Work stress is the great equalizer. High salary, low salary, doesn’t matter. The reasons might vary (deadlines, awful boss, workload), but everyone faces stress at some point in his or her career. There’s even a commonality in the source of these stresses: something is off balance. Too much to do, not enough time. Too many demands, not enough space to fulfill them to others’ expectations.
Managing the stresses before they turn into performance issues or a huffy resignation letter is key—but how do you do that? Here are some common work stresses:
- Looming deadlines
- Too much to do at once
- Office politics
- Work/life balance
- Job uncertainty
- Insecurity/lack of confidence
For all of these, it would be great to say that doing more yoga, or incentivizing yourself with personal rewards would solve the problem. However, while those are really excellent coping mechanisms for stress in general, they may not do much to address the underlying problems at work.
Instead, take the time to confront the stresses head-on with a series of questions:
What is causing this?
Identify what’s behind the stress, and be realistic. It may be that you’re mad at your coworker for dropping the ball and leaving you with work, but is he or she really the source of your stress? Or is it that you have too many priorities to begin with, and the dropped ball was just one ball too many?
What would my ideal situation be?
While envisioning yourself on a beach with beverage of choice in your hand is nice, it’s not really the type of vision that would help here. This means taking a realistic assessment of what would make you less stressed and more fulfilled in your job. Would it be fewer meetings? More time built into your schedule for specific projects? A juggling of priorities with your manager so that you have the space to achieve your best results?
Can I take steps to make this closer my ideal situation?
Even seemingly un-budgeable stress factors, like hard deadlines or bosses/colleagues who are just impossible to work with, can have some flexibility. It may be too late to change things for this round of deadline stress, but it’s not too late to come up with a plan for the next round. Maybe you’d like to have more advance notice on something, or maybe your boss would be open to restructuring your workload in the future so that there’s not such a crunch. If the stress is personality-based conflict with colleagues, maybe you can sit down with them to figure out the best way for you to mesh your styles on projects in the future. (Of course, this hinges on your ability to say, “I’d like to talk about how we can effectively work together on projects like this” instead of “dude, you’re driving me crazy.”)
If not, what do I want to do to prevent this from being my normal?
This is the “deep in your bones” check. If the disconnect between the ideal and the reality is just too big, or if making small changes won’t make your job any more fulfilling, it could be time to start looking around for a different job. The stress could be compounded by trying to push through inconvenient gut feelings. Having an exit strategy doesn’t mean you aren’t tough, or can’t hack it at your current job…think of it as an insurance policy for your sanity.