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Today, work is more stressful than ever.  Jobs are harder to find – it seems like everyone knows someone who has been searching for a job for months.  We all live in fear of “budget cuts.”  And, we all have to produce more with less.  Pile on the stress! To make matters worse, in addition to the physical and emotional toll it takes, stress actually decreases your job performance.  Job stress has become a common and costly problem. For example, studies report the following:

  • One-fourth of employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives. – Northwestern National Life
  • Three-fourths of employees believe the worker has more on-the-job stress than a generation ago Princeton Survey Research Associates
  • 80 percent of workers feel stress on the job, and nearly half reported that they needed help in learning how to manage it – Gallup Poll
  • Problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints than are any other life stressor – more so than even financial problems or family problems – St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co.
  • Stressful work environments increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders,  mental health problems, and workplace injury – Encyclopedia of Occupational Safety and Health
  • Stressful working conditions are actually associated with increased absenteeism, tardiness, and intentions by workers to quit their jobs – Journal of Applied Psychology

We know that stress is a problem and that work is stressful.  It’s time to learn how to deal with workplace stress and be happy.  So, how do we do that?

1. Learn to recognize the warning signs.  Identifying the early signs of a problem allows you to prevent escalation. 

2. Tackle your stress triggers. Keep a stress inventory for one week to identify your triggers. 

3. Take care of yourself.  Pay attention to your physical and emotional health – it makes you more resilient to stress!

  • Move it!  Aerobic exercise is an extremely effective way to boost your mood and energy, improve your focus, and relax your body. Aim for 30 minutes or so four or five days a week.
  • Good stuff in = Good stuff out! Pay attention to what you eat.  Stress often triggers “comfort” eating which does more harm than good when it comes to your mood.  Remember that caffeine, while providing a quick energy boost, also increases arousal levels causing you to feel more stressed.  Watch your alcohol consumption as well.  Too much can actually increase the amount of anxiety you feel.
  • Turn out the lights!  Lack of sleep definitely decreases your ability to handle stress.  Avoid the temptation to burn the candle at both ends.

4. Have a good morning. Rushing through your morning and arriving at work frazzled, frumpy, and unfed is guaranteed to lead to a less-than-blissful day.  In fact, you may be surprised by how much more reactive to stress you are when you have a stressful morning. Get up a few minutes earlier so that you don’t have to rush in the morning.

5. Focus and get organized. Focusing on what really matters is extra important when you feel stretched thin. 

  • Maintain a balanced scheduleAll work and no play is a recipe for burnout. Try to find a balance between work and family life, social activities and solitary pursuits, daily responsibilities and downtime.
  • Learn to say no.  Don’t take on any new responsibilities that are not vital.  Decide what is a “should” and what is a “must.”  Move anything that is not a top priority to the bottom of your to-do list.
  • Plan for breaks.  Schedule your day in a way that allows for down-time.  Take short breaks through the day to refocus.  If possible, go outside and walk a bit.  DO NOT eat lunch at your desk.
  • Prioritize and set realistic goals.  Plan your day and stick to the schedule — you’ll feel less overwhelmed. Prepare a list of tasks and rank them in order of priority. Then, work the list and cross off items as you accomplish them. Create realistic expectations and deadlines for yourself.

6. Ask questions. Unclear expectations are a key contributor to workplace stress. If you feel like you never know if what you’re doing is enough, it’s time to have a chat with the boss.  Clarify exactly what is required for you to meet expectations.

7. Do one thing at a time. Multitasking was once thought to be a way to maximize one’s time and get more done. Now we know that it actually decreases productivity. Try giving your full attention to the task at hand.

8. Don’t make it worse.  Negative thoughts and self-defeating habits can exacerbate an already stressful situation.   Avoid perfectionism – nothing is ever perfect and trying to achieve this unrealistic standard sends your stress through the roof.  Watch for negative thinking – they drain you.  Instead make a point of finding the positive side and celebrating even small accomplishments.

9. Let go of control. Much of what happens at work is way outside of your control.  Try to focus on things you have the power to change and let go of other people’s behavior.

10. Make friends at the office.  Friendship can provide much-needed social support during stressful periods.  Take time to nurture supportive relationships at work.

11. Avoid negative coworkers.  This is the flip-side of #10.  Negative people suck the life out of you.  Avoid gossiping, backbiting, and complaining at work to the extent possible.

12. Laugh it off. Humor is a great way to diffuse tension.  Find the funny side of the situation.

13. Maintain Perspective.  It’s easy to get so wrapped up worrying about a stressful situation that we lose sight of everything else.  Try hard to focus equal attention of the good parts of life.  Get help from loved ones if necessary.

14. Turn on the tunes.  Listen to your favorite music on the way home.  Use the commute to relax and let go of the workday.  Your family will thank you.

15. Get help. If it feels impossible to cope even with these strategies, try talking with a health care professional. He or she can help you assess your feelings and consider all your options.

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