Here’s a word I’ve heard a lot about recently; stress.
Even saying the word out loud can make you feel tired and anxious. However, the stress you feel is greatly magnified by your mental state, which in turn is controlled by your mindset or your perspective. It seems like a trivial thing, but seeing the same situation from a negative or positive perspective can give you a vastly different experience. It’s similar to handling negative criticism, or understanding when to quit something that’s ultimately harmful to you. Sometimes we refer to it as “healthy stress” vs. “unhealthy stress”. Healthy stress is ultimately positive. It helps you grow by pushing you outside of your comfort zone in manageable chunks. Unhealthy stress on the other hand literally takes a toll on both your physical and mental health.
The most unhealthy type of stress comes from a feeling of helplessness or hopelessness, where it feels like there’s no escape from the situation in sight. It’s a horrible state of mind to be in! In this article, I’m going to help you find the cause of your stress and suggest the most suitable ways to cope with it so you can become a happy and productive worker again.
The key to managing your unhealthy stress, or turning it into “healthy stress” is to start from your attitude towards it.
To turn things around, you can start by making a conscious choice to proactively take more control back. No matter what situation you’re in, there are always certain things that you can control (although it may not seem much at first). When I say control, I mean that you have the power to choose what actions to take. By starting smaller at first, you will realize that there are lot more things that you can do than you think. It’s really easy to get tunnel vision under stress, so many solutions are probably hanging just outside of your conscious vision!
If you want to start taking back control of your stress right away, I’ve written a comprehensive guide. It gives you a range of practical and doable actions from a mental, physical, and even relationship perspectives. If you’re suffering from regular unhealthy stress, don’t let it build up. You can change it. Workplace stress is a modern epidemic. More than one-third of American workers experience chronic work stress. This is estimated to cost American businesses up to $300 billion a year in lost work hours and medical bills. Clearly, if you’re suffering from work stress – you’re far from alone. But, work stress isn’t inevitable.
Where does work stress come from?
Certain factors tend to go together with work-related stress. The causes of stress include:
Too much work – you find yourself saying: “There are not enough hours in the day!”
The job is too easy, not challenging or inspiring – this is where boredom (which is stressful) sets in.
Pressure from co-workers or lack of social support – colleagues are not helpful or only care about their own tasks.
Little praise and lots of criticism – this is where a lousy manager uses constant criticism to ‘try’ to motivate you. I have been there, and it was not good for me, my mental health or my well being. If you are in this situation, try to find a way out
Very demanding or competitive working culture – sales departments often fit this category.
Not having enough control over job-related decisions – this is when people try to micro-manage you.
High expectations on yourself or seeking perfection – while it’s good to do your best, being a perfectionist can be a powerful stress generator.
Low salary – if you work hard but receive slim financial rewards, you may start to feel downhearted, frustrated and stressed. It can take a big toll on your self esteem and mental health, especially if you have a lot of responsibilities (which we all do)
The negative effects of stress on your mind and body
Chronic stress is bad news for your health.
These are some health symptoms of stress:
If stress hormones are triggered in your body for extended periods, they can lead to increased physical aging. This is because stress makes your cells look and act older – and this is reflected in your physical appearance.3
In addition to the negative effects on your body, stress also has a significant influence on your brain – negatively impacting your daily performance.
I recommend you watch the 4-minute video below to see just how stress can wreak havoc on your brain and your performance:
How to cope with work stress
You don’t need to be a victim of work stress, there are different types of other stressors in life, and you can use these tips to take care of your stressors. Here’s how to manage stress in the workplace:
1. Set aside some time for planning
If work has become too much for you, and you’re constantly falling behind… stop! Instead of trying and failing to catch up, you’d be better off spending some time thinking about your goals and how your rank your tasks.
For instance, if your first goal is just to get on top of your work (probably for the first time in months), then take 10 minutes to think clearly and deeply about how you can do this. Most likely, you’ll be able to come up with tasks that you need to complete to reach your goal. And once your goal and tasks are clear in your mind, you’ll be ready for the second step.
2. Align your tasks with your goal
Just knowing your goal and associated tasks is not enough. Many people reach this stage but still fall behind with their work and fail to do their goals.
The secret is to understand which of your tasks should be high priority and which ones can be done when you have spare time. For example, checking your inbox every 20 minutes may seem to be a productive task for you, but it acts as a constant distraction and productivity killer. Instead, you’d be better off setting aside 30 minutes in the morning to check your emails and 30 minutes in the afternoon to do the same.
By doing this, you’ll free up the bulk of your day for tasks that can help you reach your goal. These tasks are likely to be things like: writing a business proposal, creating a PowerPoint presentation, and finishing an important project.
3. Remove, change or accept the stressors
Take a piece of paper and divide it into three columns. At the top, write remove in the first column, change in the second and accept in the third. Next, think of the stressors that are getting to you the most. Perhaps it’s your paycheck; it might be way smaller than you’d like or feel that you deserve. Don’t worry, this is your chance to break free from the stress surrounding your low pay.
Think for a few moments, which would you prefer:
- To remove yourself from the company?
- To try to change your salary by asking for a pay rise?
- To accept that your salary is okay for you
By being decisive in this way, you’ll immediately feel freer and in control of your destiny. And your stress levels will begin to trend downwards. All that remains is to set yourself a clear goal of what you want to do and how you’re going to do this.(Luckily, steps #1 and #2 above will help you out!)
Of course, if you have multiple work stressors, then use your remove, change or accept sheet to work through all of them. It will be time VERY well spent.
4. Create positive relationships at work
One key to improving your ability to manage stress is being able to accept help from others. Not only does it alleviate negative circumstances by simply distracting you and creating a buffer between daily tasks and their negative connection, it will provide a sense of support and relief. Make an effort to create friendships with your colleagues. Go to the after-work happy hour or just ask a colleague out for coffee at lunchtime. Not only will you have someone to confide in, but you will start to associate positive feelings to work.
Forming a healthy relationship with your manager or supervisor is also a good way to reduce stress. Positive, two-way conversations about where you stand in your job, being honest about how you feel, and working together to make a plan of action in terms of improved work conditions and expectations are paramount. This will lead to opening up and receiving the necessary resources you need to support or help you and help keep up your sanity level.
Use these tips effectively to manage your stress and you will be on your way to making tremendous progress.