Categories
Anxiety Productivity Tension

5 Hacks That Combat Work Related Stress.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Away from your desk…

Most businesses need to be profitable in order to survive. Whether we are an employee or self employed, the level of our productivity is either directly or indirectly linked to the ability of the business to create profits.

What this translates into in our real world experiences is that our productivity is more than likely being measured and assessed to calculate our effects on the bottom line.

Work performance measuring can lead to an increase in the amount of pressure that we feel which ultimately can have detrimental effects on our performance and therefore reduce our productivity levels.

In these challenging times there’s even more need for the worker to think out of the box and come up with solutions that will help restore their confidence in their ability to meet their work demands without harming their health and wellbeing.

Loss of Productivity

Scores from PSS (Perceived Stress Scale) and the HWQ (Health and Work Questionnaire), appeared to be inversely correlated; higher stress scores were associated significantly with lower productivity scores.
This negative association was… especially strong for work satisfaction.

Bui, T., Zackula, R., Dugan, K., & Ablah, E. (2021). Workplace Stress and Productivity: A Cross-Sectional Study.Kansas Journal of Medicine,14,42-45.

It can seem to come from nowhere. You’ve been focused on your work and getting things done, but for some reason you either seem unable to produce anything or the quality of your work is far less than you expect from yourself. How did that happen?

Work pressure usually doesn’t hit you all at once, but gradually. Work deadlines, heavy workloads and performance targets all take their toll. There’s also your life outside of work, which may also indirectly contribute to your work pressure.

And then there’s the fact that everybody’s response to pressure at work is different. What you may perceive as a challenge may be perceived by a colleague as a major stressor. It’s telling, when even the scientific and legal arenas can’t even agree on what stress is and how to legally define it.

Regardless of the debate on what is or is not stressful, your lack of productivity can itself be a major cause of stress which further compounds the problem.

 

Stress

Although it’s difficult to define a universal definition of what stress is or isn’t, there are signs that you should be aware of that can help you determine whether or not you or someone you know are stressed. By being able to identify these signs, you can help relieve the pressure by taking the necessary steps to correct the situation. We built V-CAF precisely for this reason.

Not all of the signs are in of themselves confirmation of stress, but if your productivity is falling and the symptoms appear regularly, then they may be good indicators that you need to take a step back and contemplate what you observe, and possibly consult your medical advisor.

Some of the physical signs of stress include but are not limited to:

  • Fatigue
  • Tension headaches
  • Stomach problems
  • Backpain
  • High blood pressure and
  • Sweaty palms

Non physical signs include:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Helplessness
  • Depression
  • Frustration
  • Indecisiveness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Behaving out of character

During difficult social, political and economic times, it can be hard to ask for help, but where possible, speak to your counsellor or medical advisor, (or even someone you can trust). Ignoring the situation doesn’t help and exposure to persistent stressful environments can have both negative shot and long term effects on your health.

Strategies

By acknowledging that you are stressed, you have taken a very big step in the right direction to address the issue. The next step is to speak with your boss/manager and discuss the issues that are causing you stress. This isn’t always possible (especially if your boss isn’t known for being understanding, or if you work for yourself), so the next best thing is to take steps that will help you relieve the pressure you feel at work. (I would also state that if your employer doesn’t display any empathy towards the situation, that it might be a sign to start looking for a new job. You only live once, and being in a miserable work environment not only affects you, but your work colleagues, friends and family, let alone the damage you are doing to your self esteem and health).

