Managing Stress At Work

Some jobs are more stressful than others. Who hasn’t sympathised with health and care workers during the pandemic? But whatever your job, you can experience work-related stress.

In short bursts, stress can help you stay alert and perform at your best. But once stress becomes ongoing or excessive, your mental health can suffer.

So too, can organisational performance. Workplace stress can lead to reduced productivity and job satisfaction and increased absenteeism, accidents and staff turnover.

You may start to feel excessively stressed if you:

  • work long hours, work through breaks or take work home
  • have low control over how you do your work
  • don’t receive enough support from managers and/or co-workers
  • are poorly managed, subject to bullying or discrimination, or have poor relationships with colleagues or bosses
  • have job insecurity.

Signs of work-related stress

According to Beyond Blue, prolonged or excessive stress contributes to the development of anxiety and depression, or may cause an existing condition to worsen.

Would you know if you were stressed? Look out for the following signs:

  • physical signs such as chest pain, fatigue, high blood pressure, headaches, nausea, muscle pains, appetite changes, sleeping problems, and slow reactions
  • non-physical signs, such as difficulty making decisions, forgetfulness, irritability, excessive worrying, feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, defensiveness, anger, mood swings, and social withdrawal.

What you can do

Identifying what is contributing to your stress can help you find the right strategies to manage it.

Talk over your concerns with your employer or human resources manager and think about the changes you need to make. Some you will be able to manage yourself; others will need cooperation from workmates or your boss. Other things that may be helpful:

  • Learn to identify your triggers. Once you know what these are, you can aim to avoid them or calm yourself down beforehand. These might include late nights, deadlines, seeing particular people, or hunger.
  • Establish routines. Predictable rhythms and routines can be calming and reassuring. These can include regular times for exercise and relaxation. Exercise can reduce the level of your stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, as well as stimulate endorphins, which are natural mood elevators.
  • Spend time with friends and family. Don’t take out your stress on loved ones, instead, tell them about your work problems and ask for their support.
  • Seek help from a psychologist or counsellor.

How Healthy is Your Self-Talk?

Our self-talk can often be brutal. The things you say to yourself can keep you feeling small and deflated.

But in the busy-ness of our day, it’s hard to tune in to all the mean things we tell ourselves. Instead, look out for these warning phrases and words, and use them as an alert that your self-talk is taking a dive:

1. “Should”

Whenever you catch yourself saying you should, take note and question it. “Should” usually indicates you are feeling inadequate, or are caught up in or perfectionism or comparing yourself to others.

Common examples include:

- “I should be able to do this quicker.”

- “I should get more exercise.”

- “I should be able to cope better, everyone else can.”

Instead, ask yourself: Is that true? And do I really want to? Try switching to: “I will” or “I can”. Or even, “I choose not to”.


2. “I don’t have time”

We are all busy. In fact, we are all often overwhelmed by the expectations of society. But is it true you don’t have time? Or is it true that you only have time for what really matters to you?

Ask yourself: Do I want to make time for this thing? Or do I choose to invest my time in something that matters more to me?

3. “I’m not good at that”

Have you ever told yourself, I won’t be good at that”? It’s very common.

You say it like it’s a fact, and it gives you a way out.
When you hear yourself saying this phrase, ask yourself:

- Is it true?

- According to whom? Who says? You? Your old teacher? The part of you that’s scared of failure?

- And even if it is true, so what? Do you have to be brilliant at it to do it? What if you practiced? Or, what if you did it just because you want to?

4. “I’m not smart enough/funny enough/good enough.”

Here’s a secret: none of us feel “good enough”. Many people go through their entire lives building evidence for why they are not good enough. Others go through their lives trying to cover it up, hoping no-one will ever find out.

Yet the truth is that being smart/funny/good is purely subjective. Remember that Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

When you hear yourself saying any combination of “I’m not [adjective] enough”, tune in and question it.

5. “If only”

This is usually spoken from a feeling of unfairness or helplessness.

- “If only I was born richer.”

