So you’re sick of hearing about how stressed everyone is and you wish people would quit whining and deal with it! Fact is, your irritability at just hearing the word “Stress” is actually causing you stress, and may even be sickening you.
Despite the hype and overuse of the word, stress is real. It affects us all, especially in the workplace where we may feel we have less control over what happens to us. For many of us, recent layoffs may have increased our work load—and raised the ante for our own job performance. An unreasonable boss may not respect our work rhythms; underperforming co-workers may taint our efforts with their tardiness. Inconsiderate colleagues forget to put paper in the copier after printing a huge job. One had the nerve to use your coffee cup! New policies and procedures may strain our brains and interfere with smooth work flow.
Yes, stress can make our workplace uncomfortable, but even worse, it doesn’t simply disappear when we leave at the end of the day. Stress spills over into the rest of our lives; it’s like a revolving door.
How do we know when we have reached the point where stress may be compromising both our health and our work performance? We’re all aware that physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches may be stress related. But developing rashes, sweaty palms, heart palpitations and needing to use the bathroom frequently might also be warning symptoms. Intense or prolonged stress can exacerbate acid reflux and allergies, and can compromise the immune system so you are more vulnerable to colds and flu. Having trouble concentrating or sleeping? Do you find yourself yelling at your spouse or kids? Experiencing road rage? Feeling depressed, unable to get out of bed in the morning, reluctant to take on new challenges? Any of these signs may indicate that you are physically and emotionally drained by too much stress.
We may be tempted to shrug our shoulders and that insist such things come with the territory, or with aging, or with life in general. And yet, there are ways to lessen the impact of stress at work—and the benefits will extend into the rest of our lives. Here are some things you can do:
• Minimize stress by environmental engineering – changing the environment to prevent the stressor, like leaving early to avoid rush hour, getting to the copy machine first thing when there is plenty of paper —and hiding your coffee cup.
• Make adjustments in your job. Ask your supervisor to help you prioritize tasks (especially recently added new ones) and develop a reasonable schedule for completion. Break down large projects into smaller pieces so that they feel less overwhelming and so that you have a step-by-step feeling of accomplishment; perhaps some tasks can be delegated to co-workers. If you are collaborating with a slow performing colleague, clarify each person’s responsibilities and deadlines. You may be able to enlist others’ help and restructure the project so that your work does not depend on this colleague’s timely performance. You can also alert the boss via “progress memos” about who has accomplished which tasks.
• Burn off stress with physical movement – walking, dancing, swimming, working out, yoga. Even a 10 minute walk at lunch will release some stress.
• Make yourself stress resistant by getting proper nutrition, cutting down on caffeine, scheduling recreation, getting to bed on time, and developing an accepting attitude toward things you cannot change.
• Hit the Reset button on your nervous system. Take a few minutes at work, and again at home, to use some deep breathing and calming imagery, or simple stretching exercises. This will allow accumulated stress to evaporate and dial down your adrenaline response to the next stressor you encounter.
What we should not do is ignore stress, sitting idly by while it takes a toll on our productivity and relationships and degrades our quality of life. Consulting a professional is a good idea for those feeling overwhelmed by the stress burden they carry. A counselor can help us sort out what stressors are amenable to control and which ones call for us to change our reactions.
To learn more, visit http://www.jcsbaltimore.org and click on Find Solutions for Depression, Anxiety and Stress, or visit http://helpguide.org/mental/stress_management_relief_coping.htm.
JCS offers a full range of career services. To learn more about these and other ways JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles, visit http://www.jcsbaltimore.org, or call 410-466-9200. Jewish Community Services is an agency of THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
By Deborah Weksberg, MA, CAS, Career Counselor, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD