Workplace stress is pervasive in our culture. In fact, work-related fears and pressures are the leading source of stress for adults in the U.S., and they've only become more prevalent over the past several years.
Workplace stressors can come from multiple directions. Nearly half of workplace stress is a result of a heavy workload, and 28% stems from people issues. Work-life balance and a lack of job security can also contribute to stress levels. And with the recent outbreak of COVID-19, the sudden shift to remote work for many companies and the halt of work for others have certainly contributed to occupational uncertainty and stress.
At Influence & Co., we understand that work stress can have just as big of an impact on a team member's well-being as a balanced diet, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep. Being human means I've had my fair share of stressful days at work, and I'm sure you have, too. And while I'm not able to just wish my stress away (as amazing as that would be), there are some basic strategies I use to manage my stress so it doesn't have a negative impact on me or my team.
So in light of Stress Awareness Month — and how prevalent occupational stress is in our culture — I wanted to provide you with some ways you can manage or even reduce work stress.
Sometimes what we think is stressing us out is actually just a symptom of some other underlying stressor. Spend some time in reflection and intentionally consider what the actual source of your stress might be. This is so important because the approach you take to manage or reduce that stress will differ depending on what the root cause is.
For example, you might think that the source of much of your work-related stress right now stems from a big project that you're working on. But when you dig deeper, you realize the root cause is anxiety that you'll forget a crucial part of that project. For this type of stressor, your strategy might be making a list and writing down everything that you know needs to happen in order for the project to be complete. Sometimes, getting the details out of your brain and onto paper can reduce stress in and of itself. Then, as you're continuing to work on the project, referring back to that list can ease your mind and reassure you that you're not forgetting any crucial steps.
Only about half of workers feel confident that they know what's expected of them at work. If you're among the half of workers who don't know what's expected of them each day, ask for support in this area.
If you don't have a job description that you can gauge your performance against, ask your direct support for one! The more concrete you can get about the expectations your employer has for you in your role, the easier it will be for you to "gut check and reset" when things become stressful. Let's talk about that next.
Working with so many talented individuals drives me to be the best version of myself, but sometimes I can take that too far and find myself trying to accomplish too much. Does that ever happen to you? If so, it's important to "gut check and reset."
If the expectations you have for yourself are unrealistic, you're always going to feel like you could (and should) be doing more. That feeling, as simple as it sounds, is one of my main sources of stress. So I've made taking a gut check and resetting my expectations a habit when I start to feel stressed.
To "gut check and reset," take an inventory of what you have on your plate, look at the clock, and determine how many of those to-dos can actually be finished today (or tomorrow if you're planning ahead). Then, reset your expectations to accommodate that more realistic view. This helps me feel confident that I can still have a productive day without overdoing it.
A long list of tasks can be overwhelming to look at. When you're feeling overwhelmed and like something needs to change, get organized. Pause, take an inventory of your tasks, and prioritize them in order of importance.
To do this, ask yourself, "How important is it that I do this?" Then, answer that question by thinking through the worst-case scenario if you didn't complete the task. More often than not, we can stress over things that really aren't that important in the grand scheme of things.
Of course, some tasks are genuinely important and need to be prioritized. But this exercise can help you identify which tasks you should do first and then work down the list in order of importance.
Boundaries are important in every aspect of life, but it can be hard to establish those boundaries and stick to them.
When I first started my career, I had this assumption that I needed to be available to my teammates at all times. This was obviously a faulty assumption because no one can literally be available at all times. Once I realized that not protecting my time was having a negative impact on my overall well-being, I had to set some boundaries.
In my department, we set the expectation that we'll respond to emails within 48 hours — even if it's just acknowledging that we've received the email and letting the sender know when he or she can expect a response. We've also decided that we'll respond to Slack messages within 24 hours, and when we're working in the same physical space, headphones mean "do not disturb." We're also always working on our ability to say "no" when needed without feeling guilty about it. These small clarifications that we all agreed upon have made a huge difference in reducing my stress levels from day to day.
Work with your teammates to set your own expectations for one another so you're all on the same page and can be confident that you all know and will respect one another's boundaries.
Well-being is holistic. Eating nutritious meals, taking multiple breaks throughout the day, finding 30 minutes to be active, occasionally treating yourself to your favorite dessert, reading, journaling, playing with your pets, and other methods of self-care can reduce stress levels and have a positive impact on your overall well-being in the long term.
The most important thing is to find what works for you. For instance, if you're not a dog person, my evening routine of walking in the door and dropping everything for a 20-minute doggie cuddle session probably won't lower your stress levels. Do some reflecting to decide what reinvigorates you, and add that into your daily routine.
Work will always be stressful in some capacity. Sure, some stress can actually be motivating, but too much stress can lead to burnout. Give these approaches a try to manage or even reduce work stress — something we could all benefit from now more than ever.