Q: Dear Daniel,
What is the best way to deal with work stress?
A: Dealing with work stress can feel totally overwhelming and all encompassing at its worse. First off, it’s critical to be mindful that your work or your career are a component of your life, albeit an important one….you are not your work and your work should not define you. Of course this is easier said than done. I encourage you to take a step back and define the stress you are experiencing rather than having it all jumbled up as “work stress” or “I hate my job.” Often enough, it is your relationship to your job or relationships at your job that feel the most overwhelming and burdensome.
In order to isolate the unpleasant components of your experience, increase your awareness and consciousness of the unpleasant emotion. Ask yourself what you can do to change this experience? This exercise will help bring forth aspects of your work stress that you can control and increase your sense of empowerment, while reducing your role as a victim to your work.
In addition, and more practically speaking, you should take periodic breaks throughout the day– sit outside, take a walk, listen to music, etc. Take proactive measures to ensure that your life feels well rounded outside of work. Increasing your joy and the depths of your experience outside of work increases the likelihood of reducing pressures experienced at work.
In short, it is up to you to reduce this stress. You are unlikely to be unable to shift the culture of your workplace or profession, but you can certainly shift your relationship to the pressures you place on yourself.
Some wise tips from experts in the field:
1. Make it a habit. From career coach, Sally Anne Giedrys: “establish a set of simple, easy nourishing habits to practice every day. Choose things that you really want to do and that are realistic to accomplish on your current schedule, not a list of things you think you should be doing. That might be as simple as taking a multivitamin. Nourishing habits built a foundation that helps us to feel centered and cared for.”
2. Get Clear. From executive coach Darcy Eikenberg: “Get clear on what’s stressing you and what isn’t. Many times we assign negative feelings to our entire job, when a closer look reveals it’s actually just part of it that’s causing us pain. For example, you could be frustrated with a particular task, colleague, or the commute, but other things could be just fine. Don’t default to all-or-nothing thinking.”
3.Leverage your strengths. Sally Anne Giedrys’ advice: “Leverage your natural strengths to gain more energy and be more productive by doing more of what you’re naturally good at, and minimizing time on activities that are not your strong suit. You can find out what your strengths are and how to better use them at work by working with a coach or your human resources department to take an assessment.”
4. Say what you need to say. Darcy Eikenberg’s advice: “The mistake we make in dealing with a stressful situation is that we let all of our banked frustrations come out all at once, and then we become as toxic as our environment. Start by replacing your frustration with empathy. There is likely a reason for what’s happening- history, fear, or assumptions are typical ones you can work to understand. Once you’re feeling empathy instead of anger, then focus your words on the behavior and its impact to create change.”
5. Put up boundaries. Sally Anne Giedrys: “Set strong boundaries around how you’re working. This might mean bookending your day by honoring specific work start and end times, taking a lunch break away from your desk every day (because your body needs one), or setting aside uninterrupted blocks of focus time for work that needs your full attention. It might also mean making an appointment to talk to your manager about your workload, learning to delegate more or turning off the flow of constant information that we all see in the workplace.”