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How To Survive A Stressful Job

Mental Health

If you are not reading this blog because your current job is easy, but because something about it is triggering an unhealthy amount of stress.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, stress is our body’s response to pressure. It can be triggered by a variety of circumstances, like experiencing something new, challenging, threatening, or unusual. When we encounter stress, our bodies produce stress hormones that trigger a fight or flight response and activate our immune system. This helps us quickly respond to dangerous situations.

Some stress is good; it can give us the push we need to deliver a speech or finish a marathon. Once the stress event is over, our body returns to its normal state, but if the stress event continues for a significant period of time, like stressors at our daily jobs, stress can leave us overwhelmed and cause permanent mental and physical harm.

In fact, prolonged stress can lead to issues such as:
* Headaches
* Irritability
* Rapid, disorganized thoughts
* Digestive problems
* Changes in appetite
* Nervousness
* Difficulty concentrating, or an inability to do so
* Difficulty sleeping
* Fatigue
* Low self-esteem

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms due to difficult work circumstances, you’re not alone. According to The American Institute of Stress, 40% of workers reported their job was very or extremely stressful. The causes of that stress vary, but the four main causes are workload, people issues, juggling work and personal lives, and lack of job security.

Regardless of what’s triggering your high levels of stress from work, here are effective strategies for minimizing this response.

1. Identify Your Triggers

Not everything at your job is contributing to your stress. In fact, there are probably a few things you deeply enjoy about your work and workplace; but when you’re stressed, everything feels overwhelming. Separate the good from the bad because you need to clearly recognize what elements of your job are leading to stress in order to effectively tackle those stressors.

Take two weeks to record every situation, event and person who causes you to have a negative physical, mental or emotional response. Include a brief description of each situation:

- Where were you?
- Who was involved?
- What was your reaction?
- How did you feel?

Evaluate those stressors; some may be intuitive like the fear of losing your job or being demoted. But you might also notice other events triggering a stress response like leading specific meetings, an uncomfortable workspace, or a long commute. Or maybe balancing kid schedules while working from home, technology issues, or specific events while working remotely causes your stress levels to quickly rise. 

2. Tackle Those Triggers

Now that you know what your stress triggers are, you can come up with solutions. Some triggers might be harder to resolve than others, but there are probably low-hanging fruit. For instance, you can request a better desk and chair to make your workspace more posture friendly or you can invent fun games for your kids to play while they’re home in order to limit distractions while you’re in meetings in your home office.

Finding solutions to your triggers requires creativity and perseverance. Maybe the first few solutions aren’t helpful but you’ll eventually find something that works for your biggest stress trigger. When you find the solutions that work, be persistent in implementing them, and don’t be afraid to change those solutions if they stop working after a while.

Even if all your triggers are addressed, you may still get overwhelmed from time to time. In those seasons, the below stress-relief tactics are effective when applied well to your context.

3. Respect Your Breaks

If your stress stems from your workload, carve out time each day to recharge and give your body a break from the environment. Taking 5-minute breaks each hour can make it easier to sustain long, difficult work days, giving you opportunities to lower stress levels. Find a few quick activities that effectively calm you down—try watching a fun Youtube video, going on a quick walk or coffee run, or simply chat with a friend at the office who has all the best jokes.

It’s also important to recharge from work when you’re not in the office. Even if you work from home, unplug from your work the moment you’re off the clock. This may require you to delete the email app from your phone or make plans right at the end of your work day to pull you away from your tasks from the day. It’ll take some discipline, but it’s critical that you rest when you’re off the clock so you can recover from the tough day, do the things you enjoy, and approach the new work day with enthusiasm instead of dread.

4. Raise Healthy Boundaries

If your coworkers can contact you around the clock, you’re not only destined for stress, but for burnout. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. While it takes some time, weeks or years, to fully experience burnout, it can take even longer to recover your mental and emotional health, recover physically, and regain your motivation to keep working.

To help prevent stress and ultimately burnout, create home/work boundaries. The boundaries should effectively protect the time you’re not at work so you can enjoy life outside the office, rest, and recover. Being available outside of work hours can send cues to your mind and body that you’re at work and stressed out, even if you’re at home trying to rest.

