3 Surprising Ways to Break the Downward Spiral of Work Related Stress


A workplace programme I taught recently on Stress Management and Resilience Training, yielded surprising results.

It's always pleasing when people enjoy themselves, but particularly so when it is because they get (re-) acquainted with themselves. That is an invigorating and joyful experience.

Stress is pernicious. We often don’t realise how deeply it’s engulfed us. We let it creep up on us and accept its discomfort as our everyday normal. Be reminded that the word itself has little meaning. It is an abstract term and therefore takes on the meaning we each ascribe to it in our head.

For this reason it is important, to identify what we mean as a group, before we deal with it. The participants on this course identified the following important markers:

  • Sleep disturbance
  • Poor focus
  • Compromised performance and joylessness
  • Feeling more isolated from those around them and an ebbing away of their sense of worth and trust in their own abilities.
  • Less trustful of each other, which affected team efforts.

If we witnessed this in our pets, we’d be up in arms. We’d know that this is not what nature intended. A stressed organism is in the process of imploding, and therefore shrinking. Compare this to a healthy life, the way it was meant: you see growth, creativity, joy and a sense of belonging and connection. Think only of a budding flower or unfolding fern. Our lives too, should be about expanding, growing and reaching out.

The course consisted of six 2-hour sessions spread out over 3 months and the feedback was pretty unanimous - a real reminder of how shared our experiences are; something we fail to notice in the isolation of stress.  I loved how simple it actually was to make small changes with high impact results.  After the course, participants reported:

  • Lowered stress levels
  • Increased clarity of mind
  • The ability to make better choices and comfortably set boundaries (without feeling guilty)
  • An improved sense of connectedness and communication with colleagues and family members.

It all begins with the realisation that you are an important enough person to make time for.

Time is finite and precious, as a result. Think carefully about how you spend it.

That realisation can breathe fresh oxygen into our minds and invigorate our intentions to make healthy changes.

Carve out time for yourself and do these 3 things to break the downward spiral of stress... 

1.    Re-engage with something that absorbs you

Hobbies and interests fully absorb us. They invite us to engage and develop skills. We change as a result.

One woman went back to playing the guitar on a very regular basis. A man realised how the disconnection from his routine environment would alter his perception of work-related problems and give him new ideas. He took up daily walks and although he wasn’t always able to change the walk, by focussing his attention outwards, these walks were always different. Nature changes itself continuously. The newness of each walk made him experience the fullness of life around him, which reduced the size of his problems.

Should you be wondering about the time such activities might take, put a timer on your mobile phone and find out how many hours a day you surf across cyberspace. If we aren’t accountable to ourselves for the time we spend on the internet it dulls the mind: social media reduces our sense of self-worth and we don’t develop skills nor does it offer the brain a complete break like being with real friends, pursuing a sport or other hobby. However addictive and seemingly real, the internet will never replace real life.

2.    Punctuate the day more clearly

Regularly press the pause button to stop, breathe and take stock.

Several people built in regular moments to create these mini clearings during their day:

At home: to set intentions for the day or the week ahead; to look back on the day before deciding what to do with the evening and plan for tomorrow. It could be by getting up a bit earlier and have some time to oneself before plunging into the day. We start to feel more present and better in ourselves if we regularly lift ourselves out of the fast moving stream of life and look down at it from the bank. That stillness offers a chance to hear more clearly your own inner voice.

At work: look for opportunities to consciously take a slow deep breath between activities, before responding or pressing the send button on the email. How often do we not make ourselves guilty of reacting to everything that happens or is said around us. Try encouraging others to ‘tell you a little bit more about that’.

Notice (i) what a relief it is to discover that it isn’t necessary to jump into every conversation with an opinion, (ii) how much energy you save, and (iii) how stopping yourself in this way deepens connection.

Pressing the pause button creates a space between a stimulus and your response.

3.    Coming home to yourself

You may laugh when I tell you that science is only just discovering how important it is to engage your body in your life.

The practice of mindfulness - whether through the breath, mindful movements or stretches or by connecting with the felt sense of your experience - gives people a stronger, safer and more satisfying experience of themselves. Coming out of our heads and dropping into our bodies changes how we interact with the world.

One last thought... 

There is no such thing as a stress free life. We can go as far as saying that a stress free life would atrophy the brain. It is healthy to step out of our comfort zone and have problems to solve. Just as exposure to germs strengthens our physical immune system, so too can we build and harness our emotional immune system.

Resilience training does just that. It empowers us to ride the turbulent waves of life and to emerge as stronger, bolder and more human.


About Renée

Renée van der Vloodt ( M.A. , FHGI ) is a psychotherapist and coach – and has had a private practice for over 20 years, which is now based in Woodchurch (near Ashford), Kent.

Renée is the author of the CD Calm the Chaos of the Creative Mind and works with children and adults as a coach and therapist to help them overcome life's challenges and emotional difficulties including stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anger or addictive behaviour.

Renée provides executive resilience coaching and stress reduction programmes for teams.