Lately it seems like we’re hearing a lot about how stressed people are at work. According to the International Labor Organization, workers in developing and developed countries across the world are feeling increased strain in the workplace.
I also hear a lot about on-the-job stress when I’m coaching my clients. And, unfortunately, when they talk about it, they often express a sense of helplessness and resignation. Although they recognize that they should do something about it, they often feel that they can’t do anything about it. Sure, they would love to go to yoga classes, get massages, or go on extended vacations, but they just don’t see how they can make the time to focus on self-care.
Can you relate? Here’s where to start.
The reality is, stress from the workplace can come from a number of different sources. So, instead of attempting a one-size-fits-all approach to cope with it,begin by conducting a stress inventory. To do this, simply create an exhaustive (no pun intended) list of all of the things about your work that stress you out.
Then, beside each stressor, write down as many ideas as you can think of that could help you to deal with it. Don’t worry if you can’t do anything about some of them immediately (e.g. an irregular work schedule or lengthy commute). By attending to the stressors that you can address, you’ll be empowering yourself to take a stand for your well-being.
Need some help coming up with your list of stressors? Here are some of the common culprits, along with some ideas about what to do about them.
1. Heavy Workload
If you’re like many professionals, your main stressor is the sheer amount of work that you have to do. Between meetings, emails, projects, and other demands, it can feel like you’re swimming upstream to keep up with it all.
If you can relate to this, start by paying attention to how you use your time. Are you really managing it as effectively as you could?
When I ask them to track how they’re using their time, many of my clients are shocked to discover that they’re not actually as efficient as they think they are. In fact, one of the biggest threats to their productivity is their habit of constantly interrupting themselves to multi-task.
Here’s a common scenario: You start writing a report. A few minutes in, you notice an email notification. So, you open it, and begin responding. Mid-email, you remember that you need to pick up bananas at the grocery store, so you open your task list app to make a note of it. While you’re on your phone, you notice a text from your best friend. After finding the appropriate witty GIF to reply, you go back to your report.
Sound familiar at all?
Admittedly, some interruptions are unavoidable. However, by tightening up how you approach your work and how you manage your time, you can enhance your efficiency and get more done. So, develop your time management skills and, if you’re in a position in which you can do so, make sure you’re delegating enough, so that you can further manage your workload.
When you manage your time well, you’ll get your work done in less time. And, when you feel less overwhelmed, your stress level will decrease.
2. Conflict with Co-Workers
If, like most of us, you’re in a job in which you work with other people, you have plenty of opportunities for interpersonal conflict. Whether it’s a critical boss, a dismissive colleague, or peers who make unreasonable last minute demands, your relationships can easily contribute to your stress level.
If you’re someone who hates conflict, you might choose to stay silent about your concerns. However, while this may keep things calm on the surface, on the inside, you may be silently seething with resentment, gritting your teeth, and allowing your stress to eat away at you. A better solution? Commit to learning how to manage conflict and be appropriately assertive. Then, aim to have constructive conversations with the people around you. After all, if you’re not speaking up about your concerns, others may have no idea about what’s going on with you.
If, on the other hand, you’re someone who comes across as argumentative or aggressive, it’s possible that your style may be contributing to your interpersonal difficulties. To upgrade your interactions, develop your emotional intelligence, work on becoming a better listener, and place more of an emphasis on connecting with others. Your improved relationships will not only lessen your stress level, they’ll likely also make you a more effective worker.
3. Your Values Are a Mismatch to Your Company’s Values
You’re competitive and ambitious, but your department is all about collaboration. Or, perhaps you’re motivated by the impact your actions have on society, but your organization is primarily focused on financial gain. If your values are in conflict with the culture of your workplace, you could be fighting an uphill battle.
If you find yourself experiencing this sort of mismatch, start by brainstorming ways to exercise more of your values in the workplace. For example, if giving back is important to you, see if you can get a group of people together to engage in volunteer work. Or, if connecting with others is one of your core values, be intentional about socializing with your colleagues. These sorts of actions can help you to bring a sense of meaning back to your job, and might lessen your stress levels.
However, keep in mind that research shows that if there is too much of a misalignment between your personal values and that of your organization, your risk for burnout increases. Therefore, if there’s too much of a mismatch, you might want to look for work at an organization that’s a better cultural fit for you.
4. You Don’t Have Enough Autonomy
Studies have shown that a lack of autonomy, or not having control over decisions that affect your job, is a leading source of work stress that can affect everything from your job satisfaction to your health. If you feel that you have inadequate autonomy in your job, consider talking your boss about ways that you might be able to have more say at work.
Perhaps you could lead an initiative that’s of interest to you. Perhaps you could influence changes in processes that affect your day-to-day work. Or, perhaps you could talk your boss into allowing you to telecommute every so often. While you’ll obviously need to take the nature of your job into account, there are likely ways that you can have more influence over your work environment. And, with a greater sense of control, your sense of well-being may just increase.
5. You Don’t Give Yourself a Chance to Disconnect
Many clients that I work with talk about how email and mobile devices are a double-edged sword. On one hand, they give you more flexibility so that, theoretically, you can work wherever and whenever you want. However, because you’re always accessible, your employer may have higher expectations about how available you should be at all times. As a result, digital devices can become a major stressor that can interfere with your ability to disconnect and recharge outside of work.
Although there are some fields in which you may need to be on-call at all times, for most of us, that isn’t a necessity. Therefore, if you are stressed out by being available around the clock, experiment by setting some limits for yourself. Commit to stop checking work emails after a certain time each day. Don’t sleep with your phone next to your bed. Consider having a conversation with your boss about expectations for responding after hours.
By taking steps to allow yourself to disconnect fully, you’ll likely feel greater autonomy. In turn, this will help you to manage your stress.
6. Your Mindset Contributes to Your Stress
Have you ever noticed how people’s reactions to seemingly stressful situations differ? For example, while one person may feel overwhelmed by work responsibilities, his colleague is able to take it in stride. What’s the difference? It may just have to do with perspective.
In one study, when researchers told participants to think of stress arousal as something that could maximize their performance, they felt more confident and less anxious in pressure-packed situations. In addition, the study participants didn’t experience typical negative physiological reactions in response to stress.
By focusing on how stressful situations may actually help you to grow, you can channel your thoughts in constructive ways. And, if that sounds like too much of a tall order, then developing a mindfulness practice might help you. As you become more mindful, you’ll find that you’ll become more aware of the thoughts that may be contributing to your stress. And, with that awareness, you’ll put yourself in a better position to take a step back, reappraise the situation, and decrease your negative reactions.
Finally, as you’re doing what you can to deal with stressors in the workplace, don’t forget to focus on self-care. Exercise. Eat a balanced diet. Get adequate sleep. Meditate. Treat yourself with compassion. Recognize that self-care isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity for a well-balanced life. So, give yourself full permission to recharge when you need to do so. You’ll not only better manage your stress, you’ll become more productive in the long-run.
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