Workplace stress happens to the best of us. Even if you love your job, there are going to be days where you are likely to feel overwhelmed, overwrought or just plain stressed out. Things won’t always go your way. People won’t always deliver things to you on time, or do things the way that you’d want them to. Deadlines get moved, pressure gets ramped up and clients can be a nightmare.
The more importance you put on your work, the more stressful it can become. But that doesn’t mean you should start slacking and not putting so much into what you do – well, not really. Think about it – that job you had when you were in college or as a teen wasn’t that stressful was it? Probably because you didn’t have so much self esteem, financial dependency or investment in it. Now we get caught up in the ‘what if I never get another job?’ or ‘what will people think of me if this goes wrong/I’m not a success/don’t get my bonus?’ We carry a lot a mental baggage about our jobs that makes that much more pressured.
The key to coping with workplace stress is recognizing it and doing something about it.
“If You’re Not Stressed, You’re Not Working Hard Enough.”
Have you heard that phrase? An old boss of mine used to say it. Unfortunately I’ve heard variations on it in many of the places I’ve worked or consulted in. I’d go so far as to say that in some workplaces stress is such an accepted part of the culture it’s almost worn as a badge of honor. Being ‘stressed out’ has become such an acceptable part of our lives that many people assume that it’s just the way it is. Unfortunately that’s a really dangerous way of thinking.
Stress IS a part of life but it doesn’t have to be a permanent or acceptable part of it. A bit of short term stress probably won’t do you too much harm but unchecked, un-treated and ignored stress will.
Coping With Workplace Stress
Some solutions to workplace stress include:
• Recognizing when your stressed
• Keeping things in perspective
• Letting the little things go, it probably doesn’t matter anyway
• Proactively balancing work and family life
• Creating a support network
1. Recognizing when you’re stressed
This might seem obvious but if you don’t know when you’re stressed it’s easy to push through until you hit the wall. Get to know how you feel physically and emotionally when you’re stressed. Do you feel a tension in your shoulders or does stress usually manifest itself through stomach complaints? Knowing your early warning signs can be a signal to do things quickly to correct things before they get out of hand.
2. Keeping Things In Perspective
One of the first things that stress does is skew our perspective on things. If in the middle of a crisis I asked you how important it was you’d probably say it was vital. BUT if I asked you to think about your kids first birthday, a loved one getting sick or you had a car accident you’d get a totally new sense of perspective. In the book SUMO Paul McGee uses these 7 questions to help ‘coach’ yourself down from a high stress point:
- On a scale of 1-10 (10 being death!) how important is this issue?
- How important will it be in 6 months time?
- Is my approach appropriate and effective?
- How can I influence or improve the situation?
- What can I learn from this?
- What will I do differently next time?
- What can I find that’s positive in this situation?
3. Letting Things Go
Once you’ve done the above, you’ll probably find that many of the things you consider really big and stressful are actually small things. That makes this next step much easier – letting some of the little things go. It you go about life thinking that you have a really stressful life, you likely will have one. But if you can see that some of the things that stress you out are really unimportant, it becomes much easier to feel positive about things and let them go. Sometimes this takes a bit of effort – if you’ve gotten into a habit of worrying about lots of things you might need to check in with yourself occasionally throughout the day to see if you’re worrying unnecessarily about things that really don’t need your time.
4. Finding Work-Life Balance
When work takes over our lives, that’s usually when we become stressed out at work and when we cannot cope well. You should make sure that you engage in daily activities that do not involve work, even if this is simply reading a chapter of your favorite book or picking up the phone to call a friend. When you allow your work life to consume you, stress will consume you too. In turn, you’ll become less efficient and effective at your job.
5. Social Support
People with strong levels of social support have lower levels of stress and higher levels of well-being than those who don’t so make sure you spend time with your friends, family, or even your co-workers outside of work. We often allow our home to become an office away from the office. Make sure you have a support network of friends and family members who will remind you that there are plenty of things to do that aren’t related to your work in any way. Oftentimes a support system helps keep us grounded when we would otherwise be tightly wound with work-related stress.
It’s true that stress is a part of life, but that doesn’t mean it needs to consume us. Stress will come and go, but coping is something that needs to be on-going so you can live a great life inside and outside of your professional life.