Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Wellbeing & Managing Stress

Oskar Ernst, Cohort 2019

Mental health is as important as physical health as it dictates our thoughts, emotions and behaviour. To live a balanced life, we need to keep our wellbeing in check and not let stress get the better of us.

With that in mind, SELA’s first virtual workshop could not have come at a better time with the current stressful events that have hijacked our normal lives. The workshop was led by Pam Burrows, a wellbeing coach for the workplace, and was full of useful information on how to manage stress and increase wellbeing.

How stress affects us

According to the Health and Safety Executive, the definition of stress is “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them”. It is important to note that something as intangible as stress can have significant physical implications on our body. Whether we are about to be attacked by a bear or faced with a tight deadline, our brain puts itself into a fight-or-flight response. Two important hormones are produced: adrenaline, which gives us the energy we need, and cortisol, which shuts down less important systems. While these may be lifesaving responses in the wild, they are extremely unhealthy in the long term. Under long stressful periods, it is common to suffer from insomnia, an elevated heart rate and a weakened immune system.

The causes of burnout 

According to psychologist Kahler, there are five “drivers”. Drivers themselves aren’t bad things, everyone has them! Individual drivers are what motivate us to achieve our goals, and finding the right balance of people with differing drivers is one of the key strategies of effective team building. However, Pam points out that, at times, these drivers can become too strong, overwhelm us, and lead to burnout. These drivers are:
  • Be Perfect: striving towards success in everything, being perfect in every way. This is accompanied by a fear of failure and over-working.
  • Be Strong: distancing ourselves from our emotions, refusing to ask for help. Bottling up emotions is a source of stress and we can risk taking it out on others.
  • Hurry Up: trying to do more in less time.
  • Please Others: focusing on pleasing others; other people’s happiness is more important than our own
  • Try Hard: never being satisfied with what has been done, being obsessed with success and improvement. This results in a risk of driving ourselves into the ground.

Early warning signs – red flags 

Luckily for us, signs of potential burnout appear a long time before actual burnout. It is therefore important to observe our behaviour without judgment. Everybody has their own signs of stress buildup such as acne, leg twitching or dandruff. It is up to us to notice these small signs and attempt to control or switch off our behaviour and drivers.

CARE - four keystones to good health for your body and mind

According to Pam Burrows, there are four main components to stop driving ourselves towards burnout and instantly making us feel better. These components follow the acronym CARE:

C for Compassion. We need not only to have compassion towards others but especially towards ourselves. Beating ourselves up is probably the biggest driver of stress and must be avoided at all costs.

A for Acknowledge. Realizing that we are indeed capable of achieving our goals is a crucial step in avoiding disappointment and stress. It is important to celebrate our strengths and acknowledge what is currently going well in our lives.

R for Reality. In order to stop beating ourselves up on what we haven’t accomplished, we have to set realistic goals in the first place. Part of this is knowing what is humanly possible to achieve and what isn't. Another important part is planning ‘sanity spaces’, scheduled time where you consciously block out your diary in order to take some time and space for yourself.

E for Energy. Burnout happens when there is no more fuel left in our natural tanks. Thus it is necessary to manage our energy correctly by making sure we are eating correctly, staying hydrated and getting enough sleep. Perhaps the most important ingredient in good mental health is happiness. Finding joy is one of the best ways to recharge our batteries.

Helping yourself

During these difficult times it’s more crucial than ever to maintain good mental health. Using Pam’s model, we’ve come up with some suggestions as to how you can do this.

C: Have compassion for yourself. Whether you are in work, furloughed, or studying, it’s okay not to be managing life at the same standard as you might have before.

A: Rather than being harsh on yourself for what you haven’t done, acknowledge what you have done, even if that's smaller than before. Congratulate yourself for doing that housework, listening to that lecture, or going on that jog!

R: Working from home can be invasive to your work/life balance, as what is usually done at the office is now done at the dining room table. Make sure that, even at home, you’re scheduling in you time, away from the demands of the day

E: Energy can seem like a hard thing to come by these days, but try replenishing yours with plenty of outdoor exercise and sunshine.

We hope these tips help you. Stay safe!

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