I meet all kinds of people in my work, all kinds of individuals who have chosen coaching for different reasons, but who often are experiencing the same underlying feelings. Sadly for many, it is that they no longer experience the joy of life.
Instead, they stressed and burnt out. Life has become very serious. They feel as if they are failing in their job or that they have made the wrong career choice, that their work is not lining up to what they expected it to be. They tell me they are in a constant state of high alert and feel as if they are on the lookout for what's going to go wrong next. They have lost trust in their work colleagues and/or boss and have high levels of cynicism about the company they work for.
The flow-on effect of all of this is that their relationships at work and home are strained; they feel exhausted and drained with very little in reserve. Often, they have stopped taking time out for themselves and feel like they are just surviving.
Almost everyone is facing multiple demands throughout every day. We may be juggling a huge workload, work that is incredibly demanding, be paying the bills and taking care of our family - all at the same time. Our body treats these normal ups and downs and challenges of getting through the day as threats.
What causes stress?
When we are under threat our body naturally responds by flooding our system with the stress hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. This is a natural response that helps us in two ways:
Adrenaline increases our heart rate and elevates our blood pressure to boost energy supplies.
Cortisol shuts down functions that are non-essential or not useful in a fight or flight situation.
It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with the brain regions that control mood, motivation and fear” - Stress Management, The Mayo Clinic
In a normal situation, when we are exposed to a threat, our system works efficiently and effectively by releasing these hormones. When the situation has passed, our heart rate returns to normal and these hormones leave our system.
Long term stress and burnout mean our stress response system has defaulted to being switched on all the time. As a result, we may experience: anxiety, depression, fatigue, lack of appetite or indigestion, inability to concentrate and memory problems, disrupted sleep and headaches. Unless we recognise that we are habitually stressed, and take steps to change this habit, we may put ourselves at risk of serious health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure or stroke.
How you can manage it
First of all, recognise that stress is a normal response to life. Accept that you may not be able to change your situation. What you do have control over is your response and how to manage the impact of what is happening on you.
Secondly, recognise and accept that you will need to make yourself the priority in your life. You will need to take some steps to introduce a self-care and self-management focus and activities.
There are many stress management techniques and activities that we can do.
Yep gratitude helps us move from an inward-focused approach to life to a more outward focus. It helps us focus on the more positive aspects of our lives and how to appreciate and be grateful for the things others do for us. Our brains will naturally filter for those things we focus on. So, when we focus on what we have to be grateful for more things will seem to show up that we can be grateful for. When we focus on feeling gratitude our body floods with the feel-good chemical cocktail of endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin.
This may be a difficult thing to do initially because we tend to rely on smiling being a responsive thing as opposed to being proactive. However, take a look around you at those who are ready with a smile. They tend to be happier and less stressed. So if you cannot do it and feel like smiling my advice is to fake it til you make it. Just smile and make eye contact with those you meet throughout the day and take notice of how doing this improves your outlook. If you practice this regularly you will notice how good you and they feel just exchanging smiles.
Did you know that one of the best and most effective thing to introduce into our lives is having a good laugh? Research has shown that laughter really is the best medicine.
When we have a good laugh, our body relaxes for up to 45 minutes. It protects the heart and boosts the immune system which means it is a wonderful antidote to the effects of cortisol.
It releases endorphins which is the feel-good hormone that we also get when we exercise. A good dose of endorphins leaves us with that overall feeling of well being and can even eliminate pain.
It improves the function of blood vessels and blood flow which can help protect against those health issues described above.
It can even burn calories… Laughing for 15 minutes a day can burn up to 40 calories… This doesn’t replace walking or other aerobic exercise but is a great way to augment them without spending MORE time at the gym.
It’s a great way to diffuse anger. Your own or others. It can help you to see the funny side of things and enable you to accept, let go and move on without resentment.
It can bring people together and strengthen relationships. Shared laughter is one of the most effective ways to connect with others. Not from sharing jokes but as a natural outcome of spending time together and sharing the humorous side of life. When we share a laugh with others we both feel happier, more positive and more relaxed - even when we cannot change the circumstances of a stressful situation.
So, how to bring more humour into your life - especially when you are habitually stressed and feel burned out?
Spend time with people who laugh easily at themselves. Even if you are a serious type (like I am) spending time with people who don’t take life too seriously and see the humorous side of things is a way to bring laughter into your life. People who are humorous love someone who laughs along with them. So you can be an audience even if you are a serious person.
And if all else fails - there is also simulated laughter. Research has shown that simulating laughter can have similar benefits to real laughter. There are laugh yoga and laugh therapy classes and groups if you look for them. If you cannot find any then practice laughing at anything. Watch some YouTube comedy sketches and simulate laughing along with them even if you don’t find them funny. Laughter is like a muscle - the more we exercise it the more readily it will respond.
Doing any or all of these activities will help you foster a more playful and lighter touch to life and will also help minimise the effects of stress and burnout.
So what are you waiting for? Go and have a giggle!