The process of career transition is stressful. Just the thought of career change alone can cause stress, anxiety and self-doubt.
According to the Centre for Studies on Human Stress, stress occurs when we are faced with, or anticipate, a situation that is either new or unpredictable, when we feel we have little or no control in a situation or when our competency is called into question.
Unfortunately, career change involves all of the above.
It’s unknown, unexplored territory.
Whilst this can be exciting for some, it can be extremely stressful for others. Ultimately, it’s not just a career change, it’s also a life change. It affects our lifestyle as a whole.
Stress affects self-esteem, relationships with others and the self, sleep and quality of life in general. There are real worries of social or societal pressure, financial strain, material well-being, and even loss of personal identity. It can be an upheaval of our routine and the structure of our lives.
I know, I’ve not exactly painted a pretty picture here, but these are the real concerns of career change, and it is often what stops people from moving forward in their lives.
In fact, the very act of not moving forward because of these concerns can cause stress. We feel stuck. We feel overwhelmed about what could go wrong or what we could lose. We stay in a job we want to escape just because the alternative feels impossible.
It is this ANTICIPATION of what MIGHT happen that causes the biggest stress of all.
Much of the time these problems often aren’t as huge as we make up in our heads.
No-one likes to feel stressed. But it is a part of being human and is ultimately there as a survival instinct.
When we feel stressed, we associate it as being ‘bad’. We want to get rid of it. I speak for myself when I’ve relied on Dr. Pinot Grigio a little too heavily to get me through some tough times…
And there’s nothing wrong with that per se. It’s when it becomes routine, a way of numbing out or avoiding the cause of the stress, that it becomes something to flag up.
What if we could think of stress simply as information?
Rather than suppress it, listen to it and see what it’s asking of you.
It’s ok to feel stressed. Life gets tricky. It’s when we let it take over that it can become problematic.
Learning to understand our triggers and knowing when to take a step back can help. It’s normally just before the moment you have the meltdown. Listen to those little voices telling you ‘I can’t keep doing this, it’s too much’, and respond to them.
At this point you might be thinking, ‘Well, the stress would stop if the problem wasn’t there! But I can’t just stop what I’m doing. I can’t just quit my job! I’ve got bills to pay!’
I’m not suggesting you stop. And I’m definitely not suggesting you throw in the towel without any thought.
What I’m suggesting is taking time to give your body what it’s asking for in order to sustain an optimum level of productivity rather than crash and burn.
I have experienced burn-out twice. It’s not a barrel of laughs.
When I look back, my body was literally telling me what I wasn’t prepared to listen to.
Both times I broke out in eczema all across my throat and face, which in my state of denial I assumed was some kind of allergy (it wasn’t). When I didn’t listen the first time the eczema turned its volume up a notch and I broke out in hives.
On the second burn-out, I had a panic attack. At work. Not like a meltdown, but more like a slow out-of-body experience where I couldn’t really function and didn’t really understand what was going on.
After that, I started to listen. Noticing the signs and responding to them, rather than blindly pushing on through. I’ve not always got it nailed down, but it’s certainly a work in progress.
So what do I do to help myself when I start feeling the build-up of stress?
First and foremost I get away from the scene of the crime! I move my body and I get outside.
Studies have shown that heart rate, blood pressure and the stress hormone, cortisol, all reduce after spending time outside in nature. It calms people down and increases performance and productivity.
It makes sense. We evolved in nature, not in concrete blocks. So getting outside is a bit like pressing the reset button.
Considering most people live in cities, the key is to get outside into ‘green’ environments. Going for a walk in your lunch break by the side of a highway is not going to cut it.
I also write it all out.
Getting stuff out of your head and down on paper helps relieve the washing machine effect of the worries in your head. I keep a journal by my bed, but I also sometimes just write stuff out on scraps of paper as and when I need to. Just the process of getting it onto paper helps to release tension and make space for creativity and new ideas to pop up.
The more you write, the more you start to notice patterns of unhelpful thinking. This allows you to identify issues that you can actually do something about and brainstorm ideas, whilst also showing you the things that are literally all in your head!
So what else could you do that could help you release stress in a more productive way and give you the headspace to start to make changes for yourself?
There’s plenty of articles out there that will tell you things you ‘should’ be doing.
You need to meditate more, do more yoga, more exercise, cut down on the caffeine, the sugar, the Pinot Grigio (damn it!). And whilst this is all absolutely correct, the list can build up and become yet another obligation, just adding to the stress.
Find the version that works for you.
Not into meditation? Maybe just take 10 deep breaths, focusing on the lungs filling up and deflating on the out breath.
Can’t quit the coffee? Use that time to get away from your desk and decompress, without your phone and the temptation to flick through more emails.
Whatever works for you in a way that is productive, healthy and gives you the space to listen and take care of yourself.
Hello! I’m Gemma!
I’m a Career Change Coach and
I’m here to help you get unstuck, find clarity in your working life and take brave, actionable steps towards fulfilment and purpose through career change.
Find out more