June 16th, 2016
Does Your Job Stress You Out?
In today’s results-oriented business environment, many workers have no time to attend even a half-day seminar on developing stress-management skills. In fact, trying to schedule time to attend such seminars only causes more stress. And, while some people like to alleviate tension with a spa day or a weekend away, you don’t necessarily need to go to such great lengths to take the pressure off.
The basic concepts behind stress management are simple.
In fact, many of the following short and long-term solutions we have detailed here are things you can implement in no time at all.
So, to help you reduce stress on the job and in your life away from work, take a moment out of your busy schedule to read these practical tips you can use today to combat stress for the rest of your life.
Humor is one of the best stress-busters around. A good laugh relaxes muscles, lowers blood pressure, and may reduce hormones that create stress and suppress immunity. Smiling helps, too. Research shows that facial expression — whether real or phony — can change a person’s mood.
Stop being a perfectionist.
You don’t have to accept shoddy work, but pick a couple of things you can let slide. Don’t let your quest for perfection and fear of failure paralyze you with anxiety. People who strive to be all things to all people are prime candidates for this type
We’ve developed dysfunctional attitudes about time because we now view it in an open-ended fashion, as if a given hour has potentially infinite utility. In other words, we’re substituting quicker activities for slower ones so we can stretch out every hour. We used to have lunch, then we had fast-food restaurants, now we have drive- through restaurants. All of this has the reverse effect from what we might expect: it makes us even more aware of time, even more stressed, and produces a culture in which efficiency is the most important value.
When something important has to be done, tackle it immediately. This, of course, is easier said than done. But the fact is, you’ll perform better if you avoid caffeine-charged, all-night super-sessions. If you’re a procrastinator, think of your project as a stalled car that needs to be pushed — it takes work to get the car going, but when it develops momentum it’s easy to keep it moving. Quit making excuses and just start pushing.
Stop feeling guilty.
Guilt is the most wasteful of all human emotions. When someone throws you a ball of guilt, let it go by. Learn to say “no” more often — and stick to your decision. Don’t wallow around in guilt until you give in. That, experts say, will only leave you feeling angry and resentful. Don’t lay guilt on yourself either. If you used to run five days a week, but now just have time for three workouts, don’t berate yourself. Focus on the good you are doing. As adults, we’re responsible for our own happiness.
Follow your dreams.
Look at the big picture — your life priorities. Make sure that the things you do add up to who you really are or want to be. Don’t take a job or join an organization because you feel it’s what others want you to do or because it’s something you wanted to do in the past. Put your energy into things that really matter to you now. Make a list of the things that make your life rewarding: goals or dreams you’re working toward. Write no more than 12 items, then cut your list to six. Jot the six items on a small card, something you can carry with you during the day. Use your list as your moral compass and check it twice daily.
We’re trying to cram too many activities into our leisure time, experts say. You don’t need to belong to a book club and a bowling team and take golf lessons and see every new movie. Choose one or two activities and engross yourself in them. When you pick an activity, don’t think about the 20 places you’re not going or the 20 paintings you’re not going to see. It’s that sense of missing out that makes us feel life is frantic. Really, it’s not.
Turn off the TV.
Television seems relaxing — we spend 40 percent of our leisure time glued to it — yet studies show people feel less relaxed and satisfied after watching TV than they did before. Watching TV crowds our waking lives, keeping us from talking with friends, playing the guitar, even sleeping. Cut down on your tube time by choosing shows more carefully, recording programs and fast-forwarding through commercials. Better yet, shut the thing off and enjoy the real people and places around you.
More than 150 studies confirm that exercise can be a potent antidote to stress. Whether a workout pumps stress-busting endorphins into the bloodstream or simply offers a relaxing time-out is anyone’s guess. But research has shown that a bout of exercise increases the brain’s alpha waves — patterns of electrical activity associated with relaxation. Not only can a single bout of exercise calm you down, but staying fit — exercising at least three days a week for 20 to 30 minutes per session — also makes you less prone to tension.
Share time with friends.
A recent Gallup poll found that nearly half of us say we’d rather be alone during stressful times. Yet research shows it’s better to share our troubles with others. Studies show that when people undergo difficult medical procedures, those who go alone experience a greater increase in blood pressure than those whose hands are held by a trusted friend.
In nature, time is basically fixed — the sun rises, the sun sets. You can’t manipulate it with lights, emails and computers. In the outdoors, we feel less rushed. Research suggests we don’t even need to be in nature to benefit from its calming qualities. In a study of patients recovering from surgery, patients who had a view of trees spent less time in the hospital, took fewer pain medications and developed fewer complications than patients who looked out onto a brick wall. If you can’t get to the real thing, hang a nature poster on your wall or buy a screen saver for your computer. Scenes with water, such as a gently flowing brook, seem to be particularly effective.
