By Heather Boerner
Stress is inevitable. But the debilitating strain of chronic work stress is not, even if you're in an inherently stressful profession.
In fact, learning to manage your stress is likely to improve your career, according to career coach Julie Jansen, author of You Want Me to Work with Who? Eleven Keys to a Stress-Free, Satisfying and Successful Work Life -- No Matter Who You Work With.
"The No. 1 tip I give to people who want to get ahead at work is 'manage your stress,'" she says. "People who are stressed act out, and behaving badly can mean that when a promotion comes up, you'll be passed over."
Consider these tips for recognizing and managing work stress:
"The most important thing [you] can do is have awareness of both what's causing the stress and how you're responding to it," says Dr. Steven Rolfe, principal of the Boswell Group, a business consultancy in New York City.
Focus on your stress response and pinpoint causes:
- What activities, duties or people leave you feeling drained?
- What or who causes your neck pain, headaches or racing heartbeat?
- What tasks or situations do you avoid?
- How do you talk to yourself about your stress? What stories do you tell?
While you probably can't control layoffs or reorganizations, there are things you can control -- and you should focus on those, says Diane Lang, a health and wellness counselor in New York City.
"I had a client who couldn't leave her job at the moment because she was a single parent," she said. "So we made a list of everything she could control and worked on the list."
Such a list might include focusing on improving your own job performance and setting short- and long-term goals for changing jobs.
"Don't hold your breath" is a cliche for a reason. When people are stressed, they literally forget to breathe, says Jeffrey Brantley, director of mindfulness-based stress reduction at Duke University's Center for Integrative Medicine and a co-author of Five Good Minutes at Work: 100 Mindfulness Practices to Help You Relieve Stress and Bring Your Best to Work.
Even taking a few minutes to breathe deeply can calm your body's stress-spurred flight-or-fight response.
First Things First
"You cannot get control of your stress without getting control of yourself physically," says Karissa Thacker, a Delaware-based management psychologist.
So go back to basics:
- Sleep. Your body may need more rest to deal with the stress.
- Avoid excess. "Stress is a physiological phenomenon that is immediately increased by lots of sugar or alcohol, which stress the system," says Thacker.
- Move your body. You don't have to train for a marathon. Even taking the dog for a walk will help clear your mind.
Change Your Pattern
Try this: Talk to someone at work you haven't visited in awhile. Go out to lunch if you usually eat at your desk. Introduce yourself to someone new. Do something to interrupt the usual cycle of stress and anxiety.
"Humans are routinized creatures," Thacker says. "Upset the routine, and you will also unfreeze the thought and emotional patterns that are keeping you constantly worked up."