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Stress Less: How to relax at work

Impact of stress in the workplaceIn a one-on-one interview with OfficePro, licensed psychological counselor Gayron Haywood mentioned an arrangement he has pending with a global corporation. If the terms and schedule are ironed out, Haywood will help the company’s employees learn how to relax. Or as he calls it, chill out.

“Workplace stress will never go away,” he said. “But we can learn to manage it and feel better throughout the day. Relaxation therapy is a technique that helps the body tell the mind it’s time to chill out.”

As a former counselor for a police department, the Midwestern-based Haywood witnessed first-hand the psychological stress of the crime-fighter's career. Stress registers at a different and less dangerous level for an office worker, he said, but there's still a need for stress management in four core areas:

  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Social
  • Spiritual
Focus On The Physical

Relaxation therapy teaches ways to reduce the body's response to stress, like muscles that tighten and clench or breathing that becomes shallow and thoughts that ramp up our worries.

Learning to develop a relaxation response turns off the negative and damaging effects of stress and gives us greater control. It minimizes the powerful impact of stress at times when we feel powerless.

"My big focus is on the physical element," Haywood said. "When I start working with people, I ask what kind of self-care are they giving themselves. First of all, are they exercising? Everyone needs to exercise. If you take care of the body, the body in turn helps take care of the mind. Your mind will fall right into place."

That means eating properly, following a fitness program, getting enough rest and, yes--learning how to relax.

There's An App For That

Nowhere is stress more likely to occur than in the modern workplace, according to a staff report from the Mayo Clinic. We know that job stress can negatively affect professional and personal relationships and overall health and wellness. Work overload is a big stressor and so are the snarls of the daily commute. Add to that a constant flood of sensory overload in the form of instant everything--internet, information, messages, texts and phones that repeatedly chirp to get our attention.

"People are not going to set their phones down or put their computers away,” said Haywood. “We're not going to turn those things off, so what can we do?"

We can use technology for our benefit, not only for distractions like checking messages while standing in the checkout line at the grocery store. Haywood said he carries his phone with him wherever he goes because there's a relaxation exercise on it. He recommends Relax Lite, an app that's available on any phone or iPad. "I use it quite often if I'm feeling a little tense," he said. "And it's free."

Feeling A Little Grumpy?

The symptoms of stress can be contagious, persistent and downright irritating of debilitating. This is not news. It might be bad news to you if others say you seem to be stressed. Translated, that means you appear to be too tightly-wrapped (or grumpy). Symptoms of chronic stress are noticeable, though often misdiagnosed, so listen up when those around you mention a change in your behavior. You could be suffering from a stress-related case of the blues.

"There are people who really struggle and need a counselor to help guide them through stressful situations and help them see things differently," Haywood said. Yet he has seen so many people (including children) who are able to help themselves with relaxation therapy, he said the results are "mind boggling."

Besides taking care of our physical selves, here from Haywood are easy ideas to help soothe body and mind: 

Intellectual

"We have to recognize the thoughts we're having and whether or not they are healthy," Haywood said. "We can stop distorted thinking that disqualifies the positive and causes worry about things that never come into place."

The clinical term he uses is Cognitive Distortion. Cognitive refers to the mental action of thinking, understanding and reasoning; distortion means thoughts are pulled or twisted out of shape to the point where there's an imbalance. Negative thoughts crowd out the positives. (See related story, Your Workaholic Ways.) 

Social

Tap into the wisdom and psychological support of the crowd. Talk to trusted colleagues or friends in your professional circle. There's comfort in the insights, suggestions, encouragement and experience of others. Take advantage of a precious resource, IAAP's network of professionals, members and staff.

Are you a desktop diner? Break that habit. A University of Arizona study said 83 percent of office workers eat lunch and snacks at their desks, missing out on much-needed mental breaks. (And who wants the workspace to smell like a tuna fish sandwich?)

Spiritual

Find peacefulness in whatever spiritual experience is meaningful to you: Play golf, get a massage, commune with nature, listen to music, meditate or pray. Take nice, deep breaths. The more you practice deep breathing, the quicker your mind can go to a peaceful place. Listen to your inner voice and know that you're special enough to deserve a special treat.

Reaching out to those in need, even in small ways, also helps improve our mental state, according to Haywood. Is it really that simple? "It's a good start," he said.

When To Chill Out

For many, there's a long, cold winter ahead. That may the perfect time to hunker down and learn to chill out. A professional clinician can teach relaxation techniques. Or type "relaxation therapy" into an internet search and tap into articles, information and videos. Stress-busting tools, including a free stress test and a relaxation video, are available at www.stressmarket.com.

Confront Your Workaholic Ways

Face it. You’re not superman, superwoman or superhuman

In psychological circles, replacing old habits with new is called “shaping.” It’s a way of redefining attitudes so we can move toward positive results. It’s also a way of making friends with the clock, the calendar and our stressed-out selves.

Replacing counterproductive, stress-inducing ideas doesn’t demand a career overhaul. It requires a change in thinking. If any of the following statements sound familiar, it may be time to rethink and release your workaholic ways.

I Feel Guilty When I Goof Off Of course you do. The “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” admonition has been around for centuries. Is that why you think you shouldn’t give yourself some time out? You know you work hard, don’t you? Psychologist and life coach Martha Beck says to lighten up when you feel angry, frustrated, stressed or panicky. “Yuk it up,” she advises. Laughter is good medicine.

I Can’t Seem to Say No Yes, you can and sometimes, you must. Prioritize the five most important goals of the day, week or month. Then focus. That habit helps you stay grounded in the same way a gymnast balances on a beam without falling off--by keeping a focus. Knowing what is an absolute “yes” helps you say “no.” Or more diplomatically, “I wish I could...I just can’t work it in this week.”

Saying “no” protects us from becoming what Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the best-selling book, Eat Pray Love, calls being an over-giver. “My whole life,  I’ve been an over-giver,” Gilbert said in O magazine. “I have over-given with my money, my stuff, my opinions, my time. You might think that’s a good thing, but there’s a down side.” She’s right. Eventually, over-givers feel over-worked, under-appreciated and seriously stressed.

It’s Hard For Me To Ask For Help Face it. You’re not superman, superwoman or superhuman. We are most productive when we develop a spirit of teamwork and collaboration. There are colleagues who are willing to chip in and it’s remarkable how much progress can be made when we ask for a helping hand. Then one day, we can return the favor (when we’re less stressed!).

Also seek help if the pressures of your job, workload or personal situations create a chronic state of stress. Getting counseling when you need it is a sign of strength, not weakness.

I Don’t Have Time To Exercise Frazzled? Pressed for time? Just take a hike. Ideally, hike up a hill. Besides building muscle and burning a bagel’s worth of calories, most all physical activity chases anxiety away. Experts at Mayo Clinic have called walking a Miracle Cure for physical health and mental health, too.

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