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.

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