So, in no particular order of relevance, here is a list of 5 things that you can do to help relieve stress at work:

  • Prevention
    Understand and know what causes you to be stressed. Write them down, make a list and then list the things that you can do to avoid meeting these situations when you are at work.
    Also have a backup plan for when you do meet them (which will happen once in a while). If you are stuck keep reading on and use some the tactics outline below to help construct your plan.
  • Exercise
    One of the most overlooked stress busting tools available to us all is exercise. A build up of tension usually accompanies stress. By exercising, we help to release tension in our body. And it doesn’t have to be a full body workout either (although those help too). A 10 to 25 minute brisk walk is just enough effort to get your heart pumping harder, and you breathing in deeper to make a difference.
  • Eat well
    Reduce or avoid eating processed foods where possible and eat good whole foods. The general rule of thumb is that if it walks, flies, crawls or grows from the earth, and doesn’t have heaps of processed ingredients added to them, then you’re good to go.
    So why not processed foods? Processed foods contain a lot of refined sugar which spikes your insulin levels causing you to have “sugar highs” and crashes throughout the day, making it more difficult for you to concentrate on your work.
  • Good quality sleep
    Make sure you get enough sleep every night, of the highest quality. How do you do that? Eat well, exercise and go to bed at regular times daily. Also make sure you’re not overly warm and avoid alcohol.
  • Avoid alcohol
    Yep. I mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again. Although not harmful in moderation, alcohol interferes with your sleeping pattern and the following hangover does nothing for your concentration and productivity levels. Even a relatively small amount of alcohol consumed the night before can have adverse effects on your productivity the next day.
  • Manage workload
    List and prioritise the work that needs to be completed, for the week, day and in some cases by the hour. Discuss this with work colleagues and your boss so that you can organise your work in such a way as to eliminate any bottlenecks that can lead to frustration.
    Using process like Scrum, Agile and Kanban can help improve both individual and team productivity in a more efficient and stress free manner. I’ve used (and still use) all of them in varying degrees and find that without them work would be very difficult.
  • Take regular breaks away from your workplace
    The usual mantra of this blog, and for good reason too. Taking a break away from your desk (by going for a walk, or meditation , and taking a nap), can actually increase your focussing and memory powers. Don’t just keep pushing on forward regardless, take the time to be nice to yourself and then come back to your work. I get tunnel vision whilst at work and get very frustrated when working whilst being tired and don’t realise it. Tools such as V-CAF help by notifying you when your alertness levels drop, to take a break.
  • Positive outlook
    Difficult to do in the moment when you are stressed, but keeping a positive frame of mind helps you to overcome the stress that you will inevitably experience. This is why in point one (Prevention) we said that you should write down what to do if you find yourself in a stressful situation. If you have this you can be reminded to be positive because you have the answer and know what to do. Plus being prepared helps you to have a positive outlook as you consciously know that you have a plan.

Review

I can’t count it seems. But I hope that you take heed of my advice and also go and do some more research for yourself and experiment with what works for you.

If you are stressed and feel too overwhelmed to cope, make a point of scheduling an appointment with your doctor or medical advisor immediately, as it may be a sign of something more serious.

Finally I leave you with the list of the main points outlined in this post.

  • Prevention
  • Exercise
  • Eat well
  • Good quality sleep
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Manage workload
  • Take regular breaks away from your workplace
  • Positive outlook

Afterword

“ Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. ”

Epictetus, source: Daily Stoic
Categories
Anxiety Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleep Staying Awake Tiredness

Struggling to Stay Awake During a Long Day?

Listen To What Your Body Is Telling You

If you don’t hear, you will feel

“What!? Another unrealistic deadline? When am I supposed to rest and recover? And what about the quality of the work you’re asking us to produce?” I yelled at my team lead.

I had got to my breaking point and lost control for a brief moment. As I gathered myself together I thought of what had lead up to this point. The past month had been like being in bootcamp.

The mountain of work didn’t seem to be reducing, in fact it felt like there was more added every day. The stressful days and nights spent at my desk seemed to blur into one long day.

Now, with this last deadline, it was too much to take, I could go on no more.

Long Day, Head down on a table
Photo by @Igor_Kostyuk via Twenty20

The Long Day

The stress had taken it’s toll. I was finding it difficult to sleep at night and when I did eventually nod off, when I woke, it felt as though I hadn’t slept. This had the effect of making me feel very irritable and lethargic and made it almost impossible to concentrate whilst working.

My fellow team mates would complain about the same thing. Each of us shared with the other members of the group the strategies that they were using, but the common consensus was that coffee or caffeine was the way to go.

