Managing stress

In today’s work environment, the pressure to be highly productive often results in people feeling rushed, overworked or generally dissatisfied. And, thanks to our modern technology, we are constantly online, juggling various urgent problems at the same time. There is also an increased expectation for people to work faster, and for longer hours, so we tend to continue working from home during evenings, and weekends, resulting in ever growing rates of burn-out.

In a recent article, Manfred Kets de Vries writes about the importance of “doing nothing”. He advocates for people to have enough quiet time for reflection. For him, it is only when our brains are at rest that we can have truly creative ideas (Financieel Dagblad – 3 October 2015).

What is stress?

Our autonomous nervous system is made up of two parts: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. Using the analogy of a car, these would respectively be the accelerator pedal and the brakes.

The sympathetic system is active in stress related situations. It produces a higher heart rate, higher vigilance and an increased level of energy, which are very necessary if we need to face an immediate danger. But this state cannot be maintained for too long without producing stress related symptoms such as fatigue, concentration and sleeping problems, irritability and muscle pain.

Brain functioning

Brain research has shown that stress might impair the proper functioning of the pre-frontal cortex that is responsible for working memory and the regulation of thoughts and emotions.

In a recent interview, Prof. Mark Williams said that after about 8 hours of hard work, our brains are no longer that active,. so working longer hours doesn’t guarantee higher productivity. On the contrary, in some cases, working less makes us more productive. (Online Mindfulness Summit , October 2015).

So in order keep being productive in a sustainable way, we need to find ways to manage stress and lead a balanced life.

7 tips to manage stress

  • Integrate short relaxing exercises into your daily life. There are many good apps available
  • Take a Mindfulness class
  • Set some periods of time when you are “offline” and/or not to be disturbed
  • Take up a hobby that relaxes your mind, like photography or sailing
  • Make sure you get enough exercise and enough sleep
  • Set clear priorities, say no more often
  • Improve your time management
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