Originally written for www.stuff.co.nz published 16 July 2018
We all have those times at work, no matter how controlled and even-tempered we might normally be and how much we might love our jobs, where something, or someone, becomes too much. Sometimes life gets hard at home and outside of work too.
An event which on its own, while stressful, might not be enough to tip us over the edge, but as they build up over time, a full-on meltdown – with tears, screaming and stamping of feet – threatens to appear.
It’s obvious this is not a good situation to be in and its best avoided ahead of time with careful management of your triggers and strategies to keep your sanity in check.
Know your triggers: If you know what (or who) triggers your stress, find ways to get out of those situations before they occur or keep solutions in mind that you can revert to when you need them. Remind yourself not to be attached situations, outcomes or events that make you stressed and to let go of the things you can’t control.
Assess your workload: When much of your teams’ workload sits with one person, it’s likely to be a fast track to a meltdown. Find ways to address this and have team members work to their strengths.
Communication: It’s important to talk about your work stressors constructively, look for solutions and acknowledge what you can learn from them. But be aware that no one wants nonstop ranting and complaining. It’s unhelpful, lowers the tone of your workplace and doesn’t change your outcomes.
Invest in self-care: Ensuring you’re looking after yourself with adequate sleep, good nutrition and regular exercise will help you deal better with the curve balls thrown your way. Do things regularly that help to build up your energy whether that’s exercise that ‘works in’ (as opposed to ‘working out’) like yoga or walking or getting treatments like massage or facials.
Take time out: Life is not all about work, so remember to do things you enjoy each week – catch up with friends, spend time in your garden, read a book or get outside. Your annual leave is there to help you maintain your balance through the year so book regular time off to reset and recharge.
If you can’t head it off at the pass, and you can feel a meltdown is imminent, try these last-minute avoidance tactics:
Breathe: When we stress we breathe faster and shallower. This feeds more stress into our system, causing a vicious cycle. Interrupting that cycle by slowing your breath can lower your stress response and activate the opposite rest and repair function of your body. Take long, slow, deep breaths, and make your out-breath slower than the in-breath to maximise those repair functions.
Take a break: Get away from the stressful situation, take a walk outside, or find a quiet place to breathe slowly for 10 minutes.
Shake it out: Lift and drop your shoulders heavily a few times, relax your arms and shake them out or stand up shake your whole body. Shaking can relieve tension and anxiety, give your brain a break and reset muscular holding patterns. Animals use it to relieve stress as do many indigenous cultures around the world.