Back in December last year, before the start of the ‘silly season’, I recorded an episode of the podcast that looked at how to recognise and deal with stress and overwork, which always seems to increase at that time of the year.
Last Monday, 10th October was World Mental Health Day, and the world is nothing if not worrying at the moment, so I thought it might be a good time to revisit my top tips for managing stressful times.
It’s all in the mind(set)
Everything comes down to your mindset. When everything around you is uncertain, it is the one thing that you can control. It does not take much to convince yourself that things are going to be difficult if that is your present state of mind – if you’ve decided you’re going to have a bad day, then that is exactly what you’ll have.
I don’t mean this in a ‘woo-woo’ way but think of it like having a switch in your mind. You can, in a split second, flip a switch in your mind and decide instead that you’re going to have a great day! It may sound easy for me to say, ‘you just flip the switch’, but honestly, it often simply comes down to decision on how you want your day to go.
Remember that your mind plays tricks on you. If I put a line of paving slabs on the ground for 20m and told you to walk along them in a straight line, you’d have no trouble doing it. Now imagine I put the same line of paving slabs along the parapet wall of a 20-storey building, could you do it in those circumstances?
Your mind can convince you that something as simple as walking in a straight line, is actually very difficult, just because you perceive there to be more risk or greater consequences involved. Again, if you flip that switch and adopt the right mindset, you will find you can achieve things that you never thought were possible.
Focus and discipline – consistency and patience
When it comes to dealing with stress, in addition to your mindset, the most important traits for you to work on are your discipline and your focus – without these you are going to struggle. You can decide to work on your focus, and you can decide to be disciplined, or you can choose to let things slide. Ultimately, it’s up to you.
Here’s a powerful analogy for focus – most of us enjoy being outside on a bright sunny day, but if you direct that same sunlight through a magnifying glass it will burn through paper – that’s the power of focus!
As for discipline, you can spend your day scrolling through TikTok videos on your phone, not really doing or achieving anything useful. Alternatively, you can roll up your sleeves and get to work on your priorities – which one is going to take you further? It is entirely in your hands.
People who suffer a serious health scare are often told by their doctor to make sudden and dramatic changes to their lifestyle or they’ll suffer chronic health conditions in a few short years. We call this a ‘wakeup call’ and suddenly bad habits that they struggled with for years are fixed overnight.
Because of the perceived serious consequences, it flipped a switch in their mind and suddenly made it easy to kick the habit of a lifetime. This is once again simply a choice or made because of a shift in your mindset. Becoming a highly disciplined person is just one decision away.
Why is it that when the stakes aren’t as high, that discipline can disappear? It comes down to knowing how much you value the outcome at the other end of the tunnel. Do you know what your long-term goals are? I find if I work on this every morning it is much easier to maintain my discipline.
Consistency and patience come next. Think of consistency in the same way you would compound interest – if you’re doing something positive every single day, after a while you really start to see the benefits stack up. You need to be patient, as you won’t see the results immediately, but just give it time. Trust in the power of marginal gains.
Spotting the signs of overwork and burnout
It’s important to know the difference between stress and overwork. You can be stressed if you have a lot on your plate, but it’s not necessarily the same as being chronically overworked, which will lead to burnout.
I can remember back in 2008, when in the fallout of the Lehman Brothers collapse, I was desperately trying to save my business and my investments. It was like spinning 50 plates at once and feeling like everything was pointless, that at any minute everything would come crashing down.
I remember spending my birthday around that time sat at my computer sending urgent emails trying to push a transaction through, whilst my family celebrated without me outside. It’s no wonder I was burnt out – my priorities were totally out of whack.
But when you’re in the middle of it, how do you spot burnout? When everything around you is frantic, it’s real easy to miss the warning signs. Or perhaps you are aware there is something wrong, but you tell yourself that what you’re working on is so important that it cannot be ignored.
If that’s the case, be sure to ask yourself whether you’re neglecting something else that could be more important in the long run: like your health, your children, or your marriage. Whatever it might be, you run the risk of doing permanent damaged to something precious, just because of you have allowed your priorities to get mixed up.
One of the early warning signs of overwork, burnout, or general lack of balance in your life is when your routines start to go out the window. For me, it’s my early morning workout – whether that’s a run, a swim or going to the gym, if I miss a couple of days in a row, that a clear signal to me that something needs to change.
Is that thing you are working on really so important? or are you making it more important than it should be?
Something to try, if you’re feeling overworked (or busy, but not productive), is to do a time-audit of your activities. Are there any tasks you can defer, delegate or discard? Are you making the best possible use of the time in your day, or are you filling it up with non-urgent tasks that you should really be handing over to someone else?
Remember, your health is your wealth. If you’re neglecting yourself (or your family), then it’s a sign that something is wrong: make sure you’ve got the tools at your disposal to correct your course.