5 Ways to Shift Out of Stress at Work
If you are an employee or member of a work team, you’ve undoubtedly experienced some of these scenarios:
- Technology is supposed to make you more productive, yet responding to emails, texts and voicemails takes up most of your day -- and then your real work begins.
- The level of communication and requested deliverables piles up while you sleep. How will you get it all done?
- You don’t feel valued for your hard work. You have good ideas, but no one seems to care what you have to say.
- You aren’t paid enough, and your debt is rising.
- You haven’t laughed in -- well, you can’t remember how long.
At times, stress at work can seem unbearable. When we are stressed-out at work, we are more easily distracted, frustrated and thwarted in achieving the tasks we have at hand. Yet this is the position countless workers find themselves in every day. Stress from your job can overflow into your personal life, affecting your relationships with your spouse, your children and your friends. Over time, it can take its toll on your physical and mental health.
I’ve lived through times of extreme stress when I was ramping up my work/life coaching business. The pressures of work, along with raising three children, traveling frequently, scheduling kid’s activities and feeding and caring for my family, left me constantly running from behind. I ended up with heart problems that sent me to the Emergency Room on multiple occasions.
Like many people who have suffered health issues due to stress, I experienced a wakeup call, and I had to make major changes in my life. My experience also led me to do extensive research about stress, and how people -- particularly super successful ones -- adapt, cope and shift in response to change and adversity. One of the most powerful examples I came across was the near-death experience of Andy Wirth, President and CEO of Squaw Valley and Alpine Ski Resorts.
Wirth had to deal with the sudden overwhelming stress of physical shock when a skydiving accident left him with a severely mangled arm. In that moment, he found that something as simple as words could help him.
Wirth pulled his chute first, which allowed him to float longer. When it came time to decide if he should change direction to avoid being electrocuted or potentially torn up, he figured that he had more time than the others and could make it over the vineyard. He didn’t.
“It was happenstance that the song 'Just Breathe' by (Pearl Jam’s) Eddie Vedder drifted in and out of my consciousness," Wirth said. "It was something I would say to others I was stabilizing while a backcountry ranger and the song seemed to be a way for me to apply the same advice to myself.”
Yes, I understand
That every life must end.
As we sit alone,
I know someday we must go.
Stay with me.
Let’s just breathe.
While I was not at death’s door like Wirth, I could have been. So I began practicing simple ways to reduce stress in my life -- meditation, walking outside during my workday and learning to listen to others with empathy. I refused to absorb negativity. I have shared stress-reducing strategies with job seekers and corporate clients many times over. Here are five strategies specifically for people who work as employees or as part of a team.
1. Visit with your boss.
According to a recent Spherion “Emerging Workforce” study, “strong relationships are based on trust from both parties, and it takes an open line of communication from both the employee and the supervisor to make that happen.” Share your ideas, your frustrations and your goals. Have a dialog. You will be amazed that by having a one-on-one conversation with your boss, it will not only open your eyes to the bigger picture, but by voicing your thoughts and feelings, you will reduce the stresses that bind you.
2. Ask for help.
Even though you have visited with your boss, feel heard and know what is expected of you, at times you will still get hit with a pile of work that you didn’t plan on, and you will stress out. Ask for help when you need it. It is OK to ask. Help is on its way when you ask.
3. Don't compete; collaborate.
Social Support and Resilience to Stress, a study published in Psychology MMA, shows that social support is exceptionally important for maintaining good physical and mental health. Overall, it appears that positive social support can enhance resilience to stress. If you look at your colleague as competition, you will always be coming from a position of stress and frustration. Instead, sit down with your colleague and talk about how to help each other. Working as a team and supporting one another becomes a huge stress reducer. Be generous with your time and attention to your coworkers. You are all in it together. If you adopt this approach, relief will be an immediate experience that will help to reduce stress.
4. Sleep more.
According to the APA, sleep is so crucial that even slight sleep deprivation or poor sleep can affect memory, judgment and mood. If you are in a company that requires 80+-hour work weeks, (such as many start-ups, investment banks, law firms and other kinds of organizations) ask to come in later in the morning. Ask to leave early when you are exhausted. Ask for time to sleep.
I listened to bestselling author Anne Lamott speak at a local Marin bookstore. When faced with the overwhelming and stressful task of starting a new book, she looks at a one-inch frame that sits on her desk and tells herself, "one inch at a time." If you need to set a timer to complete a task, do it. Short spurts of focus lead to productivity. Completing a task feels good. Stress is released, and you are energized for the next task.
Finally, do your best to maintain a positive attitude. By consciously looking for the good in people and situations, rather than focusing on what’s bad or frustrating, you can improve your own health and outlook to be your best in your life and work.