Does it feel that no matter how hard you work, the promised rewards disappear over the horizon as you approach them? That there's never any time to taste the fruits of your labours, let alone gorge on them until you're sick of lying around? Increasing numbers of intelligent, competent, educated women are suffering from work-related stress, causing 35% of all work related ill health cases. The figures have shot up since the 90s and have shown no signs of abating.
Whilst the main causes cited are workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support, the three main underlying reasons come down to:
Saying yes when you mean no
Believing your negative 'mind-talk'
Not taking time to nourish yourself
Stress at work is associated with conditions such as heart disease, anxiety and depression and may play a role in some forms of musculoskeletal disorders, so to avoid damaging your health permanently try our tried and tested solutions.
Saying ‘yes’ when you are actually thinking ‘I don’t want to’, ‘I’m too busy already’, ‘it’s not my job’, ‘stop offloading your shitty tasks on me,’ or ‘I’m only contracted to do three days a week, how the hell do you expect me to fit this in?’ is a sure-fire way to increase your stress levels.
If you believe saying no will leave you open to criticism or that to be good employee you need to accept all roles, consider how much use you are if you are costing your company one of the 9.9 million days lost to stress each year. You have a responsibility to look after yourself, because if you don’t respect yourself how can you other people to respect you.
Start practicing setting your boundaries with little things and build up your strength. Setting boundaries is a skill that can be learnt. Try saying “I won’t be able to do that,” not: “Yes,” not: “I’ll try”, not even, “Sorry I’m not sure I can.” Instead of using self-derogatory language such as ‘sorry’ when you’ve done nothing wrong, you can still give polite but clear and unequivocal ‘no’s’ in the form of “That won’t be possible”, “I don’t have any more time in my schedule for that”, “If you would like to add that to my job description let’s schedule a meeting to discuss what tasks I will let go of”. It’s incredibly exhilarating to say no and realise no-one died, try it! Colleagues might be frustrated they can’t manipulate you but will nonetheless recognise such responses as a clear and honest, qualities infinitely preferable to angry and resentful, which is the alternative.
Listening to your negative mind-talk
We all have a little devil on our shoulder spouting a vicious and undermining commentary on so much of what we do, think and say. You know when you’ve done a great job at work and you’re feeling momentarily pleased with yourself and then the voice starts reminding of what else you could of done, or that it wasn’t that good after all, or all that you have to achieve next. It’s that little voice telling you things like: “You’ll get the sack if you say no.” Or: “You’ll never get promotion if you refuse,” or for the self-employed it’s: “If you say no to this job you’ll probably not get offered anything else for months,” and: “have you made any contributions to your pension this year?”
Your mind might tell you the odd truth but practically all of its commentary is false. Your mind speaks in absolute finalities. And we believe it. “I have to,” we tell ourselves, when the truth is: “I could.” If you take the time to write down everything your mind tells you in a the blinking of an eye you would be horrified. It’s not just saying that you’ll lose your job for sure, but quite often goes on to tell you you’ll never getting a job again. Left unchecked it can convince you that unless you agree to these unreasonable demands you’ll end up penniless and alone.
So when your mind has you worrying about the future, telling you that you have to work longer hours to earn more, or that you have to work harder than the men to get promoted and you have to do everything perfectly, write it down and then go through each point and ask yourself if it is really true. For instance ‘Am I expected to be perfect, or just to do my job as well as I can.’
It is very liberating to tell that little demon the truth, you just need to take the time to get the thoughts out of the spin in your head and see them for what they are.
Not taking time out for yourself
In the three year period 2011/12, 2013/14 and 2014/15 the prevalence rate for work related stress in males was 590 cases compared to 920 cases for females (per 100,000 people employed). Within the age ranges over the same time period females in the 34-44 and 45-54 years ranges had significantly higher rates than the average across all persons.
I believe that one of the reasons for this is that women have been trained from an early age to put others first. Even it is not explicitly said it is embedded in our culture. It starts with Snow White keeping house for the Seven dwarfs and doesn’t seem to stop.
He might come home from a stressful week and take it out on a game of squash, or playing his guitar, while she will come home and get stuck into cooking dinner, visiting her ill relation or talking to the friend going through the horrible divorce for hours.
We read the many articles telling us to take a long candle-strewn bath or learn to meditate but then forget to do anything about it after having emptied the dishwasher and put on that last load of washing before bed.
Looking after our well being gets marketed as a treat or a luxury, instead of being critical for our health, our relationships and our career, so we put it aside. It’s not just our heath that suffers but the knock on effects of living with stress include damaging relationships with loved ones and colleagues.
We hear lots about sustainability at the moment. Think about your own life. Is is sustainable? Feeling overwhelmed, overworked and burnt out is unsustainable. Do something about it before you become another statistic.
“I’d love to go on one of those retreats but I just can’t find the time/ do that while my mother is ill/ afford it ”, we say. Here’s my question to you. When you look at the stats - can you afford not to?
To develop your skills in dealing with mind talk try my Self-Esteem Enhancement course, sponsored by the More to Life programme. Join a free online Introduction on June 8th at 7-9pm in the UK (or 8-10pm in France) to learn more about our next Self-Esteem Enhancement course being held on September 22nd-25th. You can do one of the exercises from the course, ask questions and find out of this is for you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get log in details.
Looking for a good retreat? Head here, for a range of courses designed to de-stress and restore equilibrium.