Working in academia, most of us don’t have the ability to hand work over to someone else when we need to take a break so that it all keeps ticking along. Typically after taking a week off with the kids for half term, I then get hit on the back of the head with a freezer block and get a lump the size of an egg and 2 days later come down with a throat infection as soon as I start back in the office. In the time you are away the emails ridiculously build up and the to do list is getting longer and longer. We take breaks to avoid stress but in the process it often feels worse when you come back then when you went away. How on earth do you catch up on all this and not just end up rocking in the corner as the stress builds up?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as,
“The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them.”
Although not an illness in itself, if mismanaged it can lead to the development of mental and physical illnesses.The HSE also states the difference between pressure and stress. Pressure can be positive and a motivating factor, and is often essential in a job. It can help us achieve our goals and perform better. Stress occurs when this pressure becomes excessive. Stress is a natural reaction to too much pressure.
The research environment can be a very stressful place at times where not everyone does cope with the excessive pressure. Its very easy to slip into the mindset that ‘working longer’ means ‘working better’ and finding yourself regularly working 7 days a week on your research. For this reason the Researcher Professional Development Team last year launched #researchwell a week of activities that specifically promoted wellbeing in research and was such a success we’re running another week of activities again this year. The week of the 19th June will be full of activities dedicated to researching well. For further support aimed at researcher wellbeing the spring edition of the Doctoral Times, was themed on well-being and a few weeks ago Nature Careers published an article – Work-life Balance: Break or burn out. If you are a member of staff at the University there is also the support you can access through Juice – for health and wellbeing organised by Human Resources.
Everyone has their own ways of trying to deal with stressful situations, I know what helps to calm me down and relax but when I searched online for ways to help reduce stress I came across site after site listing ways you can try to help yourself to reduce stress. My top compilation of quick fixes to help you destress include;
- Exercise: The easiest thing to do when things get overwhelming is to take a walk, but for me there is nothing powerful in making me feel better than going to a dance/exercise class
- Make time for yourself: I’ve started blocking out a lunch at work to make sure I get some time in between meetings for myself to eat and take a walk.
- Take a hot bath/shower: Nothing beats relaxing in warm water.
- Listen to music: Lose yourself listening to some tunes you love
- Be healthy
- Laugh: They say laughter is the best medicine.
- Play with a pet: It never fails to cheer me up and calm me down when I have a snuggle with my guinea pig ‘Pigwigeon’. Make sure you take a photo or video of your pet so that when you aren’t with them at work, they can still help to reduce your stress. Not got a pet? Try finding some organised Pet Therapy
- Journal: Writing down how you feel about a situation can be incredibly powerful in working and reflecting on how to overcome the problem or deal with it differently in the future. Equally it stops you bottling up all your emotions and gives an outlet to vent.
- Challenge yourself: personal targets such as learning a language or taking part in a charity run takes your mind off your stress
- Take control: The act of taking control is in itself empowering, and it’s a crucial part of finding a solution that satisfies you and not someone else. Read tips on how to manage your time
- Be around your friends: The activities we do with friends help us relax. We often have a good laugh with them, which is an excellent stress reliever. Read about some other ways relationships help our wellbeing
Crucially, if things are getting too much, seek help! There are so many resources out there to support you. Please talk to someone.