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Ways to relieve work stress
24th November 2015
Work-related stress is a normal occurrence, but extreme stress will leave you burnt out, have an effect on your physical and emotional health, and will hinder your productivity.
We know how stressful some legal and solicitor jobs can be and here we have compiled some tips by asking some experts how you can cope with work stress.
Preparing for work
Don’t ignore workplace stress
Dr. Sheri Jacobson, clinical director of Harley Therapy, says, “I find it extremely sad that there is still a culture of ignoring workplace stress in favour of glorifying a 'success at all costs' attitude.
“It's important to realise that workplace stress sets off a domino effect that can be far-reaching, meaning that even if you manage to survive the stress now you might find that in ten or fifteen days you experience negative consequences you didn't think of.”
Dr. Sheri Jacobson gave the example where workplace stress can sabotage interpersonal relationships and that a culture of ambition has partially led to “the epidemic of loneliness we now are experiencing in the UK”.
She adds, “Too many high achievers ignore the mental and emotional signs of workplace stress, pushing and pushing and only stopping when the physical body gives in, either via an illness, a diagnosis of something like high blood pressure, or, at worst, a nervous breakdown or heart attack.
It's a far wiser approach in the long term to see mental and emotional duress as useful warning signs telling you it's time to reassess. After all you want your career to be a long successful marathon, not a short sprint. Pace yourself accordingly.”
Up your self-care
It is quite common for people to let their self-care slide when workplace stress first hits, but Sheri Jacobson says that you need to up your self-care.
“It might seem okay to cut back on sleep, or up your alcohol and caffeine take to 'keep you going', but it all inevitably backfires. Good health means we are more able to manage a hectic pace, so keep going to the gym and forget about the sugary snacks mid-afternoon.”
A technique that has become a trend involves learning to focus on the now moment instead of worrying about the past and potential fears for the future.
Such thoughts can distract people from what they can control and change in the present, meaning that you miss an opportunity. Mindfulness leads to feeling more relaxed in your body, which is great for handling stress.
Cultivate a separate life to work
According to Sheri Jacobson of Harley Street, cultivating a separate life to work is vital.
She adds, “It can be easy to trick yourself into believing that working instead of taking leisure time means you'll get more done. You won't. You will either be secretly begrudging having to work or just bored, neither of which leads to productivity.
“Taking time to 'have a life', including supportive relationships and leisure pursuits that bring you joy, mean that when you are at work you are refreshed and inspired. This leads to better moods and less stress. At the end of the day, feeling good makes you resilient.”
Laura Clark, a registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist who runs Southwest-based LEC Nutrition, says that eating breakfast is important.
She said, “Eat breakfast – this old chestnut – theories of boosting metabolism are factually incorrect but there is no doubt breakfast eaters have a greater control of their eating habits later on in the day. What was absent in the first part of the day will be made up for later on when tiredness, hunger and the stresses of the day are likely to impact your food choices.
“Make breakfast last with slow release, higher protein choices such as porridge, wholegrain toast with nut butters, higher protein yogurts such as the Greek style varieties or high protein cereal bars if time is lacking.”
The last time I ate was…?
LEC Nutrition advises workers to eat regularly and to not miss meals.
Clark, said, “Three meals a day and a morning or afternoon snack will ensure a steady supply of stress- busting nutrition. No one food will reduce stress levels but a balance of all the food groups will.”
It is also important to eat something substantial for lunch as the superfood craze that has taken over many a lunch time menu does not cater for everybody.
“Nothing wrong with kale but if you’re munching your way through all that make sure there’s some protein and carb there too. A balance of the two will regulate blood sugar levels throughout the afternoon and make you less likely to want to eat the sofa on your late return home.”
Avoid zombie shopping
LEC Nutrition owner Laura Clark also recommends planning meals for the week the week before.
She said, “There is a certain type of person in an express/local/little type of supermarket around 6 - 8pm – don’t let it be you!
“Taking 30 minutes out of a weekend to think of the week ahead and get some easy stuff in the fridge is so worth it; chicken strips, prawns, left over roast beef, stir fry veg and some store cupboard staples such as wholemeal pasta, pouches of brown rice or noodles are great. Throw some reduced salt soya sauce, frozen ready-made ginger, chilli and garlic and some simple herbs into the mix and you can create tasty and quick mid- week meals.
Sticking with the food theme, Jo Travers, who runs The Harley Street Nutritionist and has previously consulted for the BBC and Channel 4, advises sticking to a balanced diet.
She said, “It’s important to get a good balance to what you put into your body. Sometimes people have a tendency to concentrate on just one nutrient like calories or protein or avoiding carbs, but in reality, to have a healthy body and a healthy mind you need all the nutrients in the right balance.
