Working Well: Managing Work Stress

work stress

As great as your new job may be, it’s inevitable that at some point you’ll end up experiencing the pressures of work-related stress — the strains of deadlines, having to work late, or being overworked are all elements that come with the new reality, even for people who love what they do.

A “Stress in the Workplace” survey, conducted by the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence, found that more than one-third of working Americans reported chronic work stress. And 65% of the respondents to their survey cited work as their top source of stress. This is not surprising, especially considering that we tend to spend the majority of our waking hours at work. Consequently, we often take work-related stress home, along with that overdue project.

Many studies have shown the ways this can affect our mental and physical health — anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system, to name a few. The damage is compounded by the detrimental ways we deal with stress, such as overeating, binging on unhealthy foods, along with overindulging in cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs.

In their study on stress and cognitive function, Drs. Bruce McEwen and Robert Sapolsky, found that some aspects of the body’s response to stress — such as heightened sensory awareness and mental acuity can actually have benefits for the short term. Not all forms of stress are necessarily bad either, with eustress being the body’s response to excitement or events like anticipating a party. The difference between good stress and bad stress, however, relates to the duration of the stress and how the individual perceives it.

“Bad” stressors tend to be chronic, long-term, and persistent, and lead to a more destructive response — having a breakdown and turning into that co-worker that everybody tries to avoid. Each one of us has a bad day, but when you find out your projects are becoming inescapable thoughts — even after they’re completed — it could be a symptom of high-volume workplace stress. All of this of course has much more to do with the nature of the reaction to the stressor than the stressor itself.

Work stress is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to run your life. We can learn how to reduce chronic stress and increase our overall sense of health and well-being.

Activate The Mind-Body Connection

New research in brain functioning allows us to understand how our bodies react to various stressful circumstances. This is also a benefit of mind-body practices like yoga, tai chi, and qi gong. Knowledge is power, and getting to know your own patterns of responding to stressors can help you take charge of the stress in your work life.

work stress

What can you do? Breathe. One thing that many practices have in common is the importance of breathing. We take it for granted. It is something that all of us do, but we don’t do it consciously. In your breathing lies the power to change your perspective. Simple acts like slowing down breathing or counting your breaths can have a calming and clarifying effect on your mood.

From the awareness of your breathing, you can shift to become more aware of your body. The quickest way to develop this awareness is to place your hands on your lower abdomen. Then, check in with different parts of your body. Do you feel pain or tension anywhere? Is there any change in your body’s temperature? Even if you do not sense what is going on inside your body, the shift in attention can affect your approach in responding to outside stressors.

You will fare better at this if you practice doing it before you encounter the obstacles that make your day stressful. Start by taking a few minutes each day to focus on your breathing, on walking, or just by quietly enjoying your lunch. Being able to focus purposefully on a single activity is a skill that develops with experience.

Don’t Underestimate The Power Of Attitude

In the workplace, you may experience pressure to meet a deadline or to fulfill a challenging obligation. This is “normal” work life, but it is stress. It can be good stress in the short term. It can invigorate you, or help you develop expertise, or even force you to devise more economical and efficient ways for dealing with the tasks at hand.

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