Managing stress and regaining connectivity

With the challenges of the last year, it’s not surprising that since the start of the pandemic many of us are experiencing symptoms of stress more than before. Conversations around the importance of health and wellbeing have increased as businesses realise that ‘wellbeing’ is not just an individual responsibility but a critical business strategy. So, as April was #StressAwarenessMonth we took the time to reflect and chat to MerchantCantos colleagues about their experiences with stress.

The theme for this years’ Stress Awareness Month is ‘Regaining Connectivity, Certainty, and Control’. How important do you think this is for you in managing stress and looking after your general wellbeing?

Mic Nguyen, Senior Creative Strategist, NYC: Having a sense of control is a basic human need. We need to feel like we have some kind of hand on the wheel. It's why I'm always shopping online, it gives me the sense that I can make something happen (although now I've got a 40lb exercise sandbag I don't need sitting in my closet). Creativity is really important to me, too, not just because of my job but because it's how I process information and the world. I'd be lying to say my creativity didn't take a hit in the pandemic, so I've been trying to find other ways to be creative, even if it means not "making" something and just reading or reflecting.

Betheli Wong, Associate Account Director, Singapore: Stress is not always a bad thing, and a healthy level can challenge us. I realize the times I have grown and learned the most about myself are times when I am under reasonable stress. However, it is important to have that awareness, as too much of anything is not always good. Stress can have a direct impact on our productivity at work, health, relationships, and so on… It has a knock-on effect on the well-being of our life, which makes it important to manage it well. Besides that, we don’t live on an island and it’s a personal responsibility to look after our well-being because we are accountable to people around us like our family, friends, and colleagues, etc.

Rick Sellers, Partner, Digital Strategy, London: Like many, I have noticeable - to me, and perhaps to others - ups and downs with stress and anxiety levels... I've been this way for many years. I've always blamed my 10-week extended leave honeymoon - working life has never seemed the same! I hadn't consciously thought of those three things as ways to look at managing stress, but they make complete sense and are so relevant to our lives over the past year. The connectivity one is the biggest for me - I'm sociable at work and have really missed impromptu conversations with colleagues in the office.

Molly Oldham, Project Manager, Dubai: Managing stress is so important, as it can affect all elements of your life (both work and personal). It’s good to take time out of your day to manage your stress, whether this is to write a to-do list, or even simply just to have a cup of tea! Just 5 minutes can make such a difference and increase the productivity of your whole day - it helps you feel more confident and in control. I also strongly believe that connectivity is so important when managing stress. Talking to people can drastically boost your mood and help you rationalize your thoughts (…and more often than not, the other person really needed that too – after all, we are all only human!).

Jigna Parmar, Senior Production Manager, London: It is very important, I live by the mantra – you need to be selfish to be selfless – so for me, I need to look after my wellbeing to help others with theirs.

A recent survey said that since the start of the pandemic 65% of people have felt more stressed than usual. If you have experienced stress, how have you dealt with this?

Mic Nguyen: Way, way, way more stress. I am very lucky to be healthy and to be working at a place where people support me, but the stress I feel is a slow, trickling, grinding stress. It's a creeping uneasiness with no escape valve. I haven't found a perfect response to this, which just feeds into it, so I try to modulate different tactics, whether it's taking naps, talking to friends, or just walking around aimlessly outdoors. I think we need variety, and the pandemic absolutely stripped variety out of our lives, so it's important to stimulate your brain in some way.

Betheli Wong: It depends on the source of stress but I think being rational, instead of emotional helps. One of the stresses I faced at the start of the pandemic was adapting to the challenge of working from home. Communication with colleagues was limited to the screen, you had to adjust to new ways of working, and being confined to the four walls at home can make you feel alone when facing work challenges. Work stress becomes magnified in this situation, which can be overwhelming at times. How I managed this was to go to the counsel of close friends, instead of keeping things to myself, as it helps to get a different perspective on things. And since it was work-related stress, I reached out to the right people at work to find solutions instead of feeling overwhelmed. Engaging in physical activities which were limited to jogging and workout at home helped to keep attention away from the stress and relax.

Rick Sellers: I do experience stress - it's an almost ever-present. At the right level it can be a useful motivator for me. But too much and clarity of thought can disappear quickly. Over the past year I'd say stress has come in different forms to the 'norm'. You can easily feel isolated and in less control. But equally quality of life has improved for me - spending more time at home, seeing my family, keeping on top of life admin (letting that tradesperson in!) and being able to exercise more have all helped offset the negative aspects.

Molly Oldham: I think the pandemic has had a huge effect on so many people and the way they manage stress. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was in my final year of university, I had the general worries of finishing university (assignments, dissertations, finding a job, etc.), and the additional uncertainties of the pandemic. Initially, I had so much stress and anxiety, but I soon realized I was worrying about a lot of things I had no control over.  So, I focused on the things I could take action on, like my mental wellbeing, I prioritized myself and spent a lot of time going on walks, doing workouts, and spending time with the people around me. Over time, this had a positive effect on the bigger worries in my mind, allowing me to be more in control of my stresses.

This experience also had a positive effect on me when I started work; I had learned that I can control my stress by breaking things down into manageable chunks, making tasks a lot less daunting, and allowing me to manage my time more effectively. ‘To-do lists are one of my favourite things; there is nothing worse than that heart-dropping moment of remembering something you need to do/should have already done! To manage this, I write tasks down as and when they come in, even the small tasks because there’s nothing more satisfying than ticking things off a to-do list!

Jigna Parmar: I haven’t experienced stress during the pandemic – anxiety yes – but meditation is what keeps me grounded.

What is your go-to way of relaxing after a difficult day?

Mic Nguyen: At the end of the day I pretend like it's the 1980s - no social media, no screens on. I'm just doing dishes, cleaning up, reading an analog book, wearing a cardigan, and changing into different shoes like I'm Mr. Rogers. It's a nice quiet way to close off the day.

Betheli Wong: I have a sweet tooth and usually crave sweets when I am stressed. After a stressful and difficult day, I tend to find solace in ice cream. It’s my number one comfort food. On other difficult days, I will take long walks and it makes me feel better after that.

Rick Sellers: Sport... it's always sport! A few holes on the golf course, a run or an online Pilates session. And a late evening sit in the garden during the warmer/lighter parts of the year...

Molly Oldham: My go-to way of relaxing usually involves going on a walk with my family, friends, and/or my little dog. I feel like walking really helps me switch off and escape to a different headspace – taking in the scenery and fresh air. I also have a classic list of ‘go-to’ movies that I love, they’re all a bit different so I choose depending on my mood.

Jigna Parmar: My escapism is cooking while listening to Bollywood music which I can dance away to. Mostly I cook savoury food – samosas, pies where my brain goes into automatic mode and no thinking is required.

If you would like any information on managing stress, click here for information and resources. 

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