This is Part 2 in a three-part series on stress in the workplace. Check out Part 1 and Part 3! They say that the best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago. The second best time is now. You can apply the same sentiment to stress. It’s better to work ahead, to plant the seed of stress prevention early, so you never get to this moment, when you are what restaurant workers call “in the weeds” — you’re so entrenched in the mess of too many things to do, pulling you in a million directions at once, that you can’t seem to pull yourself out.
It’s like quicksand. The more frantically you move, the faster you go down. However, there are things you can do now, in order to manage the stress and avoid hitting the point of burnout. Essentially, you have two angles to work with: change the situation and change your reaction. The best attack is a dual one: hit the stress from both sides and put it back in its place.
1. Change the situation
Two options here: either avoid or alter what is stressing you out. At work, it’s difficult to solve this problem with avoidance, so let’s go with alter. Set goals Alter the situation here by ignoring the bigger picture for a moment. That’s usually what brings the most amount of stress, when we’re already jumping to the end and becoming overwhelmed by all the work we know we have to eventually do.
So stop. Look at the immediate tasks. Set small goals: first daily, then weekly, then bigger picture. Once you start accomplishing the small goals, you’ll have more confidence about the progress happening in your overall role.
Start in the middle
Most people think and work in a linear fashion. But if the situation looks hopeless when you’re staring at the beginning and getting overwhelmed, try changing the focus of the overall project and jumping in at a mid-point. Or even at the end. Ask for help Turn a solo task into a team one. Bouncing ideas off of someone else or getting them to pitch in for a small part can do wonders for relieving the pressure. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak; it makes you smart.
2. Change your reaction
You may get to a point where you’ve done all you can to make the situation better and easier to handle. All that’s left is finding better ways to deal.
Gauge your control
Make a list of things you can control about your current work situation and things you can’t. Take both lists and keep them somewhere visible.
When situations of high stress arise, look at the lists. Remember that certain things are out of your control. But more importantly, some things are. Look for solutions to those problems and try to accept the others. Look for the upside Even if a situation seems somewhat hopeless, like you’re doomed to fail, try to search for the upside. Times of trials are usually the best times for growth.
What mistakes did you make? How can you improve next time? What are you learning? What will you walk away with from all of this?
You put meetings, appointments and deadlines in your calendar. Why aren’t you scheduling down time as well? In order to perform at your best and manage workplace stress, taking time to relax, breath, and enjoy life are just as essential. But often this is the first thing to disappear when you get stressed. Take a walk, enjoy a yoga class, or go to that movie you’re dying to see. Block off the time in your calendar and make sure you don’t cancel on yourself.
Senior Coordinator of Program Development by day, freelance writer/editor/researcher by night, Dana Marie Krook is a firm believer in “having it all” — which, of course, means chasing your dreams, your bucket list, and your cupcake craving as far as necessary. She loves word games, yoga, running, and superhero movies, but would trade it all for the chance to see her first YA novel on the shelves of a bookstore.