How to lower stress while hybrid working

As many employees are now being called back into the office a few days a week after months of working from home, and hybrid working becomes the new norm for many, personal situations and home dynamics are changing again. And as we know, change (even positive change) always brings an element of stress with it, and everyone deals with change differently. So if you’re working from home some of the time and heading into the office for the rest of the week, let’s look at some ways to adjust your routines and help you lower stress while hybrid working.

Why is reducing stress important?

First thing first, why is it important we find ways to manage and lower stress? Because while we’re busy coping with change (big and small) and feeling stressed, our energies can get depleted very quickly. It’s common to feel exhausted and burnt out, to lose focus and productivity, and even notice an impact on our cognitive faculties, like the ability to make decisions or remember things.

Studies show that stress (and especially prolonged stress) can affect the nervous system and “cause structural changes in different parts of the brain” which can “bring about differences in the response to stress, cognition, and memory.” And no one wants that! Especially not when we’re already being pulled in all sorts of different directions with responsibilities both at home and work.

If we let it, stress will pinch on our time, energy, and headspace. So it’s important that we, as individuals, try and identify the challenges we’re facing and understand how changes to our working patterns might impact our existing routines. This allows us to then start to come up with smart and effective solutions to lower the pressure and the impact of stress on both our bodies and minds.

Managing stress in conjunction with hybrid working is becoming a priority for employers too, especially in light of the predicted increased attrition rate brought on by the return to the office after an extended period of home working. Hopefully, we’ll start to see more and more employers helping their staff by introducing initiatives that offer meaningful, realistic, and practical support to help us adapt to the new way of working.

The 3 pillars of wellbeing

The way I suggest companies and individuals take pressure off themselves to reduce stress during times of change is by focusing on what I call the 3 pillars of wellbeing. These are:

  1. Moving every day.
  2. Fuelling ourselves well (i.e. eating well).
  3. Protecting our sleep.

Let’s get into some more details for each of the 3 pillars.

Lower stress hybrid working. Graphic of a man and a woman dressed smartly and walking to work

Pillar #1 – Moving every day

Movement is key to our mental and physical wellbeing. I like to talk in terms of ‘movement’ rather than exercise as I feel that thinking about working out can increase the pressure when we’re already being pulled in so many directions and coping with different kinds of responsibilities in the various areas of our lives.

So when I talk about movement, this is any type of physical activity – no movement is too small!

For optimal wellbeing, I recommend:

  • 30 minutes of movement a day. If you don’t have time to go for a half-an-hour walk or workout, that’s not a problem. You can break your 30 minutes down into 3x 10-minute walks, for example.
  • At least 30 minutes a day outdoors. And it’s perfectly fine to combine your 30 minutes of movement (see point above) with being outdoors.
  • Increasing your ‘incidental activity’. This is any movement that’s part of your day, like going up the stairs, walking to the sink to fill up your water cup, etc.

Ways to increase your incidental activity

When you think about it, you can move wherever you are – even in the office! Moving your body throughout the day in different ways helps you keep away aches and pains but also burn calories.

And the easiest way to increase your incidental activity is by incorporating it into your working day.

So, for example, you could:

  • Park further away from the office.
  • Consider jogging, cycling, or scooting part of the way to work.
  • Whether at home or in the office, make a point of using the loo on another floor.
  • Go for a walking meeting outdoors with a colleague instead of booking a meeting room.
  • Even just keeping a small cup of water by your desk (instead of a big flask or bottle) would mean additional trips to the water cooler, which would help you increase the number of times you move throughout the day.

Can you think of other creative ways to move more?

Pillar #2 – Food

The second pillar is all to do with food. Because what we eat can also help us lower stress and increase energy levels. I like to think about food as fuel. Choose the right fuel, and you’ll start to notice how you feel better and more able to cope with the pressures, responsibilities, and changes to your routine.

So for optimal wellbeing, opt for quick and simple meals and nourishing foods, including:

  • Foods that stabilise your blood-sugar levels. I.e. vegetables, wholemeal grains over white bread, nuts, legumes, etc.
  • Foods that de-stress, including b-vitamins and magnesium. Pumpkin seeds are your ‘super-hero’ food in this department!
  • And follow an 80/20 balance. I find it’s helpful to aim for good food choices about 80% of the time. Because eating well shouldn’t become a source of stress in itself!

