Being a VA is easy, right?

Get out of bed when you like. Wander downstairs in your PJ’s to have a cuppa whilst slowly checking emails. Take shower. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Go back to your computer and start work. Stop for a long lunch. Take the dog out for a walk. Welcome the kids’ home from school. Enjoy an evening relaxing with family, friends or simply in front of the TV.

Stress? What stress – right?

Wrong.

Let’s face it, the reality goes something more like this …

Alarm goes off. Jump out of bed, grab a quick shower, pop the kettle on en-route to your office. Check through latest emails. Remember you were going to make a cuppa. Head back to the kitchen to re-boil the kettle. Grab a quick bite to eat. Head back to your computer to prioritise work for the day. Respond to emails. Answer the phone. Start work. Stop work to answer the door. Go back to work. Answer the phone. Time check – 6pm … really??? Shove something in the oven for dinner. Say a quick hi to the kids and hubbie. Work late into the evening to get on top of all pre-scheduled work. Collapse into bed around 11pm – assuming things have gone well.

Does that sound more familiar?

For many VA’s the second scenario is a much more regular occurrence. So it’s no great surprise how you can easily become super stressed. Therefore as a Virtual Assistant it’s important to notice the signs of stress and learn how you can deal with it.

The signs of stress

Stress can affect people in different ways. The easiest thing to do is listen to your body and understand what feels ‘normal’ to you.

Common signs of stress can include:

  • Tiredness
  • Struggle to get out of bed
  • Lack of appetite or excessive eating
  • Sensitive, tearful or angry
  • General mood swings
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feelings of negativity
  • Lack of concentration
  • Forgetfulness / poor memory
  • Increased alcohol or cigarette consumption

Although directed slightly more towards the employed, this Burnout Self-Test is a good indicative of whether you need to take steps to reduce your stress today. Alternatively, try this Stress & Anxiety Quiz that also includes factors outside of your work environment.

How to alleviate the signs of stress

At this stage it’s important to point out that it will depend on your level of stress as to whether it can be self-treated, or whether you should seek the support of a medical professional. If you’re worried that your stress levels are beyond the point of self-treatment, I’d advise talking to your GP. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can get back on track.

For those who feel their stress levels are manageable but just need a few pointers to get back on track, here are the top five tips to manage your stress:

1. Manage your time – create lists.

The easiest and most efficient way to manage your stress is through time management and the creation of lists. I know it sounds pretty basic, but it’s amazing what a little order does to bring perspective and realisation to your working life.

So create a ‘To Do’ list the night before work. It’s important to do it the evening prior to your working day because this will help you switch off and therefore be able to sleep better.

Prioritise the tasks for the day to avoid procrastination. Allocate times to those tasks – particularly important if you’ve quoted the client per project. Create reminders in your Outlook, or relevant email account, to help you stay on track.

And don’t forget to allocate time throughout the day to check your emails. This allows you to relax and not feel the constant need to read an email the moment it pings in to your inbox. Remember, you’re running your business, your clients aren’t. So if someone sends an email that’s not responded to for a couple of hours, that’s absolutely fine and they will understand. After all, if you’re working on one of their tasks, they won’t want you stopping every five minutes to answer emails.

2. Focus on one task at a time.

An obvious point to make, but I know I’m guilty of flitting from one job to another from time-to-time, so I’m sure there are others like me out there.

Well to avoid stress, it’s time to cut it out completely.

When you’ve created your task list for the day, make sure you stick to it. Prioritising your work brings clarity. Sticking to the schedule ensures productivity without procrastination. Once you’ve completed the task, or have completed your time allocation towards that task for the day (if it’s an ongoing task), close it down and get on with the next task, again without interruption.

It’s also advised to leave any social media work to later in the day.

Why? Most people will often wake up feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to get stuck into work. By the afternoon that freshness has faded. So it makes sense to do the tougher in-depth tasks early and the less in-depth tasks such as social media later.

Of course another reason is so you won’t get distracted and your clearly defined schedule go out the window!

3. Delegate.

If you want to exceed client expectations whilst at the same time grow your client list, you’ll need to enlist support. Outsourcing work is a great way to reduce your own man-hours, feel in control and know deadlines will be met. This in itself is a fantastic stress-buster.

Of course you’ll need to find support that you can trust, which can take time. So allocate a few evenings to do your research, interview potential associates, give them a task or two as a trial, and then once you’ve found them ensure you nurture that relationship to build trust and establish a long term working relationship.

4. Take mini-breaks.

The recommended work / break balance is around 10 minutes for every 90 minutes of work.

How many times do you stop in your working day?

To manage stress levels effectively it’s hugely important to step away from your computer, take some time out, and gain some perspective, before sitting back down and continuing.

Ideally step outside for some fresh air. Gaze into the distance to ensure your eyes also get a break.

If you can, completely switch off from work. However understandably that sometimes is easier said than done. In which case, take a pad and pen with you and jot down anything that comes to mind, so you’re not storing things up – adding to your stress levels.

Once you get into a routine of doing this, it’ll become part of your working day – equally as important as responding to that client email.

5. Exercise.

Exercise is a fantastic way to alleviate stress. Particularly exercise that increases your heart rate such as aerobics, high intensity classes and running.

The increased oxygen flow to the brain and chemicals released during exercise improves cognitive function and helps you feel more positive.

And finally, don’t forget the community of VA’s around you including our own Virtual Assistance Professional Facebook page. There’s no need to feel alone. We’ve all gone through times of stress at one stage or another and I’m sure there are plenty of VA’s who will be more than happy to offer their own advice.

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