To some people’s amusement and surprise I said no to coffee. “Here’s the martyr!” one guy would mock. It irked me, but I carried on and tried to ignore the taunts.

They drank coffee and some took caffeine pills, whilst I drank water and took regular walking breaks (with the odd nap when I could find a quiet place to snooze, like the local library down the road).

 

Struggling to Make it Through the Day

At the start of our work marathon, those that were inclined to drink coffee seemed to be pulling away. They appeared more alert during our daily meetings and ready to do whatever our bosses told them without question.

But things started to change. I noticed that we were having a lot more discussions about why the work that had been done wasn’t good enough. At first I thought I was lucky because it wasn’t my work, but the drop in quality impacted the whole team.

Those that seemed to be doing well at first and were full of enthusiasm for the unrelenting workloads, started to complain and blame others for their work not been up to par.

Had I not had my own bad experiences of caffeine crashes over a period of time I would of put this all down to stress. But I couldn’t help but notice that some of my colleagues were displaying the symptoms of consuming too much caffeine, such as:

  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • and Depression

Others complained of not being able to sleep (although this may be due to the stress of worrying about making our deadline). Unfortunately for some of them, they found themselves falling asleep at their desks (which management didn’t find very impressive). And as we got closer to the deadline, things became worse.

It was as though a good portion of our team had become possessed, and we couldn’t do anything about it!

Some Useful Options

It wasn’t long before some of our team noticed that I seemed to be unfazed by it all and they began asking questions, indirectly of course. “So why don’t you drink coffee? Is it a religious thing?”, “How do you cope? I couldn’t start the day without coffee!”

I found that I would be answering with the same points over and over again. So I printed them out and put them on my desk. When people asked or brought it up, I would point to it:

  • Avoid Caffeine
    If you find it difficult, start slowly and try reducing the amount you consume. When you feel the withdrawal, although it doesn’t feel like it, know that you are making progress and stick with it. At the end of it all you’ll feel like a completely different person.
  • Eat Healthily
    Eat more iron and magnesium rich foods as a deficiency in either one can make you feel drained. For iron eat spinach and beans; for magnesium, nuts such as cashews and almonds. Eggs are good for protein and are a good source of B vitamins that help turn your food into energy. Eat fruits that are high in vitamin C, like oranges, strawberries, pineapples and kiwis, as they help body fat to be used as energy.
  • Stay Hydrated
    Drink lot’s of water. Dehydration makes it difficult for us to focus and concentrate. Being hydrated helps reduce drowsiness.
  • Know When You Are Tired And Act Accordingly
    Probably the most important point of all. Most of us don’t realise when we are tired and get frustrated when we can’t do more. Coffee (caffeine) only masks the tiredness. And it does so at the expense of your body’s ability to sleep and recover, eventually leading to you become dependent on caffeine to stay awake and then wondering why you can’t sleep when you go to bed at night; all whilst during the day thinking that something is wrong with you when you feel tired.

This is why I lost it with my team lead. There was no consideration for the long term health of our team. I knew that I was tired and couldn’t allow anyone to risk my health over an arbitrary deadline which could have been handled better with proper planning.

In Summary

Although it was a stressful time, I’m glad that we went through it. It showed me that by being consistent I was able to handle a difficult situation without having to resort to a substance to make me feel that I could make it through.

I even helped some people to at least abstain from caffeine for a while and a few said that they felt better and had better sleep then they’ve had in a long time.

And the ace in the hole was that my team lead now considers how we are coping with our current workloads, and although they are still heavy, we now plan how we can spread the load to get things done.

If you’re thinking about giving up caffeine (or want to reduce the amount you consume) then print out the following points to help remind you of what to do when the withdrawal symptoms kick in:

  • Avoid Caffeine
  • Eat Healthily
  • Stay Hydrated
  • Know when you are tired
  • Get better quality sleep

Afterword

Since that period at work, the team has their ups and downs but generally we work better together, or perhaps we have more patience and understanding when dealing with each other.

During these difficult times, I think it would be best if we each showed more patience and understanding towards other people.