- “If only I was more confident/more good-looking/more [anything].”

- “If only had I saved more money in my 20s.”

You can’t change the past, but you can reframe it.

When you catch yourself saying “If only”, make an effort to look at what you can do, what you have achieved, and what you do have.

Wanna Play?

Why play is essential to our health

What if there was a way to feel happier, more energised, more creative AND be even smarter? And what if that way was actually fun, and pretty much free? Would you do it?

It’s not a new drug or expensive treatment, it’s play.

In essence, play is something you want to do for the sake of it, not for any outcome or result. It is purposeless, all consuming, and fun.

Humans are wired for play. And when we deny ourselves the chance to play, things go, well… haywire.

In fact, there is such thing as “play deprivation”, and it has serious, even fatal, consequences.

Psychologist and researcher Dr Stuart Brown is one of the leading authorities on play.

He began with researching the background and childhoods people convicted of murder, and found many had severe play deprivation.

He subsequently did research on rats. (He says funding for play research on humans is hard to come by; too few Universities will give a grant for “play” over more serious topics.)

He took two groups of juvenile rats. One group was allowed to play, the other was not. The groups were then presented with a collar saturated with cat odour: fear and danger. Both groups ran and hid. But, here’s what happened next:

“The non-players never come out – they die. The players slowly explore the environment, and begin again to test things out. That says to me, at least in rats – and I think they have the same neurotransmitters that we do and a similar cortical architecture – that play may be pretty important for our survival.”

Infuse your life with play

“The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression,” says Dr Brown. “Think about life without play – no humour, no flirtation, no movies, no games, no fantasy. The thing that’s so unique about our species is that we’re really designed to play through our whole lifetime.”

At the end of his popular TED Talk, Dr Brown says, “So I would encourage you all to engage not in the work-play differential – where you set aside time to play – but where your life becomes infused minute by minute, hour by hour, with body, object, social, fantasy, transformational kinds of play. And I think you’ll have a better and more empowered life.”


How to play as an adult

As adults, we tend to avoid risk of failure. We don’t want to try something new in case we’re bad at it. Play removes that pressure. It doesn’t matter if you’re not “good at it” – it’s the doing of it that matters.

Here’s how to start”

1. Think back to the play you enjoyed most as a child, and then find similar activities. If you enjoyed climbing trees, you could try rock climbing. If you loved play dough, you could find a pottery class, or, as a cheaper option, start making bread at home.

2. Make time to be spontaneous. You might need to schedule blocks of time where you allow yourself to play. Make an appointment in your calendar to act as a reminder.

3. Don’t post about it. When you share your play on social media, you’re giving it a result. Try doing it just for you.

Does Weight Training Burn Fat?

We used to think that to shrink our fat cells we needed a brisk walk, run or cycle to burn up the excess calories. But the thinking has shifted. Working with weights may be an even better option for getting rid of unwanted fat.

Cardiovascular exercise will always be essential part of getting and staying fit. Amongst other benefits it strengthens your heart and reduces your blood pressure.

Our muscles need attention too. Including two sessions of resistance or strength training per week will increase muscle mass and strength and improve bone density. Evidence indicates that weight training can help us avoid an early death, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity, and reduce our risk of cognitive decline and injury. It can also help with weight and fat loss.


What is resistance exercise?

Resistance training is when you make your muscles work against a weight or force. It involves using weight machines, exercise bands, hand-held weights or your own body weight (such as push-ups, sit-ups or planking) to provide your muscles with enough resistance that they can grow and get stronger.

The link between muscles and fat

Resistance training increases the size and tone of your muscles. This doesn’t just look good, it also helps you control your weight in the long term. That’s because muscle size is important in determining your resting metabolic rate (RMR), which is how many calories your body needs to function at rest. Studies show that weight training is more effective than aerobic exercise at increasing RMR.

Other studies have found weight workouts increased energy expenditure and fat burning for at least 24 hours afterwards. Even people who occasionally lift weights are far less likely to become obese that those who don’t.

