Most jobs can cause stress from time to time. Even if you love what you do, this doesn’t mean that you won’t sometimes experience stress caused by work.
We are all born with the physiological capacity to tolerate stress, and we need a certain amount of it if we are to perform at our best. Stress, followed by a period of calm to recover, is fine. But long-term stress, chronic stress, is not.
Over time chronic stress gradually increases your resting heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate and levels of muscle tension. This forces your body to work even harder when it’s at rest to keep you functioning normally, which starts to create a new normal inside your body and this can lead on to health problems.
So being able to recognize when you’re stressed, and to do something about it, is vital.
Here are 3 tips to help you manage your work-related stress
1. Track your stressors
What situations create the most stress for you and how do you manage them?
Try keeping a diary for a few weeks and note down when you get stressed.
Writing your experiences down and then reviewing them can help you identify the triggers.
The next step is to come up with strategies for dealing with them.
Research has shown that approaching a situation as a challenge rather than a threat means you don’t trigger the stress responses that can damage health. And this in turn means that by staying calmer you’re able to think more clearly.
Next time something happens and you feel stressed:
- Accept that there are some things outside your control – don’t worry about what you can’t change
- Can you look at the situation as challenge rather than a threat? You probably already have at least some of the resources you need to manage it. Make a plan.
- If the problem seems huge and overwhelming, can you break it down, to tackle one bit at a time?
2. Hone your Activity-Management Skills
There’s a popular saying – “Time is money” – but that’s not true, because while you can save money, (you can build up a nest-egg to be used at a point in the future) there isn’t as far as I know a way to build up an equivalent saving for time. We all have the same number of minutes in a day and you can’t carry any of them forward to be used in the future.
So, while we can’t actually manage time, we can manage our activity, and a good way of reducing stress is to focus on your activities.
Are you guilty of trying to cram too much into your work day? Do you know how you spend your time each day, which tasks take the most time, which ones are not really important, which ones you could delegate? How long do you spend answering emails and engaging with your favorite social media channel? And how many hours do you spend in meetings?
You don’t need any fancy work-flow tracking software for this one – just note down how long different activities take you, and you’ll soon start to notice not just how you’re using your time, but also where you could make changes to do things more efficiently.
A good example of this is the difference between making time to respond to every email as soon as you receive it, and setting aside 2 or 3 periods of the day to deal with them. You don’t just save time, but also energy, as constantly switching between tasks is really tiring for the brain!
And whatever you’re doing, remember to build in regular breaks, where you get up and move around even if only for a couple of minutes.
3. Build Better Boundaries
While there have been reports that remote working can increase productivity – and I’ve been a big fan of working remotely since well before the pandemic – it does come with the danger of the erosion of the boundary between work-time and home-time.
It’s strange that the “Work From Home” revolution has given us the opportunity to reduce the stress of the daily commute while replacing it with that of feeling we need to be accessible at all times, day and night, to respond to any and all dings, pings and rings.
Take control of your day and establish the boundaries you need to allow you to do your job and minimize the distractions which can fuel stress build up.
Establish workable boundaries and make people aware of them by
- Asking colleagues not to call at home after a certain time
- Telling them you have certain times for checking emails
- Saying “no” to projects you are unable to take on due to a full workload
And if problems regularly arise which cross your boundaries, talk to your manager / team so you can find a workable solution.
Stress can’t be entirely eliminated, but by identifying what makes you stressed you can start to take action to better manage its impact on your health, your work and your productivity.
“Training your brain to work for you”
Photo by Bruno Aguirre on Unsplash