No wonder working from home can feel stressful

2020 was series of unexpected events. Corona virus has had an impact on everything. Our health and stress levels, how we live and how we work. Many of us have had to change and adapt to a new way of living and it’s unlikely that we’ll return to ‘normal’ any time soon – if ever.

Months of adapting to change can take its toll. Many of the teams I’m working with are feeling exhausted, anxious and stressed out.

We’re all different and this sort of constant change and feelings of uncertainty affect us all in different ways. It’s true that we’re all in the same storm and yes, we’re all in very different boats.

Whatever boat you’re in, a useful tool is being able to spot your signs of stress early and then do something about them to stop stress escalating.

For me, I know that when I’m feeling stressed or under pressure I get clumsy, I’m irritable and I can’t concentrate or focus on anything.

You may experience physical signals, for example, headaches, feeling tired all the time, shallow breathing or the feeling that you’re not getting enough air.

What are your stress signals? What are the things that happen to you that signal ‘uh oh I’m getting stressed’?

When I used to say I was feeling stressed, sometimes people would helpfully suggest that I drink a glass of water or go for a walk round the block. It would really wind me up because having a drink or a walk felt like such an over simplified remedy for how I was feeling.

Then I did some research about what was happening in our bodies when we’re experiencing stress.

It turns out, that when we feel threatened, whether physically, for example feeling on edge walking down a dark street at night, or mentally, for example, threatened that our reputation is at risk if we don’t make a looming deadline our nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones. These hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol prepare the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, and speed up your reaction time, preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand. This was very useful for survival if we had to run from, or fight a wild animal. It’s less helpful if you need to think slowly and carefully about the best way to respond to a difficult email from a colleague or customer.

So when we notice early signs of stress, we need to act. We need to kerb the flood of hormones preparing us to fight or flee. This is about changing our state. Which is why, if you act as soon as you feel the stress rising by changing your state by doing something as simple as having a glass of water or having a chat with someone, it can help reduce feelings of stress.

Stress and working at home

So lets think about this stress response when you’re working in an office.

You’re already feeling the pressure of a deadline, the internet is running slow and everything is taking ages to download and then you get an annoying email from your boss. ‘Argh’, you think. Enough.

You decide that rather than fire back an immediate angry response to your boss, to get a cup of tea, and have a think before you reply. You get up and walk to the kitchen. On your way you pass Steve’s desk, you say hello and offer him a cup of tea while you’re making one for yourself. He says he’ll come with you because he needs to put his lunch in the microwave queue. So you go to the kitchen together and have a chat while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil. You head back to your desk feeling a whole lot better than when you left a few minutes before.

So without knowing it, your stress was rising and you stood up and changed your state, walked around and chatted with a colleague. By the time you’re back at your desk less than 10 minutes later your cortisol and adrenalin levels have reduced and you can think properly about how best to reply to the annoying email and get back to the pressing deadline.

In an office that’s how you reduce your stress and you often do it without even knowing it. When you’re at home on your own, you don’t have colleagues to chat to on the way to the kitchen, and so its easy for stress levels to escalate.

So when you’re working from home and managing your stress, it helps to be more deliberate then when you’re working in an office. Here’s our tips.

  1. Notice when your stress levels are rising – what are your early warning signs?
  2. Remember that your body is being flooded with cortisol and adrenaline and what you need to do is reduce the levels.
  3. You do this by changing your state which sounds complicated but the actions to do this are simple. We’re all different so you might need to experiment with what works best for you. Here’s some suggestions;
  • Stand up and stretch
  • Breath – slowly in and out for a few minutes
  • Get up and get a drink (preferably water, preferably not wine or gin)
  • Walk round the block
  • Walk round the lounge
  • Phone a friend
  • Water your plants
  • Make a fuss of the dog
  • Sing a song
  • Dance about

Let us know how you get on. And if you’d like more practical help to boost your resilience, confidence and creativity then join Charly White and me for a one day training on 9 February. More details and sign up here.

Why the ability to solve problems is more important than having a right answer

When I was 8 years old I knew all the flags of the world. When I was 16 I knew about Pythagoras theorem and when I was 21 I knew how Nylon was made.

Whilst flags, Pythagoras and Nylon are all interesting to a degree, I’m not sure how genuinely useful any of those topics have really been in my career. I learned about them to pass exams. I crammed the information in order to regurgitate it and get as many questions right as I could. Then I forgot it all. My schools and Universities could tick a box though. If enough of us remembered enough facts it meant they got better ratings, which meant more students and more money in subsequent years.

Throughout education I remember being rewarded for getting things right. And I learned this young. At an early age I figured out that asking challenging questions, thinking differently or being a maverick didn’t make me popular with teachers, so over time I stopped.

