Stress is an unavoidable part of the SBM role – the long hours and complexity of the role, combined with the variety of unexpected challenges that can and do occur, make it so. With this in mind, we turned to both the NHS and Professor Cary Cooper, an occupational health expert at the University of Lancaster, for their advice on dealing with stress
The NHS advise that, while exercise won’t make your stress disappear, it will reduce some of the emotional intensity you’re feeling, clearing your thoughts and letting you deal with your problems more calmly.
There’s a solution to any problem. “If you remain passive, thinking, ‘I can’t do anything about my problem’, your stress will get worse,” says Professor Cooper. “That feeling of loss of control is one of the main causes of stress and lack of wellbeing.”
The act of taking control is, in itself, empowering and it’s a crucial part of finding a solution that satisfies you and not someone else.
Connect with people
A good support network of colleagues, friends and family can ease your work troubles and help you see things in a different way. “If you don’t connect with people, you won’t have support to turn to when you need help,” Professor Cooper explains.
The activities we do with friends help us relax – we also often have a good laugh with them, which is an excellent stress reliever. “Talking things through with a friend will also help you find solutions to your problems,” says Professor Cooper.
Have some ‘me time’
In the UK, we work the longest hours in Europe – meaning we often don’t spend enough time doing things we really enjoy. Professor Cooper states that, “We all need to take some time for socialising, relaxation or exercise.” He recommends setting aside a couple of nights a week for some quality ‘me time’ away from work.
“By earmarking those two days, it means you won’t be tempted to work overtime,” he says.
Setting yourself goals and challenges, whether at work or outside it, such as learning a new language or a new sport, helps build confidence. This will help you deal with stress. “By continuing to learn you become more emotionally resilient as a person,” Professor Cooper explains. “It arms you with knowledge and makes you want to do things rather than be passive, such as watching TV all the time.”
Avoid unhealthy habits
Turning to alcohol, smoking and caffeine as your ways of coping is to be avoided. “Men more than women are likely to do this. We call this ‘avoidance behaviour’,” says Professor Cooper. “Women are better at seeking support from their social circles.”
In the long term, these crutches won’t solve your problems. They’ll just create new ones. “It’s like putting your head in the sand,” Professor Cooper explains. “It might provide temporary relief, but it won’t make the problems disappear. You need to tackle the cause of your stress.”
Help other people
Professor Cooper cites evidence which shows that people who help others – through activities such as volunteering or community work – become more resilient. “Helping people who are often in situations worse than yours will help you put your problems into perspective,” he says. “The more you give, the more resilient and happy you feel.”
If you don’t have time to volunteer, try to do someone a favour every day. It can be something as small as helping someone across the road, or going on a coffee run for colleagues.
Work smarter, not harder
While it’s an annoying catchphrase – which we’ve all heard – there is merit to prioritising your work and concentrating on the tasks that’ll make a real difference. “Leave the least important tasks to last,” says Professor Cooper. “Accept that your in-tray will always be full. Don’t expect it to be empty at the end of the day.”
Try to be positive
“People don’t always appreciate what they have,” Professor Cooper points out. “Try to be glass half-full instead of glass half-empty.” Look for the positives in life, and things for which you’re grateful. The NHS advises writing down three things that went well, or for which you’re grateful, at the end of every day.
Accept the things you can’t change
Changing a difficult situation isn’t always possible. Professor Cooper advises that you try to concentrate on the things you do have control over. “If your company is going under and is making redundancies, for example, there’s nothing you can do about it. In a situation like that, you need to focus on the things that you can control, such as looking for a new job.”