In a process called mechanical loading, muscles get stressed through lifting, pushing, or pulling. In response to this, cells in the muscles release a substance that sends instructions to fat cells, prompting them to start the fat-burning process, explained study co-author Dr John McCarthy, associate professor of physiology at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.

“We think this adds a new dimension to the understanding of how skeletal muscle communicates with other tissues,” said Dr McCarthy. The results remind us, he said, that muscle mass is vitally important for metabolic health.


Resistance training for beginners

  1. Warm up first. Do some light aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling or rowing for about five minutes.
  2. Use proper technique to avoid injuries. You can learn this from a registered exercise professional. Many gyms offer experienced personal trainers, or your could see a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist.
  3. Start slowly. New to weights? Then you may be able to lift only a few kilograms. As your body gets more used to the exercises you can start to progress. Once you can easily do 12 repetitions with a particular weight, gradually increase the weight.
  4. Use your breath. Breathe out when you are lifting or pushing; breathe in as you slowly release the load or weight. Never hold your breath while straining.
  5. Be sensible. Don’t be so eager to see results that you risk injury by exercising too long or choosing too heavy a weight.
  6. Rest. Rest muscles for at least 48 hours between strength training sessions. If you have been sick, don’t return to training until one or two days after you have recovered.

"That Was a Near Miss!”

You are walking down the hallway, and find yourself slipping on a patch of water which had not been cleaned up. As you slip, you are thinking, “oh no, I’m going to break an arm which means an LTI (lost time injury) for my department, and time and expense for me”.

But you are OK. You manage to stop your fall with the wall, and after catching your breath, you go on your merry way.

Should you report it? Nothing happened.

The clear answer is yes. A near miss is a reportable incident. Even if “nothing happened”.

By definition, a near miss is an occurrence that might have led to an injury or illness, danger to someone’s health, and/or damage to property or the environment.

A dangerous incident, according to the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, is “a workplace that exposes a worker or any other person to a serious risk to a person’s health or safety emanating from an immediate or imminent exposure”.

However, reporting near misses can be a bit… hit and miss.

Without appropriate training and encouragement, employees can sometimes be hesitant to report a near miss for fear of getting into trouble or “ruining the stats”.

In an organisation with a strong safety culture, employees report near misses in order to reduce actual injuries. It’s part of a continuous process to identify and rectify issues.

A near miss indicates there is a problem: a lapse or a hazard in the safety measures. If you ignore a near miss, the problem still exists. By encouraging near-miss reporting, you are encouraging a healthy, proactive safety culture that prioritises people over statistics.

Why We Crave Chocolate

Whether it is dark, milk or white, in the shape of a bunny or an egg, many of us will be enjoying chocolate this Easter. And even if you do not celebrate Easter, chocolate is still a favourite for many people.

What is not to love? It tastes good, smells good, and that creamy, melt-in-your-mouth consistency stimulates feelings of pleasure on the tongue. It is the most commonly craved food in the world, and science may be able to explain why.

The whole experience of eating chocolate results in feel-good neurotransmitters, mainly dopamine, being released in the brain, says Amy Jo Stavnezer, a professor of psychology and neuroscience.

Dopamine is released when you experience anything that you enjoy – sex, laughing, or watching your TV show. Dopamine helps you to remember positive experiences, explains professor Stavnezer, and will give you a little surge of anticipation when you see, smell, or even just imagine chocolate.

Scientists originally thought that the compounds chocolate contains, such as theobromine and caffeine, could activate the dopamine system directly, like cigarettes and cocaine do. But experiments have shown that it’s a combination of all the components of chocolate – the mouth-feel, the taste, the sugar and fat ratio, plus the effects of the many different chemicals – that drives the craving.

Now you know you are biologically driven to eat that chocolate, take your time with it. Choose quality chocolate, eat it slowly and do not feel guilty.

3 Common Myths About Bloating

Your clothes fit in the morning, but by lunchtime you have to let your belt out a notch or two, Is this bloating? And is it something you need to fix?