“Carbs (bread, pasta, rice, potatoes etc.) are the body’s favourite source of energy; fat (oils, butter, meat, oily fish, full-fat dairy) is needed for fat-soluble vitamins and cell structure; protein (meat, fish, beans, dairy, soya) is used to make cells but also to make hormones and enzymes; vitamins and minerals (fruit, vegetables and all foods) are needed as co-factors and catalysts for nearly every process that happens in the body so missing out on anything can have consequences that can affect our health and wellbeing.”
Top Tip: to get the balance right in your meals fill half of your plate with vegetables, a quarter with carbs and a quarter with protein.
Eating enough carbohydrates is vital for the brain, according to Jo Travers.
“The brain runs on glucose so it’s important to feed it with carbohydrates. However, not all carbohydrates are created equal.
“If you have carbs with a high glycaemic index (GI) like white bread and pastries, sugary food and drinks, the carbohydrates enter the blood stream very quickly, which can lead to a blood sugar ‘spike’. The body’s protective mechanism for this is to release a lot of insulin to bring blood sugar back down to a safe level - often leading to a sugar ‘crash’, essentially starving the brain of what it needs.
“By having low-GI carbs (granary bread, quinoa, bulgar wheat in the right amount, blood sugar rises gradually and doesn’t need an emergency insulin response, meaning everybody’s happy. Literally!”
Travers also reveals that carbohydrates can also affect how much of the “happy chemical” serotonin is released. She adds, “Lots of studies suggest that there is a link between the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol and lower levels of serotonin so if you are stressed, getting carbs in the right amount is really important.”
Top Tip: Have one to one and a half fist-sized portions of low-GI carbs at each meal with a little extra for snacks.
Omega-3, essential fatty acids, are also critical to the brain structure and therefore the brain function.
The Harley Street Nutritionist owner, Jo Travers, said that the brain can make do with other fats but low intakes of omega-3s are often seen in people with mood disorders, including stress. Higher omega-3s often means higher serotonin levels.”
She said, “One of the best absorbed sources of omega-3 is from oily fish (salmon, mackerel, fresh tuna, herring), but also omega-3 eggs, flax seeds and supplements are also good sources.”
Top Tip: Have at least one portion of oily fish or 2-3 portions of another omega-rich food every week.
Learn the power of no
Dr. Sheri Jacobson says that workers need to learn the power of no.
She said, “It might feel that saying yes to everything will lead to faster advancement in your career. But not only can being too available lead to being overwhelmed and shoddy rushed performance as you struggle to balance everything, it can sometimes mean people take you for granted and thus overlook your value.”
The Harley Street clinical director also feels that legal professionals and other workers should not do the work that really belongs to their assistant or secretary as it 'seems faster'. She said, “Instead it creates an unsustainable pattern. Keep all your time and focus for your important projects.”
Going on holiday is a great stress reliever as it gets your mind off of work and will also make you more focussed and productive when you are at work.
It is important that you actually take a holiday and don’t take your work with you as you need to let your body and mind rest and recuperate.
Get out of the office daily
Sheri Jacobson says that it is really important to get out of the office every day.
She adds, “The very act of removing yourself from the environment that is causing you stress can do wonders. And if you can integrate this with some exercise or relaxation techniques, even better.
“So don't sit at your desk all of lunch time, walk around the block a few times, or sit in a local park doing some deep breathing or mindfulness – in fact just being around a bit of nature is now proven to lower stress levels, too.”
If you are wondering how to deal with stress then this is a small but great tip and by taking regular short breaks throughout the day you can become more productive, not less.
A poor understanding of time is behind so much workplace stress and underestimating how long things take leaves many of us constantly playing catch up and feeling we are letting others down.
To counteract this Jacobson advises spending a week timing everything you do, including your breaks. This will help you create a schedule that is more achievable.
Taste your food!
Laura Clark says that eating whilst your mind is focused on something else means you are not allowing your brain to register the process of eating.
She adds, “In modern life even when your devices aren’t fighting for your attention, your brain is still wired to pay attention to them.
“Try as much as possible to take 10 minutes out for the sole purpose of eating – it will make a huge difference particularly to portion control if this is something you struggle with. Remember there are no taste buds in your stomach so be in the moment and enjoy as much as possible!”
Hydrate to concentrate
Laura Clark says that dehydration causes exhaustion and therefore workers need to keep drinking!
She advises people to give themselves visual cues to drink, such as a large water bottle on your desk will talk to you more than the water fountain a corridor away.
Don’t run late
Another important tip to follow is to try to get into work early to allow yourself to ease into your day.
Running late will add to your stress levels no matter whether you are currently in a temporary legal job or a permanent one. Getting to work 10-15 minutes early can make a difference to your stress levels.
If you suffer from work stress or are currently off work with stress, then try some of these suggestions to see if they help you!