Stress is everywhere—Home, school, and the workplace. The sooner you learn how to manage it, the better. However, not everyone is very good at managing stress. To know the best way to manage stress, I have interviewed several businessmen and most of the following ideas of managing stress are based on their experiences.
It was Christina Adzima’s senior year, and there was one final academic hurdle before her high school graduation—the 20-page term paper. The Stratford, Connecticut, the student had been on schedule with the project all year, meeting each deadline. Then, two weeks before the full draft was due, her dog died. Christina just couldn’t seem to get the paper started, and suddenly it was the night before it was due. “It was the first all-nighter I had ever pulled, and I vowed I’d never do it again,” she says. As a student, stress can affect many areas of your life.
Keeping up your grades, writing college essays, struggling with the decision of where to go to college, homework, tests, after-school sports, a part-time job, and your social life may all be making demands on your time. And after graduation, when you’ve left school to enter the workforce, will the stress subside? Not likely. While it can be difficult to deal with stress, the sooner you learn how to manage it, the better.
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The ability to handle stress has almost become a requirement in most jobs today. According to the 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce by the Families and Work Institute in New York City, jobs are the biggest stressor for most Americans. In fact, job and workplace stress are three times more likely to affect a person’s emotional well being than children, again parents, spouses, commuting, housework or any other personal demands. Despite this, employers appear to be doing very little about it.
Potter, an expert in workplace behaviour and psychology, in her book Overcoming Job Burnout. “Across the board, no matter what profession, no matter what level, virtually everybody says they have too much to do and not enough time to do it.”
When something inside tells you that things are not quite “right,” how do you know if it is stress? Look for these telltale signs that stress is building up: lack of concentration, forgetfulness, being disorganized, having trouble doing simple tasks, feeling anxious or depressed, having trouble sleeping or wanting to sleep too much, mood swings, shakiness exhaustion, stomach aches, headaches, and irregular breathing. Most of us feel one of these symptoms every day—but if you have a few of these symptoms several days in a row, you probably are in the “stressed-out” zone.
Each of us has a different level of “stress tolerance,” or the ability to handle the ups and downs of life without suffering these symptoms since we all have different abilities, training, and values. What may be a demanding job to one person may be a welcome challenge to another.
Once you recognize you’re under stress, what can you do? The first step in alleviating your stress is knowing what is causing it. Once you know the root of your stress, you are in a better position to deal with it.
Vera Peiffer, in her book Stress Management, explains that these stress roots can be almost anything that happens in our lives: “Any event that significantly changes your daily routine is a potential trigger for stress.” These “hiccups” of life usually can be handled by people whose lives are relatively calm, but when someone is “stressed out,” they can cause an emotional crisis. People who tend to be anxious, perfectionists, daredevils, and overly ambitious are most prone to stress because they’re driven by the fear of “what if” (for example: What if I can’t get into a good college? What if my boss doesn’t think my report was written well?)
Peiffer believes stress on the job has many roots. Workplaces are made up of people with different personalities who must get together on a regular basis and complete projects within deadlines over which they usually have no control. Or, a boss may not be good at communication or motivating employees.
Difficult coworkers or an uncomfortable working environment, such as bad lighting or cigarette smoke, can lead to stress as well. Job stress can also be caused by someone not enjoying the nature of the work or having a heavy workload, the fear of being fired or laid off, and not having the time, ability, or resources to get the job done.
Regardless of what triggers your stress, it is important to control it, since prolonged stress can actually hurt your health—even though sometimes it may appear to help by making you concentrate. (Many people say they work well under stress.) But prolonged stress can result in heart disease, ulcers, and allergic diseases.
Tense situations also can lower your body’s resistance to illness. People who have high levels of stress are also prone to burnout, which occurs when motivation is gone, and you feel you do not have any control over your situation. The feeling of being in control is important for a person’s well being.
To guard your self against stress, try managing your lifestyle. Get plenty of exercises, eat a well-balanced diet, and get enough sleep. Learn to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses and how to use them to your advantage. Then, when stress is unavoidable, you will be able to better cope with it because you are taking care of yourself. But what if, like Christina, you have got a paper due tomorrow, or you have a big swim meet coming up and your boss has put you on the schedule to work after school that day? First, try to think of practical ways to solve the problem.
Christina had worked diligently on her term paper research for months, so writing the paper was still possible. If you have a work and school commitment on the same day, maybe someone could switch days with you at work or your boss could change your hours.
Try not to get “stressed” about things that are beyond your control. After you have taken a test, or after you have sent those college applications. “Let it go”: Worrying about the outcome will not change anything and certainly will not do you any good. Hear are some other stress-busting tips:
- Clear you work area of messy papers.
- Break big tasks into small steps, and check off each step as you go.
- Visualize yourself succeeding at something. Picturing yourself as a winner helps build confidence.
- Get in the habit of using your bed only for sleeping. If you do homework there, you may have trouble feeling relaxed when it is time to sleep.
- Have music in the background while you concentrate on finishing a project.
- Get up and take a short break (perhaps a walk) after you have been working for a long time.
Or, try these exercises as a way to physically help you relieve stress. To slow down you breathing, take deep breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. To relieve muscle tension, stand up and do some stretching exercises such as rolling your shoulders back and reaching your hands toward the ceiling.
Finally, try to look at problems in you life as challenges. “Stress occurs when we look at any given situation as a threat rather than a challenge, “Peiffer says in her book. Once you have been able to take control of life’s stressful situations, you will be able to handle them a little easier the next time they come around.
Handling stressful job situations can be tricky. After all, you are getting paid, do not want to lose your job, and want to stay on everyone’s good side. But there are ways to effectively handle on-the-job stress. When a problem appears with your boss or a co-worker, says Peiffer, set up a time to speak with the person privately. Maintain eye contact and, although you may be upset, so not speak with an angry tone in your voice.
Let’s say you feel your workload is too much for one person to handle effectively. Do not approach your boss with a statement such as, “This is too much! I can’t do all this work myself.” This makes the problem appear to be about what you want for yourself. Instead, say, “If we want to finish this project on time, I will need some extra help.”
Worried that your boss does not want to hear about your trouble? Think again. Workplace stress is bad for a company’s health, according to a national study called “Employee Burnout: Causes and Cures.” Stress employees are more likely to leave, and it is expensive and time-consuming to train new employees. People who are stressed get sick more often and may stay home from work. And, employees who are stressed may not be able to work as hard as they would otherwise.
The result? Productivity “takes a dive.” Simply put, as job pressure rises, productivity drops. While everyone can handle a certain amount of stress, if you give employees too much for too long, they will not be producing at their peak. Furthermore, accounting to the National Safety Council, on an average workday, one million employees will be absent from work because of job stress. This costs companies an estimated $200 million a year in medical costs, worker’s compensation claims and lost productivity.
Put all this together and you begin to see that job problem affect the bottom line to a much greater extent than personal problems do. While work/life programs are vital in helping employees lead more balanced lives, they are not enough because they do not address the work side of the equation.
Unfortunately, even companies that do appear to recognize the problem of job stress are more likely to offer stress counselling than to address the root cause of the problem. According to Nancy Board, director of account management for ComPsych Corp., an EAP provider based in Chicago, “Employers are asking us to help their employees deal better with stress, but they are not working to make jobs any easier.”
Granted, in an age of global competition, incessant customer demands and rapidly changing technology, it is not easy to think about working smarter. It is easier to throw stress counseling or flexible work policies at employees than it is to redesign their jobs. But you may be surprised at the kinds of things employees need to feel better about work.
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When people find a way to combat stress, everyone wins. The company wins and so do you.
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