In the Eye of the Storm: 9 Easy Tips to Help You Overcome Stress in the Workplace

Layoffs.

Workforce readjustment.

Budget cuts.

Downsizing.

We hear these infamous words repeated every day in the news and at work.

You might feel that you are in the eye of the storm, or maybe afraid that your life will devolve into desperation and ruin. You might even find yourself wondering, “Will I be laid off?”. Other workplace stressors can also include difficulty getting along with co-workers, workplace bullying, poor workforce organization/leadership or having a difficult boss.  These issues tend to worsen during times of crisis, and these preoccupations usually lead to a decline in job performance, employee morale and a worsening of your relations with others.

There is not much you can do about the troubled economy, but you can learn to improve your ways of coping with these difficult times until they improve.

 

Work Stress Warning Signs

How do you know when you are stretching yourself too thin? Think of a rubber-band, you can stretch it quite a bit, but with too much tension, it snaps.  In order to endure these tough economic times, it is important to know how to better manage your stress, or recurrent thoughts and emotions will end up consuming you further. You already have enough on your plate, and you don’t have time for any more distractions.

Some of the warning signs that you are stretching yourself too thin include:

  • Feeling restless and irritable
  • Frequent anger outbursts for no apparent reason
  • Feeling that every chore or work task, not matter how minute, is a burden
  • An inability to relax or feel at peace
  • Criticizing others or being resentful of others
  • Tightening of the back, shoulder and neck muscles
  • Grinding your teeth at night
  • Increased difficulty concentrating at work, or completing assigned tasks
  • Consuming more alcohol to relax
  • Trouble falling asleep or having bad dreams frequently
  • Skipping meals or using food as a comfort to relax.

What you can do….

  • Beware of  “Debbie Downers” : Some people may be experiencing similar adversities, and they can be a good source of support. However, be cautious of those who dwell in misery and keep shooting down your positive suggestions. It’s ok to give them a chance when you feel better, but now is not the moment.
  • Eliminate self-defeating behaviors: Seeing the downside of your current situation can be informative, but overdoing it will make you feel drained and depressed. This is not the time for feeling any worse. Think about this moment as a new chapter of discovery in your life. A time of change. You will be surprised to see that you will learn more about who you are as a person than you did in the last five years.
  • Set realistic goals:  Did you know that many unmotivated people are actually perfectionists? They fail to attain their goals because they set their expectations too high. So in essence, they set themselves up for failure. Don’t let this happen to you. Set realistic goals that you can accomplish within a week.
  • Stay organized: If your desk is full of clutter, this is the time to clean it up. If you tend to run late, set your watch  a few minutes fast so that you arrive to work a little early and can feel more relaxed as you start your day.
  • Give yourself credit:  Create a “to-do” list and cross off the goals that you accomplish daily. You might want to start by including two or three items that you already completed that morning to remind yourself that you are off to a great start. I prefer to call it an “accomplishment” list because every time you cross off a goal, you are giving yourself concrete credit for completing a task no matter how small. You might not cross off all items in one day, but at least you will have a tangible reminder that you have achieved some of your goals.
  • Focus on the things you can control: Life feels like the weather sometimes, doesn’t it? Unpredictable. We can’t change it but we can try to find ways to adjust to it as best as we can. At work try not to focus on things that are beyond your direct control, such as the companies’ policies or the behavior of some of your co-workers. As mentioned earlier, focus on tasks that you can work on during the next two weeks.   Some of them may pay off sooner than others, but at least you are doing all you can do with the resources available to you.

 

During a confrontation at work

Stay calm, cool and collected, and try to speak to a trusted co-worker or your mentor to help you put things in perspective. He or she might help you brainstorm a solution.

Communication is key here. Take your time and approach her or him directly or request a moment to speak in private via email. Be honest and don’t assume that they already know what you are going through. It may not be obvious to them so this is your chance to be heard.

