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How to stay relaxed on the job

Saswata Shankar De
21st Feb 2018
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If you can just make yourself relax, you will be so much better (and more productive) at everything you do.

Years ago my father told me a story about a friend of his who had been interviewing with a major German heavy-engineering corporation, for the role of CEO - APAC.

There was competition for the role. My father’s friend, a risen-through-the-ranks gentleman who managed the company’s assets in India versus an external candidate who had been identified using typical German rigour and impeccability.

This friend of his, my father tells me, got the job. Apparently because in his final interview with the company’s board, when asked “What do you do to destress?”, he replied “I’m always relaxing!” That and a confident, winning smile.

I was about to wrap up my graduation and start work with a major Indian heavy-engineering corporation soon. And so I understood this to be a (timely) lesson of sorts - “Do what you enjoy, enjoy what you do”. For how else will you relax on the job?

Seven years and quite a few challenging roles later, I have come to understand that punchline (and the context) quite differently. This time, I believe I have it right.

My epiphany took time, but it happened - not everything that you (have to) do will be something that you enjoy (right away). Perhaps that is why the word ‘challenging’, in the context of job roles, almost synonymously means ‘outside of your comfort zone’. How good are you at something you are (admittedly) not-so-good at? And how willing are you to try that/them on?

More so, if you want to be a leader in the workplace or are on your manager’s schedule.

Suddenly, you find yourself getting pulled into all sorts of things that you do not enjoy. Suddenly, your comfort zone is the weekend.

Outside of your comfort zone a lot of the time, ‘enjoyment’ becomes a luxury. Stressing and procrastinating doesn’t work either. Being stressed not only wastes a lot of time, but also leads to bad team morale and results in poor decisions. Costly!

The way out is simple - always be relaxing.

Yes, always! Behavioural studies show (and I think we know this already as a team), that the most difficult part to execute is constant context switching (hopping in and out of unrelated tasks). Trying to keep yourself mentally alert and contributing at the highest levels 10-12 hours a day, can turn out to be incredibly stressful indeed. No matter how well versed you are on different subjects, frequent context switching takes a toll on your brain and it starts shutting down. Try to force it beyond a limit, and the result is stress.

The science and art of relaxing on the job

Image : shutterstock

My dad’s friend had figured it out - if you can just make yourself relax, you will be so much better (and more productive) at everything you do.

With a relaxed you at work, the concept of a comfort-zone slowly ceases to exist. And while you will never truly be ‘comfortable’ with everything you do, you will also stop driving yourself, and everybody else around you, up that wall. Big win-win.

We all do something or the other to combat stress and enjoy our downtime post work or on weekends. The thing about stress though, is it builds up little by little, till the dam breaks open (...many years too soon) all at once.

And since we spend most of our weekday-waking hours at work, here are some of the things you can do to always-be-relaxing on the job -

  1. Changing context? Change the scene. If you are ever coerced into back-to-back meetings, make sure they are in different rooms. If you can’t manage another room, take a walking meeting if possible (it’s way better - helps our engineers stay focused).When you push your body to change the scene, the brain follows suit and changes context easily. It also gives you the feeling of forward movement. Otherwise, chances are you will be physically present but mentally stressed from being in the same 10x10 feet room for hours on end.
  2. Take small breaks in big numbers (if you can) - for the brain and body to sync well and deliver, you need positive energy + positive thoughts/motivation (yes, I’m going to be fairly obvious with these things).Take small breaks (5-10 minutes) to do the things you love that keep your body engaged, while allowing the brain to relax - e.g. <Good> playing games like table tennis or Foosball, walking around the office block, five-min call back home; e.g. <Bad> - light reading, surfing videos on YouTube.While sitting, the body switches off (and starts draining physical energy) to fuel the always-on brain (which consumes the maximum energy). Yes, you can feel tired and stressed from too much sitting. Flip this around from time to time.
  3. Pace yourself by creating ‘anchoring events’ during the day - anchoring events (a term I came up with for our team) are routine events (tasks, to-dos) that happen daily.These events are no surprise blocks of work where your brain and body can go on autopilot (they also contribute to the feelings of achievement and forward movement). These events should be designed to restore equanimity to your system. As such, I call them ‘anchoring events’, as they help you stay anchored and focussed on execution, instead of battling against the stress from over-thinking and achieving little while fixating on problems that have no immediate solutions. Pace yourself around these events.If you are flying high, pace yourself so you don’t end up being rash and overconfident (which could lead to stress in the coming future).If you are feeling low, pace yourself so you don’t end up being despondent and negative/stressed.
  4. Breathe - if you start feeling stressed, force yourself to breathe slow and deep (this is one piece of wisdom handed down through the ages).Full-lung breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. When you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to the whole body.Here’s more on breathing exercises that you can practise.
  5. Build resilience - your job will be stressful in parts. Accept it. Then figure out how to deal with it in the best possible way that works for you.The first people to burn out are the ones who keep hoping that the stress will somehow end by itself. Reality check: it seldom gets easier on its own.The second to burn out will be the ones who give up hope - “my tensions will never end”, they say - and that keeps them from trying.The ones who thrive, will be the ones who accept stress as a part of the job and build their own coping mechanisms.

Before signing off, here’s the dictionary meaning of ‘relax’ to jog our collective memories - “make or become less tense or anxious.” For example, "He relaxed and smiled confidently."

Hope this helps.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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