Stress and poor nutrition: a vicious cycle. When people are under stress they tend to eat all the wrong foods, and that ends up fueling the stress rather than helping them cope. If you’re under stress, make sure to eat a low sugar breakfast and limit your daily coffee intake to no more than three cups. Toss out your cookies and stuff your desk drawer with complex carbohydrate snacks such as fruit and crackers. Also consider a magnesium supplement; stress drains the body’s cells of magnesium, and magnesium deficiency tends to increase stress-hormone levels.
Put the “vacate” back into your vacations.
The time people spend for each vacation has shrunk more than a third over the last decade — to a paltry 4.6 nights away from home — and it no longer releases us from work. With wireless email, cell phones and laptops, it’s as if we’re on a long leash to the office. Although play is an antidote to stress, little of what we do on vacation actually qualifies. We see nature from a bus.
We are served at the luau. We’re led around the museum. But real play can’t be done for you, psychologists say. It’s spontaneous, unstructured, even chaotic.
So leave behind your laptop and don’t check your voice mail. Keep your trips simple and help shape the action. Remember: play isn’t what you do, it’s how you feel about what you do… you must be in control. It doesn’t matter whether you choose hiking or boating or countless other activities. Companionship, laughter, reflection, freedom — these are the raw materials of the perfect vacation.
Get a pet.
They slobber, they shed and they mess up your carpet, but pets make up for it all in a big way — by buffering their owners against everyday stresses. People who acquire pets report fewer minor health problems such as colds, flu, backaches, etc. They tend to think less about their problems and be happier with their lives. Animals may even help ward off heart disease. Blood pressure drops sharply when people simply stroke a cat or dog, according to a University of Pennsylvania study. Heart attack victims are more likely to be alive one year later if they own animals. And seniors with pets make far fewer visits to the doctor than those without.
Clean off your desk.
Most people waste the better part of an hour a day looking for things on their desk. Five seconds here, two minutes there — it’s subtle, but it really adds up. Banish those piles. Go through each one and dump every unnecessary paper. Throw it out or pass it on. As for the papers you need to keep, make sure each one fits into an appropriate folder. Create new folders right away and file all related papers together. Make use of those file cabinets your company assigned to you.
Make a master list.
After you’ve cleared the piles off your desk, you’ll need something to remind you of what has to be done. Make a list of every pending project that will command your attention — both short- term and long-term — preferably on a letter-sized pad, or in your Outlook “Tasks.” Keep the list on your desk or computer so you can refer to it throughout the day. Don’t bother writing down your daily goals in an appointment book. If you don’t get the task done that day, you’ll have to copy the information over to the next day and it might slip through the cracks. Use a computer planner that automatically moves unfinished tasks to the next day.
Any break during a hectic day will help you calm down, but those that work best are the ones you do every day and for at least 20 minutes. It doesn’t matter what you do with your time-out, as long as it changes the tempo of your day. You can meditate, play the piano, read poetry or take a walk.
People popping by your desk with questions, a phone that rings all day, even unnecessary email messages can be frustrating thieves of time and momentum. When you’ve got a project that requires lots of concentration, make an appointment with yourself just as you would for any other important meeting. Let your voice mail pick up your calls, close your office door, or hide out in the conference room where no one can find you. If your job requires you to spend a lot of time conferring with coworkers, establish regular “office hours” in which to do it. The same goes for returning phone calls.
It’s easy to get stressed out if you don’t know how to tackle a particular task, yet people are often afraid to ask questions. The fear is that it will undermine your credibility. However, if you nail down your obligations right from the start, you’ll not only save time but you’ll feel more in control.
Make your job fun.
Studies show that people enjoy their work most when they’re experiencing “flow” — a complete absorption in the activity at hand, a deep sense of exhilaration and clarity, and a feeling that there’s nothing else you would rather be doing. That’s probably not how most of us describe our work, but anyone can develop a knack for creating “flow” experiences at our jobs. The key is to approach work more as a game than a job. Invent tricks to make it more interesting. Transform stress into an opportunity to learn.
We often say, “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” The fact is we just don’t have the time to do everything. Decide which tasks deserve your all-out effort and let others do everything else. If you give everything the same priority, you won’t do anything well. By delegating, you’ll save time and produce better work, and you might also boost morale by showing others that you trust them.
Rules for reducing stress
Not all of us can be our own boss, but we can gain more control over workday stresses. One way is to take on more responsibility (without working longer hours). Get more engaged in how work gets done. Come to meetings prepared and contribute ideas, rather than doodle on your notepad. If you aren’t inspired by a new assignment, propose a better one. The less control people have over their work, studies show, the more likely they are to suffer stress-related illnesses, from frequent stomachaches to high blood pressure to heart disease.
For more workplace tips, visit ajilon.com.
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