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5 mindset shifts to combat festive stress at work

Since the start of December, conversations in the office and socially have turned to the busy run up before the holidays. These few weeks seem to catch us off guard every year. There’s a strange combination of enjoying the festivities and pressure to have it all figured out. If we aren’t grunting about endless shopping lists, personal admin, deadlines and Christmas songs, we’re enjoying mulled wine, mince pies and decorating trees.

The less enjoyable aspect of the season is mounting deadlines and increased workload. The final push to the finish line before a new year begins. Pile on top of that performance reviews, year-end reporting and 2020 planning. It’s a lot to cram in and we’ll be wishing for more December working days in no time.  


Whilst we might not be able to change our circumstances or alter timelines, we can change how we think about stress to help us cope better. Let’s take a look at 5 ways to think differently and combat the stressful festive season.


  1.     You don’t have to do it all

When we are stressed, our bodies release cortisol which reduces our critical thinking capacity and instead of being able to problem solve, our heart rate rises, and we begin to panic. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so get great at saying no, prioritising and putting your health first.


  1.     December is like any other month

There’s an invisible mental gap between December and January – like the new year is at the end of a long road. The reality is, January is just around the corner. Take December down a peg and take the pressure off. There’s no denying that expectations are present (forgive the pun) but remembering that we aren’t about to enter the twilight zone can provide some relief.


  1.     There are more things to talk and think about

You are what you speak. Next time someone asks you about your Christmas plans, who’s coming round on the big day or how many gifts you’ve bought, know that you can politely move on to other topics. The latest season of The Crown, a hot new restaurant or the Man Booker prize winners are all viable small talk – just don’t bring up politics.


  1.     Bring the cheer

Every person in the office has an opportunity each day to influence the mood of the team. Be open, communicate, but know when not to share. Stress is contagious and must be dealt with like you would any other illness. In private and with the right treatment. Looking after ourselves is a priority and one not to be taken lightly.


  1.     Show your appreciation

You know what they say, it’s the season of goodwill. Shifting your lens in the workplace to one of appreciation can lift your spirits and remind you of the great bits. A simple cup of tea, ‘good morning’ or smile can have positive effects on our own mood as well as someone else’s. We are all in the same boat after all!


Helping companies and the people within them enjoy work more and stress less is what we do. Want more? Take a look at our Workshops for a winning mindset in 2020. We will also be sharing more tips over on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to launch our 12 days of PUSHness. Join us to prepare for an amazing end to the year and super start to the next one!

The Life Changing Magic Of Taking A Lunch Break

Do you dine al-fresco or al-desko when lunchtime rolls around? Employees may be missing a vital opportunity to reduce stress levels, improve their mental health, increase job satisfaction and productivity by taking a lunch break. In fact, almost one third of UK workers do not take proper lunch breaks. How can you cut through the excuses and lead more fulfilling days at work?

Three years ago, PUSH Coach and Author Laura Archer realised that her life was restricted to the weekend. Full days at the office and a high workload saw her stressed out and lacking control: something had to change. Laura decided to start taking her lunch breaks, and use them to achieve personal projects, learn new skills and meet new people. It wasn’t long until she had learnt to play chess, read a book, cycled, dated, swam and grasped the Italian language, all on her lunch breaks. Laura chronicled her escapades in ‘Gone for Lunch: 52 things to do on your lunch break‘.

The solution wasn’t drastic, but it was life changing. “I was blown over by the effect that these simple breaks away from my desk had on the rest of my day, my week, my month and my life. My job satisfaction, mental health and even diet improved dramatically” said Laura, who is now an advocate for wellbeing at work. Laura felt in control of her life again and resorted less to coffee for energy and alcohol to relax.

Stress Awareness Month

As part of Stress Awareness Month, Havas Media wanted to launch an initiative that their employees could action and see a benefit from when it came to their stress levels at work. Laura’s talk ‘The Life Changing Magic Of Taking A Lunch Break’ was a perfect partnership to inspire the Havas Media team to step away from their desks at lunch time and seek out joyful activities that life normally gets in the way of.

