I recently wrote about my experience with a horribly stressful job, and some of the things to look out for to determine if you or your staff are experiencing unusual amounts of stress.
Today I want to share some tips to manage stress, and the often resulting anxiety, at work. Tips that I really, really wish I had known all those years ago.
One of the key aspects of managing stress at work is to know exactly what it is that is causing your work stress and anxiety. For me it has been caused by one or more of the following:
- Too many deadlines and/or unrealistic deadlines
- Too much work and not enough time or other resources
- Unrealistic expectations by management
- Management asking you to do dodgy, unethical or illegal activities – or all three as has been the case with a couple of friends
- Working with horrible people – clients, colleagues or the boss (obviously my current boss is freaking brilliant as she lets me take lots of holidays and only work with nice people!)
- Doing a job you’re not skilled for, or that you are over-skilled for
- No opportunity for growth or promotion
- Not getting paid what you think you’re worth or not getting paid a liveable wage
- Workplace change and a lack of control over workplace decisions
- A lack of social support in the workplace, whether it’s formal (such as xxx) or informal such as having friends at work
- Being bullied
- A long commute to get to/from work
- Too much work travel.
And I could go on and on and on. Actually, I think the only job I have ever had where I didn’t feel stressed was when I worked at David Jones as a uni student. However, it’s possible I’ve forgotten as it was a long time ago, and I do vaguely recall one fairly horrible boss. But mostly I absolutely loved that job, the people I worked with, the friendships I made and the majority of the customers. And management were completely understanding that my first priority was uni, and they gave me shifts to reflect that.
There are a lot of really small things you can do to make yourself feel calmer, particularly when you feel a sense of total overwhelm. Nearly all these tasks can be done while you’re actually at work.
- Write it down – I used to have many, many nights when I would wake up at 3am freaking out because I hadn’t done something urgent. And as I was organising conferences, this happened a lot! The best advice I was ever given was to keep a notepad and pen by my bed and write down all those tasks I needed to remember to do once I was in the office. The difference was profound. Instead ofdesperately trying to remember what had to be done, and lying awake stressing about it, I wrote it on a notepad and then promptly fell back to sleep.
- Take some deep breaths – this sounds like it won’t work, but it really, really does. Sit back in your chair (it’s even better if you can lie down for a minute or two, but unfortunately most offices don’t have beds or couches!), close your eyes and take in a few slow and deep breaths to the count of five. Then just as slowly, exhale. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Yes, people might look, point and giggle, but ignore them as this will make you feel calmer. Repeat this a few times and as often as you think you need it during the day. This works as it increases oxygen to the brain which helps reduce tension, and gives greater clarity and energy.
- Remove yourself from the situation. This tip is particularly good when you’re in a meeting – or a family social setting! – where you are trying desperately to keep calm and not screech at the person who is most pissing you off. An old GP of mine recommended this one following a conversation about how stressed I was at even just the thought of a big family Christmas. He said “just remove your self from the situation”. If you’re in a meeting – or at the dinner table – just makean excuse to leave the room – going to the loo works for me. Then take a few deep and calming breaths before returning. I know I find that even just a couple of minutes out of a stressful situation helps to restore my equilibrium. If you’re in a position to leave for longer than a couple of minutes, then go outside for a walk – I find even 10 minutes makes a massive difference for the better.
- If your stress is due to how much you need to do, write a list of tasks and prioritise what needs to happen and by when. I find this also gives me perspective on what actually needs to be done, vs what my imagination is telling me needs to be done. Start with a couple of quick and simple tasks so you can have that sense of achievement of crossing things off the list. Also, this look at what can be delegated to someone else. If you have a manager who just keeps loading you up with work, show them the list and ask them to prioritise what needs to be done first.
- Remember to eat and drink plenty of water. I know I feel like total rubbish when I eat a dietof stress-food. Also known as chocolate, chips, takeaway meals, cake, too much coffee and far too much wine. Make sure you have enough wholesome food for snacks and meals so you don’t have to rely on the fundraising chocolate box for lunch. Some examples are snacking on nuts, fruit, veggie sticks; taking lunch from home; limiting coffee to 2-3 a day; and trying not to guzzle a whole bottle of wine when you get home.
- Take regular breaks during the day and take a lunch break. By which I mean LEAVE YOUR DESK. Try and go for a short walk at lunch time – even 15 minutes makes a difference. No one is productive if they don’t ever leave their desk. Trust me on this.
- . In this era of information overload it can take very little time to feel overwhelmed with information and that sense of analysis paralysis.
How do you cope with that sense of overwhelm and complete stress at work? Or are you one of those lucky ones who just takes it all in stride and doesn’t get phased by any problems?