Coping With Stress at Work
A certain amount of stress at work is normal and necessary—it gets you going and helps you focus on the tasks at hand. But too much stress can undermine your performance, drain your energy and affect your health.
How Stressed Are You?
Consider your answers to the following questions. Do you . . .
- get impatient with delays or interruptions?
- multi-task—try to do more than one thing at a time?
- tend not to ask for help?
- speed up to beat red lights when driving?
- expect everyone, especially yourself, to give 110% all the time?
- frequently feel angry or on edge?
- feel guilty if you relax and do nothing for awhile?
- always know what time it is?
- think your family and friends worry about how hard you work?
If your answers are mostly "yes," it's time to do something about the stress in your working life. There are two steps you can take:
- Avoid stress when you can.
- Get better at handling stress you can’t avoid.
Try these tips for steering clear of stress at work:
- Know what’s expected of you. If you feel like you’re never sure you’re doing enough, ask your supervisor to clarify your tasks and responsibilities.
- Get organized. If you’re organized at home, you can manage the morning rush, arrive at work on time and start your day in a more relaxed way. If your workspace is uncluttered, you’ll be more likely to find what you need when you need it.
- Manage your time, set priorities and recognize your limits. Use time management skills to stay on top of your to-do list. However, it’s important to recognize there is a limit to how much you can accomplish in a given amount of time. Identify your priority tasks and do those. If there are conflicting demands on your time, ask your supervisor to help you set priorities.
- Maintain your focus. Several studies suggest that multi-tasking makes most people less, rather than more, efficient. Doing one thing at a time tends to make you feel more calm and in control. Avoiding distractions like office gossip and interpersonal conflict may also lower your stress level.
- Discuss your workload with your supervisor. Outline what you feel you can reasonably handle and suggest alternatives for getting the rest of the work done. Learn how to say “no” when another assignment will overwhelm your ability to control your work life.
- Share the workload whenever possible. Asking for help doesn't mean you're incompetent. It means you’re a concerned worker who wants to get the work done on time.
- Let go of the need to be perfect. Recognize that no one can be expected to do everything perfectly. Acknowledge your strengths as well as your limits and avoid comparing yourself to others.
Try these suggestions to cope with workplace stress you can’t avoid:
- Take regular breaks from your work during the day. For example, stand up and stretch, take a deep breathing break or have a brief chat with a co-worker. Alternate stressful and less stressful tasks. Get away at break time, e.g. take a walk instead of eating lunch at your work station.
- Focus on the positive aspects of your work: the people, the physical environment, the atmosphere, the work itself, the type of organization or the opportunities for promotion or self-improvement.
- Practise positive self-talk. Rephrase negative thoughts in positive ways. For example, say
- “I succeed at many things” instead of “I'm a failure”
- “I’m doing my best to prepare” instead of “I will never be ready in time”
- “I handle myself with confidence” instead of “I’m going to fall apart”
- Picture yourself coping well with stressful situations. Many athletes use this technique, called visioning or imaging, to prepare for competitions or games.
- Use proven stress-reduction techniques. Progressive relaxation, positive visualization, yoga and mindfulness meditation can all be used to help you reduce tension and be more prepared to handle stressful situations. Try an online tutorial, find a program in your community or ask your supervisor or human resources to suggest a program.
- Seek personal fulfillment outside your work. Build resistance to stress by pursuing other interests and activities that energize.
- Maintain a balanced lifestyle. This includes sharing time with family and friends, getting enough rest, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, contributing to the community and enjoying leisure activities.
Too much workplace stress affects your job but it also robs you of energy for other aspects of your life. Managing workplace stress takes awareness and practise but there’s a payoff. When you learn to cope with workplace stress, you’ll have more energy, feel more relaxed and confident, and enjoy your hours at work a whole lot more—and these positives are likely to spill over into the rest of your life, as well.
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