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Stress and the Workplace


Job stress affects almost everyone at some stage of their career and for some it is quite an endemic part of their day-to-day existence on the job. Prolonged, unadressed stress often manifests itself in physical and psychosomatic ailments such as high blood pressure, ulcers, stomach disorders, sleeplessness and general ongoing feelings of fatigue and anxiety. While the stress aspect of some jobs cannot be avoided, (the occupational stress faced by a surgeon or a defence lawyer for example), in many instances stress on the job can be mitigated enough to meaningfully improve the quality of one's life.

There are several ways to overcome occupational stress and get a better grip on one's emotional well-being. Remember, when you're happier, more relaxed and more in control, you will perform better and that in turn will set your career off on a more positive track.

Face the Problem
Do you have trouble sleeping? Do you resent going to work with a vengeance? Does your heart start palpitating as you approach the office or as you hear your boss' voice? Does your stomach turn topsy-turvy at the thought of going to a certain meeting? Trouble concentrating and moving forward with anything? Are you over/undereating, listless and/or generally anxious and uncertain but not sure why?

If the answer to these or related questions is 'yes' and has been for some time, chances are you are experiencing stress. The first task is to admit to yourself that you are stressed out and to genuinely confront the magnitude of your stress and decide to do something about it. Sit down with a pen and paper, document each and every matter that causes you stress and try to see it in proportion. Is it really that bad? Are your feelings of stress commensurate with the situation or the event? Once you have come to terms with the sources of your stress and can see matters somewhat in proportion, you may be able to confront them.

Ask the Right Questions
If the stress you are feeling is severe, you may well be in an unsuitable job. Are you over/ under qualified for the job? Did you take this job because there was nothing else out there or because you were in a hurry? Do you really hate your boss and see no way to improve the relationship? Is the environment unfair and the criticism unconstructive? Do you see yourself going nowhere in this job even though you have taken various action steps to move your career forward? Is the environment very 'political' and you feel constantly excluded? If the answer to some of the above is a resounding YES then you may want to consider looking around either in the same company or elsewhere or making other real changes such as taking courses or undergoing counseling to make you more confident in your career.

Take Control
Nothing like feeling helpless and out-of-control to send one into blind panic and prolonged stress. Take control of your career! Do so by confronting your problems, setting goals, prioritizing and investing in 'Brand You'.

Confront your problems. This includes taking coursework you need, asking for the raise you deserve, telling your boss of something that bothers you, communicating better, improving your relationships with those around you and addressing your weaknesses.

Set goals. What do you want to achieve by the end of the year? By the performance review? What changes do you have in mind for the company? What are your personal goals in terms of education, promotion, relationship-building, cost-cutting, revenue generating etc. To optimize on your success and build your future you need to plan forward and set personal and professional milestones at specific dates which you can work towards accomplishing.

Prioritise tasks. This is an excellent way to regain a feeling of control and alleviate panic. Get into the habit of having a To-do list and approach every task by assigning it a priority. Your list may include the following priority columns: 'Top Priority, Today, This Week, and Ongoing". Within the day's tasks again prioritize by order of importance. Check every task as you complete it. Any uncompleted tasks for the day can be transferred to the following day's lists. A clean organized approach to your tasks is a great start to achieving overall success. You will feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day at each task you have completed.

Invest in 'Brand You'. You are a unique individual with unique talents, strengths, interests and circumstances. Get to know yourself and come to terms with what your limits and strengths really are. You can then invest in yourself and concentrate on building your unique areas of strength. There is nothing like constant education and self-advancement (very distinct from self-promotion) to give you that extra confidence you need to face your job and peers on a relaxed footing. Knowing you have something to 'give' is a great boost to your overall sense of well-being.

Incorporate StressBusters into your Routine
Some degree of stress will be an inevitable component of most jobs. Fortunately, there are many tricks and habits you can incorporate into your lifestyle to generally alleviate stress and improve your emotional well-being.

Effective stressbusters range from incorporating regular exercise into your routine to meditation to special feel-good treats such as aromatherapy and massage. Creative endeavours and other hobbies help to take your mind off stressful aspects of your life and channel your 'stress energy' in a more positive direction. Music is a wonderful way to unwind. Talk therapy also helps a lot. The latter need not be with a professional; you can find a mentor to talk to about your daily difficulties or a peer who is a good listener.

Remember, your general goal is to mitigate stress as much as possible by confronting the sources, seeing them in proportion and finding ways to enhance your emotional well-being and avoid a crisis. If you can strike a balance in your life between work and home and not allow your work stresses to trespass into your home routine, you are well on the way to a healthier lifestyle.

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