[mkd_blockquote text=”“Stress is so common, especially in the work place. Half the battle is encouraging people to talk openly about stress and how it’s affecting them. It’s so important that we find and share simple, realistic ways of combating stress together.” said Charley Walsh, the Learning & Development Partner at Havas Media.” title_tag=”h2″ width=”75″]

Forty-nine percent of workplace absences in the UK are due to stress, and burnout is more common than ever. Since 2017, online searches for ‘stress’ and ‘burnout’ have increased seven-fold – it’s clear that employees are seeking answers.

“Our brains are configured to work out a certain number of decisions per day” said Laura, when explaining that the 8-hour work day was built for production lines 216 years ago during the industrial revolution, and many deem it as an outdated way of working. A study in 2016 showed that most people complete just three hours of productive work on average in an 8-hour work day, which makes a strong case for taking a lunch break.

[mkd_blockquote text=”“Research reveals that when our brains peak in terms of activity levels, we lose the ability to make sensible decisions, or be happy people to be around.” – Laura Archer” title_tag=”h2″ width=”75″]

What then, is the best way to spend your lunch break?

Laura recommends stimulating the opposite side of the brain to your line of work. For example, if your work is highly methodical and uses the logical side of the brain, try firing up the right side of the brain on your lunch break through sketching or photography – a creative outlet of your choosing.

Laura acknowledges that it can be hard to take even a 20-minute break. Pressure from colleagues, workload and deadlines all play a part in keeping employees at their desks. But a growing body of research suggests that taking a break is vital for mental health and overall brain health. “Breaks improve our ability to be productive, come up with ideas and be better workers.” says Laura.

As part of ‘The Life Changing Magic Of Taking A Lunch Break’ talk, teams at Havas Media were challenged to reclaim their lunch break for the month of April. From going for a walk to window shopping – anything goes. “The person or team who takes the best #HavasGonetoLunch picture, showcasing what they’ve got up to on their lunch break will win a free lunch. Our Leaders and Managers are on board and will actively be encouraging their team.” Charley Walsh told PUSH who developed the challenge with the sole aim of reducing stress levels amongst the Havas Media teams.

What will you do with your lunch break? Some ideas from the Havas Media team included: life drawing, planning a redecoration, visiting a museum, and getting fitter – the sky’s the limit.

At PUSH, we take pride in thinking outside the box for our clients and our shared mission to improve the wellbeing of their employees. If you’d like to speak with us about developing an initiative to reduce the stress levels of your team, get in touch – we’d love to work with you.

How To Change Your Mind About Stress

Almost three-quarters of adults (74%) have at some point felt so stressed they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope, according to a UK-wide stress survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation in 2018. Now after a year of a global pandemic stress levels have skyrocketed for over 65% of adults.

For many people, work is the number one source of stress – juggling the multiple demands of the workplace; expectations, to-do lists, meetings and deadlines can make for a highly stressful proportion of our day. But what if, instead of an uncomfortable and debilitating sensation, stress was energising and maybe even enhancing?

PUSH Coach and Clinical Psychologist Dr Hazel Harrison talks to our clients about ‘Using Stress to Your Advantage’, helping teams develop new skills to manage the impact of stress on a day-to-day basis. We spoke to Hazel about the research behind stress and how we can change our mind about it.

The last time you felt really stressed, you probably sensed your heart racing (due to an increase of adrenaline in your bloodstream) and perhaps experienced shortness of breath and sweaty palms.

I had those sensations last week, as I stood in an empty lecture theatre before giving a presentation. The room was bigger than I’d expected and I imagined those seats occupied, with expectant faces turned towards me.

On similar occasions in the past, I would have tried to calm myself down by taking long slow breaths. I’d be worried that my stress response might hinder my ability to think. This time, I tried something different and welcomed the stress, smiled as my heart pounded and regarded my physical response as energy-giving rather than harmful. I hoped it would give me an edge and help keep the audience engaged.

