OVERCOMING STRESS AT WORK
1. Defining Stress
Stress is unavoidable and a part of everyday life. Some stress is essential to normal functioning. Stress ranges from physical danger, to falling in love or achieving success. Major life changes or the accumulation of minor everyday worries can lead to stress. You need to know how to respond to these experiences to lessen the impact stress has on your life.
Stress can be environmental (e.g. weather, pollution, traffic), social (e.g. bereavements, disagreements, financial problems), physiological (e.g. illness, ageing, insufficient exercise and sleep, poor nutrition), or from your thoughts – your brain can turn on the ‘fight, flight, freeze or faint’ response (biochemical changes prepare your body to deal with danger).
Stressed people tend to view events as difficult or dangerous and consider that they do not possess the resources to cope. Stress related disease may result from chronic or persistent stress – if the stress response remains turned on.
Stress affects almost every system in your body, from being more susceptible to colds and flu, headaches and ulcers to exacerbating cancer, AIDS, arthritis, asthma and diabetes, to causing amenorrhoea (cessation of menstruation), impotency in men and loss of libido, depression and ageing.
Consider the changes that have occurred to you recently and how you can best adjust to these changes. What does each change mean to you and how do you feel about each experience? Plan ahead for any life changes you may anticipate and do not rush making decisions. Implementing effective coping strategies to deal with your stress will take time so be patient with yourself. Stress management is about finding the right types and amounts of stress for you to maximize your performance.
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2. How Stress Affects You and Your Job
Consider how the job you do at the moment, suits your character and personality. If your work does not meet your needs you are likely to become bored and frustrated, which can be stressful. Write down what you want from work (e.g. long-term employment prospects, challenging work, having responsibility, getting along with colleagues). Your work may satisfy your essential requirements but there may be aspects which are stressful.
Identify your personal values to see to what extent they are supported and developed by your work. Examples of personal values are wealth, health, religion, family, financial security, friends, honesty, loyalty etc.
There are three types of personality:
Aggressive – this personality type is prone to stress. Their enthusiasm and determination is valued but always striving to win can lead to frustration and anger. They need to direct their energy into attaining a healthy mental and physical state.
Calm – this personality type is relaxed and patient. Their approach to work can be just as effective as that of aggressive people.
Distressed – this personality type has a pessimistic view of life. They need to express their bottled up emotions so that their physical and mental health does not suffer.
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3. What Causes Stress at Work?
Common causes of stress in the work place are:
If you are working more than 40 hours a week you are not likely to be working at your best and are heading for damaged health. Also, this could result in mistakes and poor judgment in work tasks.
Do you feel you have too much work to do? Do you take work home and work unsociable hours? If the answers are ‘Yes’ then you need to improve your coping strategies and will be introduced to various techniques as you proceed with this program of self-help.
Your work environment:
Your surroundings influence the effectiveness of your performance and how you feel at work. Consider your work conditions and list three positive aspects and three negative aspects.
It is necessary to have adequate space and privacy; take regular breaks when working on a screen; you require sufficient natural light and good lighting; ensure you are comfortable and that the décor is stimulating – personalize your work space; air quality should be good; you may tolerate background noise but need to lower the noise level as otherwise, it will leave you feeling edgy and affect your concentration.
Conflict at work:
Make sure you are clear about the nature and scope of your role at work so that you can prioritize tasks and exercise the required level of responsibility without role ambiguity. You may experience role conflict where aspects of your job contradict other aspects. Perhaps your work conflicts with your personal values. There may be conflict between home and work – you need to establish boundaries to safeguard your personal life.
Consider your role at work – are you not sure what is expected of you? Are you facing conflicting demands? Identify how your work reflects and contradicts your personal values. Try to maintain a balance between home and work.
Lack of support from your manager can lead to loss of enthusiasm and de-motivation. When dealing with co-workers there may be personality clashes, differences of opinion, conflicting goals and misunderstandings. List the sorts of behaviours you find difficult (e.g. being criticized, saying ‘No’, and accepting praise).
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Criticism, Countering Self-Criticism, Coping with the Need for Approval and Improving Your Self-Image and Combating Self-Harm.
Reduce stress in relationships at work by improving your communication skills – listen actively, question constructively and be assertive.
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Social Skills Training, Communication Training, Negotiation Training, Troublesome Emotions and Program 13: Overcoming Destructive Relationships.
Too much or too little pressure can be harmful. You may feel incapable in aspects of your job (e.g. using technology or speaking at meetings). Lack of development and promotional opportunities can lead to dissatisfaction. If your work objectives are unclear, it can cause stress.
List aspects of work which cause you the most stress. Note the situation, how you feel and behave. To manage stressful aspects of your job – be clear about your strengths and weaknesses; your values and goals; communicate with appropriate people any source of pressure; be responsible for your development.
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4. Managing Stress at Work
Deal with distorted thinking.
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Modifying Maladaptive Thinking.