Then when we start work we are given key performance indicators and objectives. As adults working for an organisation we are measured and judged on how we conform to a set of pre-defined objectives. These are just the grown up versions of getting rewarded for getting things right passing tests, and ticking boxes.

So it’s no wonder that so many organisations struggle to be successful at innovation. Learning to pass exams rather than learning to think for ourselves discourages innovation from an early age, and lets not underestimate the impact that our early years experiences have on our adult behaviour.

Innovation isn’t about confirming to a set of rules or learning about how things have always been done. It’s about thinking differently, responding to change and solving problems. I’m not saying that it’s not important to learn from history and the great discoveries that have gone before us, but if we are not mindful, we may end up focusing on the events of the past and miss the real lessons of the innovators experiences; of questioning the status quo, learning from the present and not giving up when others said it was impossible.

And the real life lessons that we experience are really important in a world that is changing faster than ever before and will never move so slowly again. It’s unlikely that anyone entering the workforce today will have the same job in ten years time. *One estimate suggests that 65% of children starting primary school today will end up working in jobs that currently don’t even exist.

Right now we need our innovation and creativity skills more than ever before.

We’ve been forced to change radically in 2020. Many of us have already adapted to working from home or adjusted into new roles. We’ve stayed connected, and many people have been even more connected while remaining socially distanced. Parents have adapted to teach their kids (and many kids have adapted to teach their parents)!

Human beings are good at creativity, innovation and adapting, but we’re not used to having to adapt so quickly in a highly stressful situation and for a sustained period of time. The adrenalin needed to respond to a crisis exhausts us and we run out of steam. Gary Gower talks about it in his recent blog about getting past the 6-month wall.

When we’re stressed, anxious or out of steam our ability to think creatively is diminished.

When we feel stressed, it’s common to experience ‘brain fog’ – that feeling of not being able to think straight. When we’re out of steam we can lack the ability to focus or concentrate on anything properly. When we’re anxious we can make quick and ill thought through decisions or procrastinate so much that we do nothing at all.

This is because when we’re feeling stressed or anxious our basic survival instincts kick in and our bodies go into fight, flight or freeze mode. This makes it very difficult to access the creative thinking parts of our brains needed to solve problems effectively.

We are all creative and according to research, to think creatively we simply need to be in a relaxed or playful mindset. That’s why many people have their best ideas in the shower, walking the dog or in the pub. Ideas flow when we’re relaxed.

There’s no relaxation or playfulness when we’re operating in fight, flight or freeze mode. So in a crisis it can be hard to think creatively and solve problems, despite knowing that in a crisis is the time when we need these skills the most.

Being able to solve problems is a very important skill right now. That’s one of the reasons that I set up the Lucidity Network. It’s gives members training materials, connection with others to help solve problems and group coaching. Join the Lucidity Network here.

 

 

Get out in nature for good health and resilience

A guest blog by Ellen Fineran.

I regard spending time in nature as one of my top priorities for feeling good about myself and staying resilient. That’s been even more relevant since the COVID-19 restrictions.

I grew up as a pretty feral child of the 1970s but then a career in the motor trade with long hours and a daily commute, combined with being a single parent, left little time for nurturing my soul through nature.

It wasn’t that nature wasn’t still all around me; more that I tended to ignore it and didn’t see its importance in my daily life. Then, in my early forties, I began working for Derbyshire Wildlife Trust as Head of Commercial Development. Being around so many people who were passionate about our beautiful wild spaces reawakened my need to connect with nature and I now feel the healthiest and happiest I’ve been throughout my adult life.

And don’t just take my word for it – there is plenty of evidence that the natural world is the foundation of our health, wellbeing and prosperity. So if you’d like to feel the benefits of exploring the nature that’s on your doorstep, here are my top tips:

Don’t be scared – you don’t need any PPE or specialist skills to get out into nature. Find a local park or green space near your home where you can social distance from others, take a stroll and enjoy exploring. Personally I love spotting a Public Footpath and seeing where it leads to!

Really notice – nature is everywhere, no matter where you live, and very often we just don’t see it. Listen to the blackbird singing on the neighbour’s roof or notice the wild flowers growing on the roadside verges. I love to watch the seasons change and I enjoy the different colours, textures and sounds that each season brings.

Nature can alter your mood – find a space somewhere green to stop, sit and think. Take deep, conscious breaths and use all of your senses to experience it. If you can let yourself relax into this, it really will empty your mind and give you a new perspective on things.

You don’t need to be a wildlife expert – I don’t care that I don’t know the calls of all the birds or the names of the plants, but I know that I love the sound of birdsong and I take joy in looking at lush green leaves. As humans, we have a natural curiosity to understand everything around us (which is great if that’s your thing) but needing to know can take the joy out of simply enjoying nature and wildlife and feeling connected with it. So be blissful in your ignorance and enjoy the moment.

