How to deal with stress at work
Feeling stressed is often synonymous with feeling overwhelmed, extremely worried, exhausted or depleted. Stress is a result of our physical, biochemical, emotional and cognitive responses to pressures and changes that we experience or observe. It is a very subjective phenomenon.
The definition most commonly used is: "Stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources that the individual is able to mobilise" (Lazarus, 1966).
6 tips on how to deal with stress
Here are some tips on what you can do to deal with stress:
1. Increase your assertiveness
First, you need to be clear about what is expected of you; the exact requirements that you need to meet to do a good job. Your time and resources are precious commodities. Remember that when you find yourself over-committing to resources consuming situations/tasks that you could have declined in the first place. Speak up, set clear boundaries and enhance your focus on what you want, need to do and what is most important to you.
2. Control your inner bully
Your inner critic raises your stress levels and negative emotions. It is self-defeating. Learn to accept that sometimes we all make mistakes or fail. React with kindness and sympathy towards yourself (as you would towards a friend) instead of with self-criticism, anger and self-blame. Perceive your setbacks, mistakes, losses, failures as learning experiences and personal growth opportunities.
Additionally, changes and the occasional unexpected occurrences are an inevitable part of life. Accepting and adapting to it is important and beneficial to your well-being, as you will experience less stress when it happens. Focus more on the things that you can control and change, and accept the things that you cannot change or control at the present moment.
3. Know yourself
Utilise your strengths and strengthen your weaknesses. If, for example, you know that meeting deadlines is challenging and stressful for you, you could reduce the stress by creating behavioural and cognitive changes that will enable you to perform better (e.g. strengthen time management and organisational skills, reduce procrastination and distractions, improve communication with others, focus on the positives, say no to additional requests etc.).
Incorporate your strengths and find meaning in your job in order to find greater satisfaction, comfort and ease at work. You can also practice gratitude by writing little positive things that happen during the day and at the end of the work week re-reading these notes. It might surprise you that a refocus on the positive will help bring more balance to your perception of the job as a whole.
4. Build good and positive relationships with your co-workers
Friendships can take your mind off the stressors and provide a buffer. Sharing feelings and thoughts are a good way to relieve the stress. The working environment becomes more comforting, pleasurable and light when you can talk about your stress, share a laugh, take a break together and even ask for help from others. Others can lighten up the workload if it is too much for you and you can always return the favour in the future. An empathetic and understanding ear can also provide advice, guidance and possibly help to find solutions too.
5. Take a break
Recognise when you are starting to have emotional, physical and behavioural reactions to a situation, a difficult interaction, and be aware of the influence that your thoughts have on you. Becoming aware will help you know when it is time for you to take a break and apply stress reducing strategies that are context-appropriate before these reactions become too intense. If you feel, for example, that the interaction with others is becoming too exhausting and uncomfortable for you or that your anger or frustrations are escalating fast, then you need to remove yourself from the situation.
Take a break to regroup and calm yourself down. Apply any of the strategies that work for you (e.g. drink something, visualise a safe and happy place, do deep-breathing exercises, meditate for a few minutes, walk outside for a breath of fresh air and a change of scenery, listen to music, write your thoughts and feelings in your journal, call a friend etc.) Walking away from the situation for a short while also gives you the opportunity to think extensively about your options and what you should do and say when you return.
6. Take care of yourself
Eat healthily, drink in moderation, sleep well, exercise, relax, have fun, experience pleasure, joy and other positive emotions too. Clear time in your schedule to rest and connect with others. Reward and acknowledge your progress and achievements. This will foster your physical and mental health. You need to fill up and recharge your resources in order to be able to take it all on with more ease. It will also improve your resilience.
Lower stress levels
When you believe that you have the resources to meet the demands of the stressor and that you are capable of utilising these resources and you have the capacities to achieve the desired solution, then you will not evaluate these demands as very stressful to you, thus your stress levels at work will be lower.