Determine what reasonable non-work times and spaces are and communicate that to everyone who needs to know. After work, leave the office or your home office and don’t linger, even if you’re lingering to do personal tasks. Establish non-working hours and configure them into your calendar so your coworkers don’t schedule you for meetings when you’re off the clock. Leave your work laptop at the office to prevent the urge to continue working from home. Designate time to establish those boundaries and make sure your immediate team and anyone you’re sharing an office with are aware of and respect your boundaries. But at the end of the day, hold yourself to those boundaries—fight the urge to work when you’re off the clock and respect the boundaries you’ve created.

The truth is, the work will still be there tomorrow, and even if you work ahead, you’re still likely to be stressed the next day so enjoy the free time you have, when you have it.

5. Lean On Your Support System

While a best friend at work can be an excellent person to vent to, lean on your friends and family members. They’re not in your work environment every day and can offer more empathy to your stressful situation as well as objective advice. Your non-work support system can also help with non-work tasks to give you more time back in your day. Call up a friend to watch your kid after work, run a quick errand, or come over for a game night after a particularly heavy week.

Be sure to check in with your support system before asking for their help. Often, people have their own life stressors that can limit their ability to be available in the moment. Simply ask your friend or family member if they have the capacity to listen to you vent about work or help in some tangible way. That way, your support system feels respected and more energized to love and care for you during your most stressful days.

6. Invest In Yourself

Self-care may feel pointless or unattainable in stressful seasons—how can I fully rest or take care of myself if I can’t get my heart to spot racing? you might ask. But self-care isn’t an option. Doing things that effectively help you calm down and feel at peace can help reset your body and mind in a much deeper, more effective way than short breaks throughout the day. It can be difficult to create the space and time to engage in calming activities, but with a bit of effort, you can find yourself recovering from a tough week in a meaningful and restorative way.

Start by identifying activities that are fun and relaxing for you, then set aside time each week to engage in it. If you like movies, make Wednesdays movie nights to help break up the week. Go to a theatre, get all the snacks, invite a friend, and really allow yourself the enjoy the time. The weekends are also an excellent opportunity to invest in yourself. Go to your favorite park or bar and unwind. The trick is to make it a habit; don’t do it once or twice then quit but push through your work stress and exhaustion to do activities that make you feel emotionally full and refreshed.

7. Adopt Mindfulness Techniques

According to Harvard Health, mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to the present moment with curiosity, openness, and acceptance. When you’re in a stressful state at work, it can be easy to believe that nothing’s ever going to change and you’re trapped in an impossible situation. Mindfulness helps to train your brain to break these harmful habits.

The reality is, you are in a difficult position, but there are ways to relieve your negative emotions using coping mechanisms like the ones listed in the blog. Plus, there are always new job opportunities out there and finding a new job may be scary but it’s possible. Through mindfulness techniques like formal meditation, breathing practices, and simple acts like taking walks in nature, you can focus on the present, put your situation in context, and achieve a sense of calm. Mindfulness can be practiced any time of day, but can be helpful at the beginning, middle, and end of the day.

8. Sharpen Your Time Management Skills

Poor time management may not always be the reason you’re experiencing stress, but improving those skills can help reduce stress. When you manage your time and priorities well, you regain a sense of control and can adjust your pace because you have a stronger handle on how you plan to approach various tasks and projects.

Sharpening those skills doesn’t just mean making and sticking to a schedule. It also involves setting reasonable goals to ensure you approach things at an attainable pace and sense of urgency. Better time management also means identifying the priority level of each of your responsibilities—not everything is urgent so treat the less urgent things appropriately and focus more of your time and efforts towards things that matter most.

Overall, you’ll find that prioritizing responsibilities, creating and following a daily schedule, and setting reasonable goals will take any undue pressure off your mind and emotions and help you tackle things with more energy and focus.

Friend, we hope these techniques effectively help you manage stress at work. And remember, if it’s possible and right for you, try looking for a job that doesn’t set off your stress triggers as much as your current role!

Written by:
Davina Adcock

Davina is a native of Grenada and a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin. She's a content specialist with a passion for empowering women to thrive and reach their full potential. In her free time, Davina is probably painting, reading, or baking something unnecessarily sweet.

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