A kind word or even a smile goes a long way these days.

Categories
Anxiety Exercise Headaches Side Effects Sleep Tension

Life Stresses and Sleep

Don’t Stress Yourself

Just Chill…

It would be an understatement to describe this year (2020) so far as a little challenging. Dealing with a global pandemic and it’s social and economic repercussions has affected us all in someway.

So when would have been a better time to decide to move home and restructure your business activities than in the middle of a crisis, but that is exactly what we decided to do.

Unsurprisingly, we have been (and still are) pretty stressed, but things are slowly getting better. In this post I’ll talk about the effects of stress on your sleep and what you can do to reduce it’s toll on your mind and body.

Life’s Stresses

Worries about this latest pandemic are causing a lot of people a huge amount of stress. Our health and well being are paramount to our survival instincts, so any perceived threats to them immediately put us into “Fight or Flight” mode.

Likewise with the economic outlook not looking too pretty, people are worrying about their jobs and/or businesses as well as their investments and financial commitments.

Moving home is also stressful at the best of times, but moving during a pandemic compounds the issue. Having to deal with authorities, schooling and adjusting to a new environment can take it’s toll on your nerves and can be very frustrating.

Sleep Quality and Quantity

It’s no surprise that it is usually our sleep that suffers first when stressed, and as it is a fundamental sphere of our health, this has major implications for our overall health and well being.

For example, stressing about your work performance can lead to a lack of confidence in your abilities which is then magnified when you are not getting enough good quality restful sleep.

In a 2019 Sleep and Vigilance Journal study which investigated the link between sleep, work stress and headaches amongst print workers, it was found that the intensity of headaches and lower levels of concentration were characterised by the quality of sleep that the participants had the night before as well as the amount of interruptions they had at work.

“Between one working day and the subsequent day. printers need to recover their mental resources, and complete recovery depends on getting a good night’s sleep. There is a consensus that work stress impairs sleep quality. Sleep is necessary for recovery in humans and is therefore considered to be the link between occupational stressors, cognitive functioning and health. Impaired sleep may have a detrimental effect on psychosomatic well-being (e.g. pain) that is independent of the effects of work demands. Reduced sleep quality is a predictor of impaired performance, especially cognitive performance. Sleep impairments extend reaction times, impair concentration and attention and reduce working memory capacity. Hence, we hypothesised that the previous night’s sleep quality and current day’s time pressure, as well as work interruptions
and concentration requirements, would predict current-day, cognition-related health complaints, including headaches and concentration problems.”

Kottwitz, Maria, Christin Gerhardt, Sabrina Schmied, and Achim Elfering. “Sleep, Work Stress and Headache in Printing Business: An Actigraphy Study.” /Sleep and Vigilance/ 3.1 (2019): 9-15.

Helpful Strategies

The Sleep, Work Stress and Headache study made some suggestions on how to reduce the effects of stress on sleep but these where mainly directed at employers and policy makers, which in my experience if they eventually do become institutionalised, it’s in a weak or non sustainable way, with unintended consequences such as job loses as smaller employers struggle to afford to implement such measures.

If you’re like me you may not be willing or able to wait for guidelines to be made into laws, so what steps can you personally take to lower your stress and improve your sleep?

  • Talk with your boss
    Depending on your relationship with your boss or your work environment, taking the proactive step of talking about your current stresses at work and making suggestions on how they may be addressed may give you better than expected results. The key here is not to go in making demands, but to make very clear achievable suggestions that if acted upon, will help improve your productivity. An example of this is to clarify what your role entails and the commitments that are expected of you as well as what level of quality work you will be able to complete within a given deadline.
  • Make the time to exercise
    This is a difficult one, but necessary if you want to reduce stress levels. Exercise helps your focus and stamina and has been found to help boost productivity as well as reduce the rates of absenteeism. Exercise has also been shown to improve sleep quality which may be the reason why you may find that your productivity increases as a side effect.
  • Organise your sleep
    Your body needs sleep to repair. A lack of sleep helps reduce your concentration and focus levels, and can have negative effects on your overall health. Getting a sufficient amount of quality sleep will help reduce stress and feelings of depression and anxiety.

