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Coping With Stress at Work

How stressed are you? Do you know how to avoid or handle stress? Try these strategies to cope with the stress you face at work.

A certain amount of work stress 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:

  • Grow impatient with delays or interruptions?
  • 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?
  • Often feel angry or on edge?
  • Feel guilty if you relax and do nothing for a while?
  • 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 work life. These 2 steps will help:

1. Avoid stress when you can

Try these strategies to steer 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.
  • Get organized. If you’re organized at home and work, you can manage the morning rush, arrive at work on time and start your day in a more relaxed way. If your work space is neat, you’ll find what you need when you need it.
  • Manage your time, set priorities, and recognize your limits. You can use time management skills to stay on top of your to-do list. But you also need to know how much you can do in the available time. Identify your priority tasks. Do those first. If you’re weighed down by too many tasks, ask your supervisor to help you set priorities.
  • Maintain your focus. Some studies suggest that multi-tasking makes most people less, rather than more, efficient. Try doing one thing at a time and see if you feel calmer and more in control. Find out if staying away from distractions like office gossip and squabbles lowers your stress level.
  • Discuss your workload with your supervisor. Outline what you feel you can reasonably handle and suggest options 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 when you need to. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. 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 do everything perfectly all the time. Recognize your strengths as well as your limits and avoid comparing yourself to others.

2. Get better at handling stress

Try these strategies to cope with the workplace stress you can’t avoid:

  • Take regular breaks from your work during the day. For example, stand up and stretch, take a break to breathe deeply or have a brief chat with a co-worker. Alternate stressful and less stressful tasks. Get away at break time. For example, take a walk instead of eating lunch at your work station.
  • Focus on the positive. Think about the people, the work space, the atmosphere, the work itself, the type of organization, or the prospects 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 method, called visioning or imaging, to prepare for games or races.
  • Use proven methods to reduce your stress. You may want to try progressive relaxation, positive visualization, yoga, or mindfulness meditation to manage your stress. Try an online tutorial, find a program in your community, or ask your supervisor or human resources to suggest a program.
  • Seek fulfillment outside your work. Build resistance to stress by taking part in other interests and activities that energize you.
  • Maintain a balanced lifestyle. See if you feel less stress when you share time with family and friends, get enough rest, eat well, exercise regularly, contribute to the community and enjoy leisure activities.
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