Perhaps you are using unhelpful coping strategies where you avoid dealing with a stressful situation directly. Do you deny what is happening? Do you blame others? Do you try to escape from the situation? Do you repress your feelings? Do you live in the past? Find out how you cope with stressful situations – write down situations, how you deal with them and the type of strategy you use (e.g. blaming others).
Consider the situation:
Decide what cannot be altered and why.
Decide what can be altered and how you would like the situation to be.
Decide how to change – you may be able to remove or reduce the stressor or look at the situation in a different way.
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Problem-Solving, Forgiveness, Program 6: Overcoming Anger, Program 8: Overcoming Anxiety, Program 12: Overcoming Depression and Program 15: Overcoming Grief And Bereavement.
Interpersonal skills influence the way others interact with you. Write down the situation, the desired outcome and the type of communication required. Assertive behaviour will help you manage stress.
Build your confidence.
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Assertiveness Training, Building Confidence I, Building Confidence II, Building Confidence III, Building Confidence IV, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Program 16: Overcoming Low Self-Esteem.
Write down your goals and why you want to achieve each goal. If the reason is inappropriate or irrelevant to your overall work aims, you will not be adequately motivated so cross out the goal.
Learn to prioritize and decide what should come first:
Something is important if it is in high value in relation to your goals and key tasks or will have a long-term effect on you and your life.
Something is urgent if it has to be done to meet a deadline.
To deal with interruptions, think about the interruptions that occur in a typical day. Identify those that occur frequently and plan how you will cut short the interruption (e.g. ‘I must get this finished now’).
Learn to fix things as it can be frustrating to have to wait for someone else to come and do it for you. Be organized and keep your workspace clutter free.
For further coping strategies:
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Competitiveness and Perfectionism, Frustration, Procrastination and Persistence.
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5. Further Strategies for Stress Relief
Change is inevitable and you need to regard it as an integral part of life, rather than stability. Life changes can be stressful – try to anticipate change and live with it. You must be responsible for what happens in your life rather than blaming others and external events, when things go wrong. You have the power and ability to influence what occurs and should behave in line with this belief.
Consider two stressful situations: What can you control? What is beyond your control? What positive thoughts will enable you to deal with the latter?
Having a well formulated back-up plan you can use immediately should your initial plan receive a setback, will make you feel more in control of your life. Regularly consider the pressures you are under and how you deal with them. You may have succeeded under pressure on a particular occasion. Try to relive the experience intensely when you are pressurized again, so that your fears are replaced with confidence.
Find an appropriate support system as this involvement with others and range of activities will give satisfaction in life. When creating your support system, include people who meet your needs in different ways (e.g. some may support you in emotional issues and others may be a good laugh).
Draw a circle in circles around it and put yourself in the central circle. Write the names and significance of people in your life in the remaining circles starting with the people closest to you and working outward. This will clarify your circles of support.
You need to be committed to your personal vision of life. Write down your purpose and direction in life and refer to this statement for all your actions and decisions.
It is necessary to have a healthy balance between work and other aspects of your life. Think about each area of your life (e.g. work, family, community, health, financial and spiritual). How much time and energy do you devote to each area and how much time and energy would you ideally like to devote to each area?
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Nutrition, Exercise, Managing Your Time and Sleep Management.
An activity schedule can ensure you make optimum use of your time.
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Planning an Activity Schedule.
You will have a number of different roles in your life (e.g. parent, daughter or son, friend and colleague). You have to maintain a balance between these roles. For each of your roles write down what you want to achieve and how you will achieve it.
List three goals for each area of your life. Note what you want to achieve. Give each goal a deadline. Write down how you will know you are succeeding.
Alternative working arrangements may restore some balance to your life (e.g. job-sharing, part-time working, flexi-time hours [vary schedule within prescribed limits] or compressed work week [more hours work daily for fewer days a week]).
Developing an optimistic attitude will enable you to deal positively with pressure. Language influences the way we feel. Use positive language which will build your optimism and confidence.
Giving and receiving praise can be greatly motivating and increases our confidence. When giving praise, identify what you think deserves to be admired and give praise succinctly. When accepting praise, maintain eye contact, smile and say thank you. Do not disagree with or qualify the praise or feel obligated to say something in return. If the praise is vague ask for more information.
Deal with your distress in situations you fear by exposure – FEAR (face everything and recover).
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Controlled Breathing and Relaxation Techniques, Eye Movement Technique (EMT), Mood Induction Procedure, Rational Emotive Imagery (REI), Imago Graded Exposure and In Vivo Graded Exposure.
Make sure you get adequate relaxation and recreation.
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Meditation, Creative Visualization, Autogenics, Self-Hypnosis and Program 22: Overcoming Stress.
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Employers need to deal with stress in their workplace to avoid possible legal action against the organization, by an employee, and to improve quality of life for the work force.
The employee should make a written complaint to make the employer aware, when they first suffer the symptoms of stress and then keep a record of all subsequent stressful situations.
It is the employer’s duty to deal with the situation once the employee has made the employer aware of the symptoms of stress. The employee may have grounds for a complaint against the employer if the employer’s negligence has contributed to a stress related illness.
See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Relapse Prevention.
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