Build being in nature into your daily routine – make daily choices which bring you closer to nature. For me, that was getting a dog and taking a morning walk before work. If that’s not for you, find your thing. For example, you might take a stroll with a friend at lunchtime or have your post-work glass of wine in the garden.

Have fun – I love taking part in The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild each year in June and it starts next week! The idea is to carry out a simple and fun Random Act of Wildness every day throughout June and share it with your friends on social media. It can be anything from spotting a bee in a flower to having a cuppa in the sunshine.

And finally, my best advice really is to just get out there and enjoy the natural world around you. Wherever you live, whether that’s in a city, the countryside or somewhere in-between, exploring the nature on your doorstep will help you stay healthy and resilient in these difficult times. I know that the days when I’ve started off with a mindful morning walk across the fields are the days where I feel energised and productive and ready to take on this crazy world.

Ellen Fineran is Head of Commercial Development at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, a member of the Lucidity Network and in her spare time she can be found baking amazing cakes and exploring the countryside with her dog Beano.

The amazing benefit of hiking on your health, happiness and productivity

A guest blog by Tim Fox.

It is easy to get wrapped up in day-to-day life and to fall into a sort of routine. We wake up, we go to our jobs, and we come home. Now and again, we’ll maybe go out and have a drink with friends or something. It is a proven fact that humans are creatures of habit, and falling into a routine is just a regular aspect of life.

But what if I told you that making a small change to your regular routine, can have a phenomenal impact on your health, happiness, and productivity? You might even be surprised to know that it’s something simple. The answer is hiking. Taking hikes, even small ones can have wondrous health benefits! Let us tell you more about it.

  1. Vitamin D

There are so many health benefits that come, just from being outdoors. Being outside means we get to soak up vitamin D, which is a necessary nutrient that we need to be healthy. When we are out in the sun, this nutrient is naturally and readily available. This is important to know because vitamin D occurs very rarely in foods. We can always take vitamins or supplements, but nothing beats soaking up that natural sunshine.

Vitamin D helps you absorb calcium better, which means stronger bones and healthy bone growth. More important still, deficiency of this nutrient has been linked to various cancers and even depression. If that alone isn’t reason enough to get more sunshine, then I don’t know what is!

  1. Decompress and Relax

Another wonderful thing that hiking and nature do is it helps to decompress and relax naturally. The science behind it isn’t exact, but many scientists say that it simply has a positive, psychological, effect on us. Taking some time for the outdoors can decrease stress, boost creativity, and improve mental clarity.

Many tests have even shown that it even lowers blood pressure. Our jobs can be hectic, our lives can be busy, but disconnecting from all that now and again and enjoying nature, can be very beneficial for both our mental and physical health.

  1. Endorphins

When it comes to the outdoors, nobody can argue that hiking is one of the best activities you can do. Not only are you getting that healthy sunshine and the relaxation that comes with being outside, but you are also getting exercise too, which is also very beneficial for your health.

Exercising gives us endorphins. Endorphins interact with receptors in your brain that can give us a feeling of positivity. These endorphins can also reduce stress, help keep us healthy, and also help us to lose weight. When you combined these endorphins with nature’s natural ability also to boost mood and mind, you get the ultimate combination of both health and happiness boosters.

    4. Experiences

Hiking also has some other wonderful experiences too! Apart from being very healthy and relaxing, it can also be fun and engaging. There is so much to do on a hike. You can take pictures and capture the beauty of the outdoors, you can bird watch, or you can take in all of the lovely flora and fauna in the area. Stop and smell the roses.

This is what makes hiking one of the best activities that you can do! It keeps you healthy, boosts your mood, is fun, and the creativity boost you get will make your day easier and feel so much less stressful. You don’t even have to hike a lot. Life is busy, and we all know this. Even a short ten- or fifteen-minute hike through a park can have more health benefits for you than you realize.

  1. The Colour Green

Another interesting tidbit about hiking and nature deals with the colour green. Perhaps this colour also has something to do with nature’s phycological effect on us. An interesting study at the University of Essex concluded that being around the colour green actually made people feel lower exertion during exercise and also reported fewer mood disturbances too.

The people who exercised around different colors did not feel the same way. So perhaps there is something about the colour green that has just a little bit of magic on our psyches.

Conclusion

Even if you can only spare a couple of hours a day, you should engage in hiking outside. Hiking will provide you with peace of mind and keep you healthy. But before you go hiking don’t forget to take few essentials especially water and best hydration bladder to keep you hydrated. Based on the evidence and from those who spend time outdoors, it is a wonderful way to stay healthy, happy, and get a creative boost that you won’t find anywhere else.

Since the age of 10, Tim, a writer at Outdoor With J, has enjoyed camping in the great outdoors. Although he loves the peace and quiet of the outdoors, he also likes his creature comforts. Tim’s mission is to make camping a fun and comfortable experience for all.