain is creating new synapses, making it easier for us to think clearly. We physically and emotionally become better placed to deal with the challenges.
- Supportive, positive relationships
Positive, supportive colleagues are important. Overcoming challenges is easier when you feel you are not alone. But it is the opposite of what people tend to do when stressed about their workload - which is withdrawing into themselves, focusing just on their own work - also known as the Silo Effect.
We need to remind ourselves of the importance of simply chatting with our colleagues, making them laugh or feel good about themselves. With colleagues who are new to the workplace or dealing with extraordinary challenges, we need to surround them with very good support, whether it be practical assistance or simply genuine empathy. Let’s not forget the importance of spending time with friends outside of work as well.
- Action to address the stressors
It doesn't matter how many team-building days or morning teas you organise. If no one is taking action to address ridiculously high workloads, unsupportive or controlling leaders, or individuals engaged in ongoing bullying behaviour.
Action to address the stressors is essential, at least with those that are in your control. Otherwise, you are constantly trying to fill a bucket that has a huge hole in the bottom of it. Is it possible to stop doing some tasks or give some things at your work a lower priority? Are there work-it-out conversations you need to have with others? Action from you will not guarantee the result you want, but no action from you will guarantee you get more of the same.
- Good attitudes
As with so many things, our attitude or mindset determines how we feel about the challenges and the choices we make. Do we really have to aim for perfection? The issues we are stressing about, how important are they really? Is our work our life, or is our life much bigger than our work? Despite the challenges, are there things you can be grateful for?
Is there really nothing you can do about the stressors? Or is it possible to ask for help, gain clarity about the priorities, or at least start up an exercise program? Has the stress reached a point where you need to have a medical check-up?
Remember that resilient individuals are affected by challenges and do get stressed. But they are prepared to take action to address the stressors in their control and contribute to their own and others' wellbeing.