A few more things to think about…

  • Comfort can enable procrastination. Adversity can motivate change: Did you know that people who achieved greater work success were actually unhappy with their previous jobs? Think about it,  had they remained passive with their previous routine, they wouldn’t have been motivated to make the necessary changes. The threat of potentially losing your job can motivate you to search harder for something more rewarding, as opposed to remaining comfortable in an unfulfilling career.
  • Use Humor: When people are very stressed, they tend to compartmentalize more and also see things in black or white. She or he might act in ways that make you wonder if this is the same person you know.  Remember the last time you said something in the heat of the moment that you later regretted?  Perhaps if you had used humor to diffuse the situation, you would’ve prevented your stress from escalating to the point of saying things that you really didn’t mean. Think about putting a lighthearted quote or a cartoon in your workspace to remind you not to take life too seriously.
  • Emotions are contagious:  The better you learn to cope with these stressors, the more positive others will feel around you.

When it’s becoming too much to bear (when the elastic is about to break)

Your company should have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that can provide you with support and ways to help you cope better with work related stress. Discuss this with your manager, or if your manager is the source of your stress, then discuss this with human resources.

Nowadays most companies have an EAP hotline for employees, which should be available to you in your job/employment packet. You can call them to get direct assistance or simply to inquire about their program. Either way, at least you know that there is a resource ready to help.

Don’t be shy about using your employer’s EAP program. Managers and CEOs know that work stress is extremely common, so it is to their advantage to retain good workers and this is one way to help employees overcome work stress and stay on the job.

 

Final Note

To every good person that works hard but does not always feel recognized, I’m talking to you: keep it simple, keep it real and give it your best. We are all in the same boat together, and that means, you, me and everyone else.

Remember, the best learning experiences often come from moments of adversity where you have to prove yourself a little.

As long as we have the will to make changes, the sky is the limit. Let’s make a difference and take back control of our lives.

 

References

American Psychological Association. Listening to the warning signs of stress. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-signs.aspx. Last modified: n/a. Accessed August 10, 2012.

Helpguide. Stress at Work. Tips to reduce and manage job and workplace stress:http://www.helpguide.org/mental/work_stress_management.htm. Last modified: July, 2012. Accessed August 10, 2012.

Mayo Clinic. Coping with stress at work. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/coping-with-stress/SR00030. Last modified: June 26, 2010. Accessed August 10, 2012.

Military OneSource. Stress and Depression at Work. http://tinyurl.com/8dc5frp. Last modified: NA. Accessed August 10, 2012.

Author: Alejandro Adrian LeMon, Ph.D., LMHC

A little about me... I'm a licensed mental health counselor in the state of Florida and the founder of Psychology One. I am also a former college instructor of sociology and I have worked at several not-for-profit agencies & EAP organizations. I currently live with my fiancee and our three cats.

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4 Comments

  1. I work very hard with the legal aspects of Special Education in an urban school. My job is usually quite stable, but the Principal has been removed and there is uncertainty and a fear of the unknown at this time which is making me wonder if I should fly away from my secure little nest and work in more uncertain waters than I used to work. I am now 10 months and covered by the teachers’ union. My Principal would give me the highest score in my evaluations, but now she will be gone. I am scared that if I stay I will regret not leaving at this turning point. My choice is moving to a position that is 12 months and not coverec by the Baltimore Teachers’ Union. They can fire me or dismiss my position from the budget in a heart beat. I would have more freedom and a different kind of responsibility. I am told I would do well and that I have the talents they need in the Board of Education building, but I am worrried that I will regret changing things… I know this is stemming from my low self esteem and fear of my age and overweight status interferring with the new position(s). Change is not as challenging for me as it used to be…

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  2. Thank you for sharing your story, Jean! I’m not too familiar with the education system but I hope that it all works out for you. Both options carry some risk..not an easy choice to make. But if I was offered a new position that only lasts one year (and with the state of the current economy), I wouldn’t be too thrilled.

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  3. I think that most important part is to set realistic goals, or to first set a smaller goal then move to next smaller one. This can really affect productivity on the work because sometimes person set unrealistic goal and then they become frustrated if they can’t achieve it.

    What do you guys think?

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