And the best way to fuel your body is by following what I call the Optimal Fuel Formula.

Lower stress hybrid working. Graphic showing the Optimal Fuel Formula equals protein plus healthy fat plus complex carbohydrates

The Optimal Fuel Formula

The Optimal Fuel Formula allows to you choose food for sustained energy, which can, in turn, help you lower stress, and is made up of:

  • Protein. Think chicken, fish, pulses, eggs, and dairy.
  • Healthy fats, including olive oil, nuts and seeds, oily fish, avocado, etc.
  • And complex carbohydrates. These include vegetables, beans, whole grains (unrefined/unprocessed).

For more information on how to create or choose balanced meals and practical ideas on what to make for breakfast, lunch, dinner, head over to my post What to eat to reduce stress and increase energy.

Pillar #3 – Sleep

The third pillar to optimal wellbeing is all about getting enough sleep. Did you know that adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every night and not the 5-6 hours a lot of us believe they need to be able to function the next day?

In light of that, it’s important we start to recognise any potential challenges that might stop us from getting our beauty sleep. And once we’re aware of those challenges, we need to take steps to protect that time and adapt our current routine accordingly, much like we do when we build bedtime routines for our children and stick to them for dear life!

Ideas to protect your sleep

So what can we do to make sure we’re having a good night’s sleep?

  • Create a bedtime routine that’s conducive to sleep and stick to it! If you have a bath, make sure the water isn’t too hot. If you read a book, go for a physical book rather than an e-book, and make it fiction – something that doesn’t wire up your brain.
  • Cut down stimulants at least one hour before bed. This includes chocolate and caffeine, screens (and that means your phone, too), and even work!
  • Choose gentle movement and stretches over high-intensity workouts, where you’d need time to cool down and wind down afterwards. If you want to move before bedtime, opt for some light stretching or relaxing yoga.
  • Keep a notebook and pen on your bedside table for pre-sleep unwinding and those middle-of-the-night panics. The last thing you want is to wake up in the middle of the night thinking about that form you need to fill in the next day for your child’s school trip or that piece of data you need to add to your presentation and be unable to go back to sleep because you don’t want to forget in the morning!
Lower stress hybrid working. Image of a bedside table that is sleep-inducing i.e. free from screens, with a novel and a notebook and an old-fashioned alarm clock.

Adapting your sleep routine

I also suggest you adapt your routine to make sure you have your 7-9 hours of sleep per night. So if you know you need to wake up at 6 am to be at your desk by 8 am, take away 7 to 9 hours from 6 am. Let’s say you need at least a good 8 hours to feel like a well-functioning human the next day, your bedtime should be 6 am minus 8 hours = 10 pm. The key is to not be caught unprepared – always recalculate lights out to ensure you get your sleep. It’s important!

If you’re hybrid working, you’re likely to have an earlier wake-up time on the days you’re in the office. But my recommendation is to stick to the earlier wake-up time every day. So if you normally wake up at 6 am when you go to the office, make sure you’re up at the same time when you’re working from home.

Why? Because consistency in your sleeping routine works better. But you also gain extra time in your day! By getting up early, you can then go for a walk outdoors or move your body, prep your food for the day (or days) ahead, or use that time for planning ahead and feeling more prepared and in control. That in itself can do wonders for your stress levels!

Here’s an example of how your schedule might work on the days you work from home vs when you’re in the office.

lower stress hybrid working

Interested in more tips to lower stress while hybrid working?

I hope you enjoyed these simple tips to help lower stress when hybrid working. If you’re a manager working for a corporate and are looking for practical ways to help your staff during these times of change, get in touch for a free call. And if you’re an individual looking for more tips on how to move more or eat well, I invite you to connect with me on Instagram or subscribe to my YouTube channel – Workout with B.

Bianca x

30 days 30 minutes outdoors challenge

I set myself a simple challenge this January, to help me get through what is always a tough month.

30 days, 30 minutes of movement outdoors. It could be any kind of movement: running or more gentle walks with the puppy or a friend, or simply playing outside with the kids. Any kind of movement outdoors, every day in January.

