Is your job stressing you out? Don't feel alone. A recent Gallup poll
shows only 14 percent of workers are dissatisfied with their job, while
a whopping 34 percent are dissatisfied with how much stress they face
at work. Stress elicited the highest level of dissatisfaction from a
list of common problems--even exceeding recognition, promotion
opportunities, and salary!
Sadly, anxiety in the workplace is likely to increase. Stiff
competition, expanding roles, and demanding technological advances all
blend together to produce a heavy dose of stress on even the heartiest
employee. We're not just talking about management. No level of staff is
immune. For instance, the days when typing speed was the main challenge
for office professionals are long gone. Now they are expected to master
skills ranging from high-tech office equipment, complex software, and
purchasing to communication with a wide range of cultures and
So what's the answer? Obviously you can't control technology, the
world's economy, or even how your coworkers or boss chooses to behave.
But you can master the way you filter stress so that it takes a minimal
toll on your attitude and physical health. Following are some tips for
keeping stress at bay:
Remember: Stress Is a Response
Picture this: Two coworkers' phones ring simultaneously. One of themanswers right away with a smile, eager to satisfy the caller in a
cheerful manner. The other grumbles loudly, protesting that the phone
is ringing again. Her blood pressure rises, and she makes it vehemently
clear to all within earshot how much she resents the intrusion. What's
the difference between these two workers? One thing is for
certain--it's not the phone.
Top performers don't come in contact with fewer potentially stressful
situations. Nor do they avoid challenges. They simply have learned to
monitor their responses so that they are in control.
The next time you are faced with an irritable boss, traffic jam, or
pressing deadline, remember that the event does not determine your
response--only you can do that. Deciding to remain calm is sure to lead
to a better outcome than succumbing to emotions such as fear or anger.
Learn to Laugh
Laughter is powerful. In the words of Mark Twain: "Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand."
Psychologist Steve Wilson, author of The Art of Mixing Work and Play
and Super Humor Power, knows the value of humor in stressful
situations. Wilson explains, "The immune effect of laughter stays with
us for a lifetime. In light of the data about how stress defeats the
immune system, the saying 'laughter is the best medicine' contains
indisputable scientific backing."
A hearty laugh relaxes muscles, reduces levels of stress-creating
hormones, and lowers blood pressure. Furthermore, people simply get
along better and perform more creatively in a fun environment. Have you
ever noticed how a well-timed joke can cut through tension and
misunderstandings? So it is with stress.
You can drastically lower your personal stress level by taking a few
laugh breaks. Sharpen your sense of humor, and you are sure to dull the
effects of stress.
Be Gentle With Yourself
You wouldn't remain friends for long with someone who constantly makesremarks such as "You'll never finish" or "You can't handle that," would
you? So why tolerate it in yourself? Negative self-talk doesn't do a
thing for your self-esteem or stress level. A positive mind-set is more
than half the battle when it comes to managing stress effectively. When
faced with a situation in which you are likely to feel defeated, repeat
kind and positive words to yourself.
For example, suppose an unhappy customer verbally berates you. A
natural response would be to lash out and become defensive. Another
reaction is the "whipped puppy" response, when you feel like an
undeserving victim. These attitudes will only cause the situation to
become more stressful. Instead, take a deep breath and say something
like "I will remain calm. By the time we hang up, we will be having a
friendly discussion." Treat yourself with care and concern--just as any
supportive friend would. Practice positive self-talk at every
Take a "Technology Holiday"
Technology was supposed to make our lives easier. But many have come torealize that it's actually a double-edged sword, creeping into our
personal lives and increasing stress levels for most workers. Laptop
computers, pagers, and cellular phones have, in essence, created a
24-hour office from which there is no escape. Surveys show that 60
percent of workers feel their levels of stress have increased since
computers made their debut into the workplace. Nearly 50 percent feel
their workload has increased since that time.
Eighteen years of practice in the field of occupational medicine have
enlightened Robert du Puis, M.D., author of How to Avoid High Tech
Stress, of the dangers of technology. He encourages employees to take a
technology holiday to reduce stress.
"Putting technology in proper perspective as a useful tool but not
allowing it to run our lives is becoming increasingly difficult," du
Puis explains. He advises that escaping e-mail, voice mail, cell
phones, and beepers even during the evening or lunch hour is a sound
step toward lowering stress.
Just Say No
The less control people have over their workday, the more likely theyare to suffer stress-related illnesses. Somewhere along the line we
convinced ourselves that saying no is rude. We fear people won't like
us. Unfortu-nately this logic carries a steep price tag in matters of
Imagine you are staring at the last few hours of a pressing deadline
when a talkative coworker comes to your office to chat. Do you
entertain her, hoping she will run out of things to say eventually? If
so, you are unnecessarily inviting stress into your life. If the
deadline is missed, you will encounter stress. Even if your frantic
efforts allow you to meet it, you will also encounter stress. It's
basically a no-win situation when people cannot behave in an assertive
The next time someone asks "Got a minute?" try answering politely, "Not
right now. Can I get with you later?" You might be surprised how well
they will take it--and how much more control you will have over your
Forgive and Forget
Have you known coworkers who remained in perpetual states ofresentment? Did they seem to have an elephant's memory when it came to
injustices? Indeed, they probably took a perverse delight in repeating
all the gruesome details to any willing audience.
Talking about it over and over is far from healthy. In fact, studies
show that reliving a negative experience carries an undesirable
consequence--it forces the grudge holder to relive the physiology that
went along with the stressful moment. In other words, the stress is
repeated as many times as they choose to walk down unpleasant memory
Commit to unloading grudges and anger in order to reduce your stress
level. An added by-product is that you will be a much more pleasant
person to be around!
One thing is for sure: Stress is a choice you don't have to make. Your
physical health, coworkers, family, and emotional well-being will all
thank you for learning the important life skill of strong stress