Workplaces have been gripped with mental health crisis due to intense workloads, long hours and tough deadlines. Fortunately there are techniques to navigate through stress in the workplace
Prolonged stress threatens the physical, psychological and social wellbeing of employees. It also has an impact on the organisation in terms of decreased productivity, poor quality of products and increased absenteeism.
The first step to managing stress is to understand how it affects the body.
The sympathetic nervous system originates in the spinal cord and its main function is to activate the physiological changes that occur during the ‘fight-or-flight’ response (also called hyperarousal or the acute stress response). When we experience a perceived threat, our sympathetic nervous system is activated. Our body is flooded with hormones like epinephrine and cortisol which increase our heart rate and blood pressure, and our respiratory rate accelerates sending increased oxygenated blood to the brain. These changes ultimately prepare us to fight the threat or flee the scene.
When the perceived threat is gone, the central nervous system will go back to normal. If the stressor, the cause of stress, does not go away, the ‘fight-or-flight’ response will continue. This distress will lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, elevated blood pressure, depression and insomnia.
It is therefore important that employees be equipped to take care of their physical and mental health by employing stress management techniques. And yoga is a technique that is effective in mitigating stress.
The essence of this ancient discipline is mindfulness, which means paying attention in a particular way − on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally. Simply stated, mindfulness is a practice where we focus on whatever task we are currently doing at the current moment – not on the past, nor the future.
Practising yoga promotes physical, mental and emotional wellbeing by way of poses, breathing techniques and meditation. The physical aspect of yoga increases strength, flexibility and balance while conscious breathing reduces stress, calms the mind and lowers blood pressure.
Often people think you need to be flexible and energetic to do yoga – this is one of many myths about yoga.
Hatha yoga is one of the common styles of yoga that can benefit most of us. Hatha yoga and restorative yoga are good yoga practices for stress management as they incorporate slower, easier paced movements, breathing techniques and meditation. Focusing on poses such as corpse pose, ‘legs up the wall’ and child’s pose alleviates the physical and mental manifestations of workplace stress.
After a long day at work, encourage yourself to practise the following yoga postures for 5−10 minutes:
- Corpse pose: Lie down on your back and extend your legs straight forward, the feet greater than hip-distance apart. Place your hands alongside your torso about 45 degrees away from your body with the palms facing up. Close your eyes and rest here.
- Child pose: Kneel on your mat with your knees hip-distance apart and big toes touching. Slowly descend your buttocks to your heels. Lower your arms onto the mat in front of you. Allow your forehead to settle on the mat and rest here.
Rekha Singh CA(SA), Master’s in Tax, certified yoga teacher