Stress has become a worldwide epidemic, according to a World Health Organization report. And stress at work is increasing by leaps and bounds as a result of rapid changes in technology and several other factors. According to a new study released in November 2018 by Korn Ferry Institute, 65% of workers sampled admit that stress in their jobs is far higher now than it was 5 years ago; 75% are worried it has had a negative impact on their personal relationships; 66% say that they have lost sleep due to work stress and 16% admit they had to quit a job as a result of too much stress.

More than a fair share of work stress can be found in Public Relations work. A new CareerCast report ranks the work of PR executives as the eighth most stressful job in the world.

If you are practicing in Africa, especially in a country like Nigeria, your stress level may well have gone through the ceiling. According to a 2015 Bloomberg study, Nigeria is the most stressful country in the world. A combination of poor road network, lack of power supply, never-ending traffic jams, poor public transportation system, high cost of living and insecurity have combined to make it so. Nothing has changed over the years. Instead the situation is getting worse by the day.

Given this alarming statistics of stress in the workplace,  in Public Relations in particular, it behooves every practitioner, who wants to withstand its negative impact and continues to maintain optimum performance in his job, to understand, master stress management and, most especially, know how to apply stress reducing methods such as relaxation techniques on the go.

When the job does not grant you the leisure of daily use of treadmill or jogging outdoors, which are very effective ways to counteract the negative impact of stress, relaxation methods come in handy to deal with the situation. You don’t need special skills or machines to use them, and you don’t need an instructor. In ten to twenty minutes you can practice them to good effect and get back to work. This article explores four key relaxation techniques that are simple and takes a minimum amount of time to practice. But before we begin to look at them, it is important to define stress and stress management and explain why stress is dangerous and therefore requires your utmost attention.

Defining Stress and Stress Management

A lot of people confuse pressures in the workplace with stress. They are not same. Work pressure comes when a work load is beyond the limit of an individual to handle at a given point in time. It is defined as the sum of the amount of work and the time set aside to finish the work compared with an employee’s capacity to cope. The ability to cope is influenced by several factors such as employee’s personality, training, and work environment.

 Stress, on the hand, is the response of the body to the demands that are made on it.

When you perceive a particular work situation as overwhelming or threatening to your wellbeing and survival, your body reacts by preparing you to face the situation or run away. It does this in exactly the same way it used to prepare our ancestors to deal with the threats of wild animals. Your nervous system is activated. Hormones and neurotransmitters such as cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine are released into your system. Your heart beat become faster in order to pump more blood to your muscles and your brain. Your rate of breathing rate increases to infuse your blood with more oxygen. The amount of energy in your body goes up, so is the level of glucose in your brain in order to sharpen your attention and quicken your thinking. Body systems which are not immediately important such as the digestive and reproductive systems are shut down and blood is diverted to the muscles and the brain. Your rate of perspiration increases to help cool your body down, and blood clotting chemicals are released into your system to ensure you don’t lose much blood in case you sustain injuries. Physiologists refer to this reaction as ‘the fight or flight syndrome’. Your system only returns to normal functioning level once you’ve tackled the problem or avoided it.

Stress can be both an enemy and a friend. In small doses, stress is your friend. Good stress, known as Eustress, is what motivates you to solve difficult problems at work and act to improve your life and those of others. It becomes bad when it is overwhelming or distressing and remains for a long time.

Stress management is basically the ability to reduce the negative impact of stress on you. It includes your ability to quickly engineer your body’s return to a state of calm to avoid the negative consequences of your body remaining in a prolonged reactionary state. The use of relaxation techniques can help you achieve that. It’s a skill you cannot afford to toy with.

The Dangers of Excessive Stress

Excessive stress is dangerous to your health. Several studies hold it either as a single culprit or as a contributing factor to many physical and mental health problems, including the following:

  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Heart burns
  • Heart diseases
  • Weakened immune system
  • High blood sugar
  • High blood pressure
  • Fertility problems
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Low sex drive
  • Anxiety
  • Constipation
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis and a host of others

Are you laboring under any of these conditions now? Don’t despair. As long as they are stress-related, continuous application of the relaxation techniques can help you overcome them or reduce their intensity on you. All you need to do is to incorporate them into your daily activities. The beauty of relaxation techniques is that they induce or activate relaxation response in your body. Relaxation response is the polar opposite of stress response or the fight or flight syndrome, and it drives your body back to its pre-stress levels, its natural state of calm.  

When that happens, these are exactly what you get:

  • Fight and flight response is turned off
  • Your heart rate goes down
  • Your breathing becomes slower and deeper
  • Your muscles relax
  • your blood pressure goes down
  • You enter a deep state of relaxation that is capable of correcting any health problem that is caused or made worse by stress.

