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Coping With Stress

How stressed are you? Do you know how to avoid or handle stress? Try these strategies to cope with the stress you face in your personal life and workplace. 

A certain amount of 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.

Feeling over-stressed?

People are funny. Sometimes they try to take on too much, do too much and be too much. When they do, they can become stressed out. Some common warning signs of too much stress are:

  • Moodiness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Memory problems
  • Concentration problems
  • Anxious or racing thoughts

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 life. 

Tips for reducing stress

Try these strategies to limit stress in your life:

  • Take one thing at a time and one day at a time. There’s a limit to how much you can do. Set priorities. When you have many tasks and responsibilities, concentrate on the one thing you need to do now and put the others aside until later.
  • 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.
  • Laugh it off. Spend time with fun people in fun situations. Watch funny movies or television shows. Read books that make you chuckle. Play with a pet or a young child. Laughing releases tensions and reverses the physical effects of stress on your body.
  • Do something creative for yourself. Enjoy a hobby that will keep your hands busy and absorb your attention for a while. Garden, paint ceramics, create a scrapbook, draw, doodle, or work with wood and other natural materials.
  • Use proven methods to reduce your stress. Listening to music, breathing deeply, or exercising are effective ways to lower stress levels. Or you may want to try more formal therapies, like progressive relaxation, positive visualization, yoga, or mindfulness meditation. 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.
  • Talk to someone. Tell your story and fears to a person you feel comfortable with. Or call a help line. Or get it off your chest by writing it all down on paper, letting the words flow without stopping to check or edit. Look for ways to make changes and improvements.

How to handle stress at work

Simple Stress Busters

  • Sing your favourite song as loudly as you like.
  • Take a long hot bath or shower.
  • Make up a fantasy—starring you—and enjoy it for a few minutes.
  • Walk or run around the block.
  • Hug your children.
  • Do something nice for someone.
  • Smile at 3 people you don’t know.
  • Relive a favourite memory.

Try these strategies to cope with workplace stress:

  • 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.
  • 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.

Start reducing your stress today

Think about what stresses you out. Now, pick one of the tips to reduce stress that you can start doing right now. How will you do this? What time of day will you do this? Try this regularly for 3 weeks until it becomes a habit. Apply another tip when you are ready. Practise for 3 weeks until it also becomes a habit. Continue your new habits or try other stress reducers, until your stress is at the level you are comfortable with.

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