Bloating is that feeling of increased pressure in your intestines. Do you need to worry about it? Here we set you straight on three myths about bloating:


Myth 1. Bloating is not normal. “Occasional bloating is totally normal, especially after a big meal or extra fibre,” says Dr Megan Rossi, an Australian dietitian with a London-based practice specialising in gut health and author of Eat More, Live Well.

“In fact, a bit of bloating after a high-fibre meal is good – it’s a sign of well-fed gut microbes (including good bacteria) just doing their thing. Continuous bloating, which is when you’re always bloated with no fluctuations over the day, is less common and best reviewed by your doctor first.”

Canadian dietitian Abby Langer agrees.

“The wellness industry tries to make us believe that all bloating is a problem, but it’s unrealistic to believe that your stomach should be flat all the time,” she says. “Just eating a regular-sized meal can distend your stomach which may lead to complaints of bloating, when what you’re really experiencing is a stomach full of food.”

Myth 2. There’s a simple cause. There are many different triggers for bloating, says Rossi. These include the volume of food and fluid you’ve eaten, a backlog of poop in the case of constipation, or simply the gas produced by your own gut microbiota.

Eating foods containing sugar alcohols (sugar replacements like sorbitol and xylitol) such as chewing gum will also contribute to bloating, as can wearing tight clothes all day and lack of movement.

Stress can also have very real effects on our gut, says Langer, including the feeling of bloating. The gut and brain are connected via nerves in what’s called the gut-brain axis. When we are stressed the brain sends signals to the gut to slow down digestion in the ‘fight or flight’ response, which can trigger gut discomfort.

Rossi points out that whether you feel the bloating or not can be down to your intestine’s sensitivity and how efficient your body is at absorbing the gas produced by your unique gut microbiome.

Myth 3. You can fix bloating by cutting out unhealthy food. Don’t cut out foods that are perfectly good for you before getting advice from a nutrition professional such as an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

There are many diet and lifestyle strategies that can help bloating, including checking for common food intolerances, splitting your food intake into smaller meals, and chewing well.

Unnecessarily restricting your diet can make your gut more sensitive, warns Rossi. That’s because your gut bacteria adapt to the food that you eat, and when you feed it a diverse range of whole foods (including carbs) the gut microbiome can produce enzymes that break down all the fibres found in plants.

If you overly restrict your diet, you’ll have a less diverse gut microbes and lack many of the microbes needed to digest plant fibres efficiently. This can trigger gut symptoms such as bloating and excessive gas – the very things you want to avoid.

If your bloating is frequent and comes with pain and discomfort, speak to a dietitian or doctor for help.

1 Thing You Can Do Today

Bring The Outside In

Do you love the outdoors but spend most of your time inside? Then introduce a variety of houseplants to your workplace or home. Here’s how you will benefit:

1. Phytoremediation – that’s the word for plants clearing pollution from the air. NASA kicked off research into this back in the 1980s when it was looking for ways to improve the air quality in spacecraft. It found that the roots and soil of houseplants were able to reduce airborne volatile organic compounds (VOCs) significantly. Houseplants such as aloe, spider plant, bamboo palm and peace lily are among the best at removing indoor pollutants.

2. Less stress. Plants in your home or workplace can make you feel more comfortable and soothed, with one study finding interaction with indoor plants (like touching or smelling) reduced physiological and psychological stress.

3. Better brain skills. Keeping potted plants and flowers around your workspace can substantially improve your creative performance and problem-solving skills, found a study by the Texas A&M University. A similar study from the UK found indoor plants could improve concentration, productivity and boost staff wellbeing by 47 per cent.

Where to start

If you are new to indoor plants, search online for those that are hard to kill. And rather than sticking with just a potted plant or two, you will get the most benefits with a “more is more” approach, and hang plants, display them on tables, stack them on stands, or mount them on walls.

Think Twice Before Using This Word

Like a needle, this little word can pop the balloon of all the good, positive things you have just said.