What quickly comes to the mind of most people when they think of relaxation is going to the beach, the cinema or simply watching the TV at home. All these are ways to take time off work and rest. In stress management, relaxation is essentially about activating the relaxation response.

Four Relaxation Techniques for Daily Use

These four relaxation techniques are very useful and easy to apply at any time. No matter how busy you may be, you can insert them into your schedule. I’ve used them while waiting for clients in their offices, before the start of a meeting and even at work intervals. You can do the same. Let’s discuss them in turn:

  • Jacobson Relaxation Procedure

Invented by Edmund Jacobson in the 1920s as a way to help his patients deal with anxiety, this 20 minutes exercise may be all you need to melt physical tension from your body, induce relaxation response and keep stress at bay.

This is how you go about it:

  • Begin by lying down with your back straight on the floor or bed. Close your eyes and take four deep diaphragmatic breathing, holding each as long as you can before exhaling. You can also do this exercise sitting on a chair as comfortably as possible.
  • Point your toes toward your head and feel the tension for about ten seconds and relax them for another ten seconds.
  • Point your toes forward (away from your head) and hold it for ten seconds, feeling the tension. Then relax them for another ten seconds.
  • Squeeze your thighs and buttocks tightly for ten seconds. Feel the tension and relax for ten seconds.
  • Pull in your stomach, arch your back and feel the tension for ten seconds and relax for another ten seconds.
  • Take a deep breath, filling your lungs completely. Hold it for ten seconds and exhale slowly. Relax for ten seconds.
  • Raise or lift your shoulder up to your ears tightly. Feel the tension for ten seconds and relax for ten seconds.
  • Clench your fists separately. Feel the tension in your forearms. Hold it for ten second and relax for another ten seconds.
  • Bend your arms separately at the elbow and tense the biceps for ten seconds and relax for ten seconds.
  • Straighten your arms separately and tense the triceps for ten seconds. Relax your arms for another ten seconds.
  • Bring your head down, pressing your chin against your chest. Hold the tension for ten seconds and release. Relax for another ten seconds.
  • Sit up and push your head back as far as it can go. Hold the tension for ten seconds and bring it back to its position. Relax for another ten seconds.
  • Press your tongue flat against the roof of your mouth with your lips closed. Feel the tension for ten seconds and relax for another ten seconds.
  • Tense your jaw by clenching your teeth. Hold the tension for ten seconds and relax for another ten seconds.
  • Close your eyes and squeeze the muscles around them tightly together for ten seconds. Relax for another ten seconds.
  • Wrinkle your forehead by pushing your eyebrows toward your hairline. Hold the tension for ten seconds and relax for another ten seconds.
  • Open your eyes and feel renewed energy coursing through your being.
  • Body Scan Meditation

One sure way of releasing your body of tension is through the use of body scan meditation. It involves focusing your attention on each part of your body from the toes to the head, becoming aware of the sensations they radiate. Whether it’s pain, tension or relaxation does not matter. All you should do is to be fully present in each part and noticing the sensations of the part.

This exercise is easy to incorporate into your schedule. You can do it while commuting to and from work, before meetings, while waiting for clients or even at work intervals. It helps you to increase self awareness, focus on the present, improve your imagination and creativity and reduce negative emotions. That’s a whole lot of benefits that work against stress.

  • Guided Imagery

This is a visualization and meditation exercise. All you do is, take your mind back to those places you enjoy and find relaxing. It could be your backyard, a beach, a spiritual temple or anywhere you sometime found relaxing. Visualize yourself in that place using as many senses as possible, such as; smell, sight, sound and textures of the place. See and feel yourself savouring the very relaxed atmosphere of the place.

Guided imagery is one good way to activate relaxation response. It works by taking people’s attention away from what stressed them. Several studies have proven that it can lower heart and blood pressure, and enhance a strong feeling of wellbeing.

  • Breathing Exercise

Studies have shown that when you breathe deeply it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax.  Your brain in turn sends the message to your body to do the same. When that happens, the signs of stress such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, tension in your body and even high blood pressure will all go down.

There are several forms of breathing exercises, but you don’t need complicated methods to relief yourself of stress. A simple diaphragmatic breathing will do. This is how to do it:

  • Lie or sit down comfortably with your spine straight.
  • Put your hand on your belly or below your ribs.
  • Breathe in through your nose and let your belly push your hand out while your chest stays still.
  • Hold the breathe as long as you can.
  • Breathe out through your nose. Feel your hand on your belly go in as if it is pushing the air out.
  • Do this for about 5 to 10 times, and you’ll be surprised at the level of relaxation you get.

When your body is constantly flooded with chemicals as a result of stress, you don’t stand a chance of having optimum health and energy to do your job effectively. Knowing how to activate your relaxation response through the use of relaxation techniques is all you need to achieve the level of calmness needed to engender the level of creativity, attention to details and energy that Public Relations work requires.