As autumn really takes hold here in the southern hemisphere, my stock standard response is complete denial. No, winter is not coming. No, it’s not going to get cold. No, no, no. Winter is simply not my favourite season, and so I like to be all mature about it and just bury my head in the sand (preferably on a warm, tropical island).
I’m also really aware that, here in New Zealand at least, it’s that that time of year when workloads tend to start increasing and any New Year resolutions around having more work-life balance or less stress can start flying out the window. Added to this, as daylight savings ends and the days get shorter we can also tend to become less active and get less sun. Not a good recipe for winter wellness. This is a time to be intentional about looking after your wellbeing so that as you go into winter, you’re on the front foot.
For many of us, when we’re working hard and achieving great things, it’s often our health that takes a hit, but why not consider that you could not only do well, but be well too? Striking this balance between wellness and performance means we’re working in a sustainable way (ie. the wheels don’t start coming off!) and we’re usually happier and more satisfied because we’re not sacrificing one thing for another.
So how do you stay on the front foot and keep the balance?
Nip stress in the bud
First and foremost, try to catch any ‘stressy’ moments as soon as you can and take a moment to de-stress the body. The simplest way to do this is to take several long, slow breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Put your hand on your stomach to help guide the breath so that you are breathing from your belly rather than high in your chest, which tends to happen if you’re stressed, rushing or overwhelmed. Take as many breaths as you need to (3-5 or more) until you feel your body settling.
Even though you may not feel like you have time to stop and do this, it’s so worth taking a couple of minutes to get back into equilibrium. The moment you start to feel stressed (usually activating the fight-flight system in the body) your mental clarity and ability to think creatively decrease. That means, the sooner you can calm the body down, the sooner you’ll think clearer and tap back into your naturally occurring brilliance.
Get outside and move for your winter wellness
Even if you only have time for a 20 minute walk at lunchtime or after work, it’s worth doing. This helps the body process any stress hormones that have collected over the day, loosen muscles and activate endorphins – all of which help us to feel better and sleep better. Getting some sun is also very important for our mood as it helps us absorb vitamin D, and well, feel alive. Eat your lunch outside whenever you can. Just 15 minutes can make a difference – and your whole mind and body will respond well to being away from your computer screen for a time. You could go all-out and leave your phone or other devices behind too!
Don’t break the 60-Second Rule
One of the quickest ways to trigger stress is to aim to do more than there is time for – thus breaking the ’60-Second Rule’. The 60-Second Rule says: sixty seconds of activity can fit into 60 seconds. Likewise, sixty minutes of activity fits into sixty minutes. The moment we try to cheat the clock and jam more into our day than is possible we can start to feel stressed – often in a subtle, under the radar kind of way. That’s because our body’s innate intelligence which runs our own internal rhythms, also understands the dynamics of time. So when we start on a task at 10am, with a vast to-do list stretching out in front of us we’ll sometimes feel that undercurrent of pressure – even when we’re concentrating on the activity at hand. Your unconscious mind, your innate intelligence knows the to-do list is not doable. When you stop for a few minutes, revise the plan to make it do-able, and then go again, you’ll find your body is calmer, you’re more focused, get more done, and have more energy at the end of the day.
The reality is that stress is the biggest barrier to high performance and health at work, and the only person who can lower your stress levels is you. Regardless of the external circumstances we each face day to day, we always have the choice to change our internal response and think or feel differently. How would you feel at the end of the year having been decidedly less stressed over the previous six months?