3 ways to manage stress

How you can manage your stress levels right now

Working as a consultant can be exciting and rewarding, but it can also be stressful and time consuming. As a result, at Deloitte we offer our employees relevant health and well-being support and resources so that they can successfully manage and overcome challenging times. In the following article Barbara Rijntjes-Besancon, Director Deloitte Coaching Center, shares the three ways we can all start to manage our stress levels.

We do this to ourselves

Stress is something most of us are familiar with. Before saying anything about stress let’s not forget that stress IS a human-made condition. We do this to ourselves. This is good news because it means that we can also change it. It is also bad news because of course the habits and routines that cause stress have become so much a part of our daily (working) lives that they are not easy to change. 

Good and bad stress

Let's first try to understand what stress is. Stress is not always bad. There is a healthy amount of stress that will help you to reach peak performance. Do you recognize that exciting feeling in your stomach that pushes you to continue with your work, to get things done or to learn new things? This is the good stress. It will keep you focused and engaged.

However, being under or overstimulated for a longer period of time can push you into a dangerous stress zone. Yes, under stimulation can have the same effect on your brain (and your wellbeing) as being over stimulated. Boreout is just as real as burnout. Dealing with it can be slightly different.

Whether too much or too little stress, you will not be at your best

Why is understanding your stress levels relevant for your performance? When we do not have the right amount of stress (note that there is no objective right amount of stress, it varies from person to person) we do not have access to a fully integrated brain. Put simply, stress prevents us from reaching our full potential.

Do you recognize the following scenarios?

  • Thinking in black and white, only focusing on getting the task at hand done and unable to consider possible nuances
  • Unable to build relationships because there is always work to do
  • Unable to place yourself in another persons’ shoes
  • Foggy thinking or forgetting things

These are signs that stress has taken over and that you are paying the price for the difficult tasks you are dealing with. You not only pay the price right here and now (for example, by how the people around you experience you) but also in the long term, because we know by now what the long-term physical (and mental) effects of stress are on the body. These include forgetfulness, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, cardiovascular problems (high blood pressure, heart attacks and increased risk of type 2 diabetes), etc.

What can you do?

Here are three things you can do in the moment when you notice your stress levels are high. Don’t forget however that effectively managing your stress levels may also require long-term adjustments, for example in the type of work you are doing, your sleep habits, or your exercise and food routines.

1. S.O.S.

Too often we react instead of act from a place of control. The S.O.S. method can help with this. Do you feel overwhelmed? Stressed out when that e-mail comes in or a co-worker asks you to deliver something right here and now? Try out S.O.S.

  • S stands for STOP. Stop what you are doing for a moment.
  • O stands for Observe. Pay attention to what is happening in your body without any judgement. Just observing yourself will already calm you down and lower the neurotransmitters in your body that create that 'fight or flight' feeling.
  • S stands for Strategize. Now determine your action. Do you need to take a break, breathe, or go for a walk? Do you need to talk to somebody to vent? The action can be anything that lowers your stress levels. Once the stress levels go down you will be much more capable to determine the response that is really needed. You will have access to those parts of the brain again that can put things in perspective, see the bigger picture and determine what is really important.

2. Breathe 

Sometimes the most obvious things are right under our noses and in this case it’s our breath! It is always accessible, and it is for free! There is a lot of research evidence available around the power of our breath but for now we will focus on how to make use of our breath in practice.

There are 2 things to keep in mind:

Did you ever notice that your breathing gets shallow and up in the chest when you are nervous or excited? Bringing your attention to your breathing and lowering it down to your stomach will calm down your nervous system and your stress hormones.

In order to help you with the above, try to take a slow deep breath in through your nose (4 seconds), hold it for 4 seconds, breathe out through your mouth (4 seconds) and again hold for 4 seconds before repeating. Repeat 2 times and you have already lowered those stress levels right there in the moment.

3. Know and practice your strategies

What works for you might not work for somebody else and vice versa, so if you are serious about managing your stress levels it is important to invest in finding out what works best for you.

Here are a few proven strategies that will help in calming down the nervous system and give you fuller access to your amazing brain (side note: your brain is not only in your head!)

  • Listen to music! You can choose from existing playlists, or you can set up your own 'happy list' or 'calming down' list. The more you listen to them, the more your body and mind will recognize this strategy and calm down as soon as the first notes are played.
  • Move either to the music mentioned above or by simply getting up and moving your body around. No marathon training or HIIT workout needed, just a few minutes of moving and getting into your body will help you to become present.
  • Cuddle with your pets. It is proven that pets and animals calm us down. Feeling stressed? Then take a moment to spoil your pet.
  • Practice mindfulness. Get present in the moment. Our employees can sign up for a Headspace(c) membership and there are some great 3 minutes SOS meditations available there. There are also many other meditation apps and websites available that you can find on the internet.
  • Call a loved one. Hearing the voice (so NO texting!) of somebody you love releases oxytocin (the love hormone) which will calm you down.

Which of the above will you try out next time you feel stressed?

Mastering the above can help you to manage your stress levels but we know prevention is better than a cure. Taking good care of yourself in the long term requires a little bit (ok maybe a lot) more. In a nutshell this is about doing what you love, sleeping and resting properly, moving and fueling your body and mind with the right stuff.

We will share more with you about this in future articles. In the meantime, take care of yourself.

How we support our employees at Deloitte

It is important for companies to acknowledge that employees experience varying degrees of stress and that they can play a pivotal role in supporting these individual needs. At Deloitte we have developed several initiatives to help our employees cope with stress. These include:

  • Free access to Headspace©, a mindfulness and wellbeing app
  • Our Mental Toughness Programme that provides tools and techniques to help people deal with difficult situations leading to stress or anxiety
  • The Employee Assistance Program where external, independent consultants offer counselling on many different topics (conversations are confidential and anonymous)
  • Dedicated trainings raising awareness around mental health, empowering managers to better support their teams
  • A gradual and guided re-entry back into the workplace after an extended stress-related absence
  • The opportunity to take a 6-month sabbatical, work part time and buy additional holidays
  • A hybrid working model
  • Ability to take a mental health sick day (equal to a physical sick day)
  • Various sport-related clubs that employees can join and participate in (e.g., football, badminton, running, yoga, etc.).