Action Points Summary

Although there are only three points, over the past couple of months I’ve found myself struggling to implement them! But with the latest release of our app, V-CAF, I found myself instinctively just getting on with them.

Workloads were negotiated and reorganised, I exercised more intensively and naturally found myself getting in more hours of sleep. I guess sometimes you can’t force it, but have to go with the flow.

I know the points sound simple (maybe not the talking to the boss one), but give them a try anyway, you may be pleasantly surprised:

  • Organise/Negotiate your workload (with your boss if applicable)
  • Make time for exercise
  • Prioritise Sleep

Conclusion

It wasn’t easy for us to start afresh and reorganise, especially during these unprecedented times, but doing so has made us more resilient to stress and hopefully will help to keep us productive so that we keep producing posts like this for you.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with all the current changes that are going on, step back and reflect on the things that really matter in your life and focus on making the most out those things that you’ve been blessed with.

Stay Safe 🙂

Categories
Anxiety Caffeine Side Effects

Caffeine And Anxiety

Caffeine And Anxiety

Not a good mix

In my not too distant past I tried to help someone who was panicking because of a stressful situation.Instinctively I told them to breathe deeply whilst I got them a cup of tea.

However, it didn’t seem to help much and knowing what I know now part of the problem may have been the tea I gave them to drink!

Today I’ll share with you what I’ve found out about the relationship between caffeine and anxiety.

Anxiety alone
Photo by David Tran @trandavid on Unsplash Every time I travel, I always tend to find something with emotion. At this time, my camera was out of batteries so I whipped out my iPhone and managed to capture something so emotional. The picture speaks for itself.

Anxiety

The American Psychological Association gives the following definition of anxiety, which they adapted from the Encyclopedia of Psychology as:

“…An emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. ”

American Psychological Association

They then go on to explain that sufferers:

“…May also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat. ”

American Psychological Association

Anxiety is part of being human. It is a normal response to danger, whether perceived or real, and allows our bodies and minds to be prepared to flee or escape the cause of the danger.

Unfortunately there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that caffeine can trigger the same sort of response in some people.

Whilst there are many factors that may affect when and how anxiety is triggered, drinking caffeine and even trying to give up caffeine can increase the likelihood of experiencing anxiety.

Caffeine has been known to induce anxiety in people for so long that it even has its own disorder classification: Caffeine-induced anxiety disorder.

Also, take into account that many of the effects that caffeine has on your body are similar if not the same as consuming too much caffeine or caffeine withdrawal symptoms:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability 
  • Uncontrollable worry
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Increased heart rate

Helpful Strategies

If you are prone to anxiety attacks then the best advice seems to be to remove caffeine from your diet.

If you feel that you need caffeine to help you be alert, stay awake or help you manage your anxiety, try these tips:

  • Breath deeper, learn relaxation techniques and/or yoga and meditation.
  • Exercise can help lift your mood and over the longer-term increase your energy, helping you to feel more positive.
  • Tiredness can make you feel down and irritable (which doesn’t help if you’re trying to keep away from caffeine). Use a tiredness alarm such as V-CAF to let you know when you are most likely to be tired so that you can take action to wake yourself up.
  • Use a support network and talk with your medical advisor to gain insights into how to manage your anxiety.

Review

When consumed in moderation, caffeine for many is a beneficial stimulant, but for an ever-growing amount of people it can trigger anxiety attacks, and it may be best, in my opinion, to stop using it.

To manage your anxiety whilst withdrawing from caffeine consumption:

  • Practice relaxation techniques
  • Exercise to lift your mood
  • Be aware of when you are tired using tools such as V-CAF so that you can act appropriately to avoid feeling down.
  • Speak to your medical advisor

Conclusion

You can guess knowing what I know now, I won’t be offering tea to someone who needs to calm down!

If you suffer from anxiety, knowing that you could be making things harder for yourself by consuming caffeine can be liberating. Take action and stop drinking caffeine today.