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The good, the bad…

A whole host of research tells us how bad stress is for our physical and psychological health. Yet there are also plenty of studies demonstrating the exact opposite: that stress can be good.

Confusingly, both sets of conclusions are true.

Stress can be harmful when it feels out of our control, devoid of meaning, or happening against our will. So pretty much all the time, right?

Well yes… and no. While it’s true that most of us find it difficult to reduce the amount of stress in our lives, what we can do is change the way we think about it: make it good, not bad.

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Believe – and it will be so

Research is starting to show that our beliefs about stress influence our physiological, behavioural and psychological responses to it. In short, if your mindset says stress is harmful to you, it probably will be.

Mindsets are beliefs that influence how we behave and see the world, how we interact with others and also how our bodies respond. Many of us have a ‘stress is bad’ mindset that makes us believe we should avoid stress and that it’s harmful to our health, as well as our productivity and performance.

But researchers (like Alia Crum and Kelly McGonigal) have been testing out what happens when we teach people a ‘stress is enhancing’ mindset. Stress can make our bodies stronger, boost our immunity to illness, kick-start creativity, improve our relationships, help us see new perspectives and – in life’s riskier moments – improve our performance.

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Four new ways to think about stress

Here are several ways to develop a ‘stress is enhancing’ mindset, all supported by research:

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1. Use the energy and rise to the challenge

By believing we have the resources to overcome stressful events (or that we can connect with supportive people who can help us), we can move from a threat response to a challenge-response.

In this new scenario, the physical sensations we experience under stress can trigger a belief that our body is giving us the energy to rise to the challenge.

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2. Find meaning

Rather than seeing stress as something to avoid, we might look at it as a way of gauging how engaged we are with our lives. Interestingly, research has found that people who believe their life has meaning also report higher levels of stress. Sometimes we feel stressed because we care a great deal about the outcome of what we’re doing.

By finding meaning within the source of our stress, we may be able to see our anxiety in a more positive light.

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3. Change your relationship to everyday hassles

The hundreds of mini-stressors (like emails or chores) we experience every day can feel threatening or overwhelming – especially when clustered together. Often it’s because we see them as intrusions that get in the way of what we’re doing or want to be doing.

We can learn to see these things as uplifting or meaningful if we change our attitude. For example, I used to think ‘doing the washing’ was a hassle. Now, when working at home, I try to see hanging it on the line as a chance to take a break from my desk, and to get some fresh air.

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4. Use stress as an opportunity to learn

We often want to get everything right and this can add to our feelings of stress. But if we take the pressure off ourselves and accept imperfections, we can open our minds to new experiences – and learn from the missteps.

For several hours after a strong physiological stress response, our brain is rewiring itself to imprint the experience. This means that when it happens again, we may have ways to help us cope with it better if we’re open to learning.

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It’s all in the mind

Stress can be positive or negative. If you can reduce the stress in your life, then do it – there may be some benefits. But for the things you can’t change, studies show there are physiological, behavioural and psychological upsides to viewing stress more positively.

Back in the lecture theatre, I watched as the seats filled up. It was time for me to take the stage. As my heart pounded, I reminded myself ‘this is your body giving you energy – use it’. And so I began addressing the audience; funnily enough, on the topic of anxiety. But something had shifted for me. I wasn’t stressing about my stress response. The anxious thoughts that might sometimes accompany these physical sensations just weren’t there. Which left me thinking clearly, connecting with the audience and enjoying the experience.

So, the next time you find yourself in a similar position, it might be worth changing your mind about stress too.

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You can follow Dr Hazel Harrison on twitter @thinkavellana

At PUSH, we believe that managing workplace stress is a shared responsibility between employers and employees. This is why, during Stress Awareness Month, we are asking the question: what are YOU doing to manage your own stress levels and those of your employees?

To help, we will be sharing advice from our expert PUSH Coaches across social media – follow us at the links below.

We are committed to helping people, teams and companies better cope with stress at work – find out more or get in touch, we’d love to work with you.

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