Today’s workforce faces a multitude of pressures: deadlines, office politics, nonproductive meetings, conflict, job ambiguity, miscommunication, increased workload, inadequate resources, customer complaints and long hours. . . not to mention adjusting to working from home, complying with government requirements or feeling nervous about going back to the office! On-the-job stress can be quite costly, too, because it often results in increased absenteeism, reduced efficiency, low morale, reduced effectiveness, and high staff turnover.
Even before the pandemic, researchers discovered that since 1965 the overall stress levels in the U.S. increased nearly 50%, and that 75-90% of all office visits to health care professionals were for stress-related symptoms and disorders – so we can only imagine how the numbers have been impacted more recently!
We know that a certain level of stress can be good. It actually improves performance by sharpening concentration, focusing attention, and increasing motivation; however, when the threshold of optimum stress is crossed it can trigger a very negative domino effect. High levels of stress not only compromise your work performance, productivity and efficiency, but more importantly, it can seriously impact your health.
Common physical symptoms of stress include headaches, migraines, insomnia, back and neck aches, nausea, twitching, appetite changes and sweating. The long-term effects of stress can include heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, gastrointestinal problems and even cancer. In addition to the physical symptoms, stress can also cause serious psychological and emotional problems such as mood swings, poor concentration, anxiety, irritability, anger, depression, forgetfulness, pessimism, confusion and self-doubt.
No doubt we all agree that it is important to effectively manage our stress, but how can we do it? Here are a few tips that will help you to keep your stress low and your performance level high.
Control your time.
When you are over-committed, something has to give. Take time to identify your most important responsibilities or tasks and focus on them first. Avoid taking on assignments just to please others or to look good. Successful time management involves your ability to control the activities in your life – and the better you are at it, the less stress you will experience.
Putting off important responsibilities breeds stress. Procrastination typically occurs for three reasons: You aren’t sure how to do the task, you can’t decide how to approach it, and/or you don’t enjoy doing what you have to do. Avoid waiting until the last minute to complete jobs by breaking down a large project into as many small, manageable, “instant” tasks as possible. Write these mini-projects on a piece of paper and then include several of them on your daily To Do List. When you complete one of the tasks, treat yourself to a nice reward. Before you know it, the project will be done and you will feel energized as a result.
Take time out for yourself.
The busyness of work life and constant interaction with others can create a very legitimate need for alone time. Making time in your schedule for solitude can be a big challenge, but make it a priority to set aside "down" or "quiet" time just like you schedule business meetings and lunch appointments. During this time, give yourself permission to take a mini-vacation. Find a quiet place to relax where you won’t be interrupted and then mentally transfer yourself to a peaceful and beautiful setting. Imagine taking a leisurely walk on the beach or dangling your feet in the cool waters of a lazy mountain stream. As you sense the warm sun on your face and the cool breeze in the air, you will feel the stress and worries of the day slowly drift away.
Practice healthy self-talk.
You feel what you think. Negative, critical and hopeless thinking produces fear, anger, worry and stress. Practice maintaining a positive mental attitude about yourself, your work and those around you. Remember, you do have choices in life and you can change and control many of the things that you are dissatisfied with if you are willing to set your mind to it.
Control your diet.
What does this have to do with work? If you put low octane fuel in your car your engine will still run, but not at top performance level. The same principle is true for your mind and body. If you regularly consume refined sugar, large amounts of caffeine, and foods high in fat – or if you skip meals – you can still function, but with much less efficiency. A healthy diet is key to maintaining good concentration, a high level of energy, and a healthy outlook on life.
Get your heart pumping.
Physical activity is one of the best stress busters around. A brisk walk, game of tennis, or aerobics class helps you let off steam and distracts you from your source of stress. Exercise can also boost your immune system and help you to fight off illnesses that stress can cause.
Stop mulling it over – take action.
If you're overloaded with worries, sit down with a pen and paper and spend 15 minutes writing down your concerns and potential solutions to the problems. By the time you finish, you will realize that you don’t feel as worried because you are now better prepared to take action.
Join me next time for Part 2 of Job Stress – What Can You Do? I will share some additional practical tips and daily habits that will help you manage your stress. I will also address some ways that employers and managers can help their teams lower stress and work more effectively.
Live, Work and Relate Well!