Over the years, I’ve set myself plenty of physical or sport-related goals eg. London Marathon, triathlons etc, but none that focussed solely on my wellbeing, and that didn’t have fear of big race day to motivate me. So, this was going to be a wholly different kind of challenge.

Now my job is to encourage consistency in others to build a healthy lifestyle, but I’m curiously remiss when it comes to consistency with my own health and fitness, especially without a race day end point. I think it’s something to do with not feeling comfortable prioritising my own needs, but that’s for another blog. I’m also easily distracted, constantly questioning and crafting new ideas in my mind, so focussing on this simple challenge was good to rein in my brain.

But, how was I going to ensure I was consistent, stuck to this and actually completed this challenge? The answer for me was by making it public. Not just sharing this with family and friends, so they could support me, but also putting it out there across all of my social media. Scary, but also motivating! Take a look here at my Instagram if you’d like to see more photos.

I kept a simple mood diary pre and post-outing, rating my mood from 1 to 5. This was great at forcing me to look at and accept how I was feeling (rather than ignoring), and verbalising the benefits that I was experiencing.

I’m a person who always puts others needs first (not healthy by the way!), and it took me a few days to accept that this challenge wasn’t about getting the kids some fresh air, but was just for me, and that this was ok and didn’t make me a selfish person.

On 5th January, when a new Lockdown was announced in the UK, and the children would be back to ‘home learning’, I felt really low. I went for a really gentle walk, and this was enough and felt right for how I was feeling.

Remember that exercise is a form of stress on our body, so it’s ok to go easy on yourself and adapt your form of exercise to the feedback your body is giving you. Just as long as you don’t do nothing.

The key here is to listen to your body, not your brain. I noticed that when I was feeling low at this time, the sabotaging thoughts started to creep in. You know, the “oh, just bin your cycle ride”, “I can’t be bothered”, “there’s too much other stuff to do”, self-doubt type of thoughts.

“Yo Brain! Why are you doing this to me??”

It’s a bit of a surprise to realise that our own thoughts can be really unsupportive and unhelpful at times. But it’s an important realisation, and once you know this, you can fight back! Information is power, always.

One day I had a Covid test. My shoulders were tense, my chest tight as I was stressed by the process and of course waiting for the outcome of the test. Big improvement in mood walking by the river – from 2.5 to 4 – and that was before the relief of the text message confirming my negative result.

Sometimes I felt like I was fighting the tide, like King Canute. Abandoning the family at a crucial time in the morning (breakfast-time!) and dog barking and general chaos. But what I learnt was, they were all fine without me. It was good for all of us that I took myself off for a run. What I conceived to be the problem or barrier to me leaving the house was bigger in my head than in reality. Much, much bigger!

As I continued through the month, I began to glimpse the faint outlines of patterns.

I got an extra half point of feel good when I raised my heart rate with a run or a cycle. Most likely the endorphins to thank there.

I felt the biggest sense of achievement and boost in mood when I ran on my own early in the morning.

Walks with friends created a different but equally positive wellbeing effect – I imagine this was the added social connection, which we’re all missing at the moment.

By 25th January, though, I could feel my motivation waning. I understand now why so many New Year’s Resolutions fail. January is a really long month.

I plodded on, and ended my challenge on 31st January with a strong 5km run and a spring in my step, elated actually to have seen this challenge through to completion.

Some things I learnt on this journey:

  • a lot about myself and my inner motivations
  • it was great to have purpose
  • it was harder than I thought it would be
  • the accountability of posting updates every day was a good stressor – ie. it motivated me. I clearly have a fear of public failure! Acknowledging this ‘weakness’ and turning it around to benefit me has been a powerful discovery
  • I feel extra epic heading out in the rain

My three main barriers, in order of importance, were:

  • my own thoughts / self-doubt
  • the weather – not the rain, but flat and grey skies really made me feel low
  • logistics

My three main facilitators were:

  • public accountability of posting every day
  • others joining in with me and looking to me for inspiration
  • prepping the night before – planning what I was going to do and when, laying out kit ready etc

I have formed not one but two new helpful habits: getting outdoors everyday, and an ability to recognise and start to question and resist those sabotaging thoughts. Win-win for wellbeing.

I would definitely recommend trying this challenge, in any month of the year. Connect with me on Instagram if you would like to give it a go and would appreciate some support.

Bianca x