You are in a meeting, and you hear:

“On the whole your performance was good, but…”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, but…”

Or let’s say you’re talking with your partner or friend:

“It’s great being with you, but…”

“I like your new haircut, but…”

These words sound positive – at first. However, the word ‘but’ negates everything that came before it.

Our brains translate the word ‘but’ as ‘here’s the catch’. And when you hear there’s a catch, you go on the defensive. Not ideal when you’re negotiating at work or having an important discussion with someone.

The word ‘but’ acts like a mental eraser and often buries whatever you’ve said before it,” says communications consultant Dianna Booher, author of What More Can I Say: Why Communication Fails and What to Do About It. “It makes communication spiral down instead of spin up.”


What to say instead

Switch it around. There is nothing wrong with using ‘but’ as long as you are aware of how it might influence the other person’s thinking. You can use it in a sentence, but switch around the negative and positive statements, to emphasise the positive.

“That wasn’t your best result, but I know you will do better next time.”

“We didn’t do so well that time, but we can learn from our mistakes and move on.”

Swap it. During your next tough conversation, swap one three letter word for another: ‘and’.

“Yes, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying and I’d like to examine this particular point.”

Using ‘and’ or ‘yes, and’ adds to the conversation and invites further discussion without negating what anyone has said. Practise doing this for seven days and you will start to get out of the habit of using ‘but’ in the wrong place.


Words that make you sound less confident

How we speak determines who gets heard, who gets credit, and what gets done, says Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, USA.

While there is no such thing as right or wrong words, some common words can put us at a disadvantage.

  1. “Um”, “Ah”, “Like” and “You Know”. When you are temporarily lost for words, it is easy to throw in a crutch word like one of these. But they can make you seem less confident. If you feel a crutch word on the tip of your tongue, take a brief pause instead.
  2. “Just”. Phrases such as “Just wanted to ask a question”, or “Just checking in” weaken your statements, making you seem less sure of yourself. Drop the extra word and talk like you know what you want.
  3. “Actually”. This has become the new “basically” or “literally”. It’s usually unnecessary. If you feel yourself about to use it, leave it out.

How Hearing Loss Sneaks Up on You

Would you know if a sound is loud enough to damage your hearing? Evidence shows that you could be ruining your hearing without even knowing.

Most noise-induced hearing loss is not caused by a sudden loud sound (although it can be) but by exposure to louder-than-recommended noise over a long period of time. Because this type of hearing loss happens gradually, many people don’t realise they are affected until it’s too late.

Who is at risk?

Workers in certain industries are known to be at risk for hearing loss, which is why there is legislation in place for industries such as manufacturing and construction. If you are in one of those industries, your employer would have control measures to reduce the risk, and you must always wear any PPE provided to protect your ears.

But it is not just workplaces that are potentially hazardous to your hearing.

A report by the World Health Organization estimates that nearly half of those aged between 12 and 35 – or 1.1 billion people – are at risk of hearing loss due to prolonged exposure to loud sounds, including music they listen to through personal audio devices.

We already live in a noisy world, but by listening to music or watching videos using headphones, you can be amplifying the noise and causing damage to your ears.

“People generally don’t know about safe listening levels, and in a culture where headphones are everywhere, that’s dangerous,” says UK audiology specialist Francesca Oliver. “If you have a particularly noisy commute and turn the music up to hear it, try listening to it at that volume in a quiet room. It’s painfully loud. So imagine what that’s doing to your ears.”

How loud is too loud?

Sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). Most audiologists agree that sounds at or below 70dB (a dishwasher or shower for example) are unlikely to cause hearing loss even after long exposure. The ‘safe sound threshold’ is 80 to 85dB (kitchen blender, vacuum cleaner, or alarm clock). After eight hours’ exposure to 85dB, your hearing can be damaged.

After that, each increment of 3dB doubles the pressure. A hairdryer is a surprising 90dB, a nightclub or MP3 player at full blast is around 100dB, while a rock concert is 110dB. The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes for hearing damage to occur. If you know you are heading to a loud environment, take some earplugs that filter loud sounds.