According to the American Psychological Association, at least 60% of Americans experience job-related stress; additionally, the AMA estimates that up to 90% of primary doctor visits can be linked to stress.
Even if you’re passionate about your work and/or working in your vocational area, you’re not immune to job stress. One of the biggest problems with job-related stress is that it’s difficult for most people to isolate the stress at work, and taking it home impacts your health and personal life… which then impacts your life at work – vicious cycle.
How can you tell if your job is causing you stress?
Sometimes we’re so wrapped up in the midst of everything that we can’t even see that we’re stressed, so we need to watch out for these symptoms:
- Do you find yourself thinking nobody gets me or nobody understands what I’m going through?
- Does it seem like nothing is right and that nobody can do anything right? For example, when you get home and see your kids’ toys out, does it cause anger that they just can’t clean up, or do you get frustrated with your wife that that dinner isn’t ready as soon as you get home?
- Are you overly and easily irritated – do people around you feel like they’re walking on eggshells (experiencing more fights with your loved ones)?
- Are you having trouble sleeping or staying asleep? Note: this doesn’t mean you’re staying awake at night thinking about your job (though sometimes it does); your worries also exist in your subconscious – which keeps you from sleeping without you recognizing the main source.
- Are you “escaping” more – in the form of alcohol, drugs, over-eating, overindulging, drinking more caffeine, even playing on your phone more? Even seemingly “healthy” escapism can be a signal – are you taking spinning classes before and after work – these could be simply tensing your body up in addition to tensing your mind, if they’re being used as a form of escape instead of physical release. Even over-dieting in an effort to compensate for lack of control of your stress can be masked as “healthy.”
How can I cope with job stress once I realize it’s affecting me?
If you believe your job is causing you stress, consider implementing a few of these coping skills to alleviate your job-related anxiety:
Physical changes to alleviate job stress: these tend to be the easier fixes, as they’re the things that are physically right in front you:
Consider this: stress is a signal that you’re not making yourself a priority; you can’t pour from an empty cup – whether it’s in your personal or professional life.
- Establish a clear transition between work and home – not just a physical shift moving from office to home, but a mental one, too. There’s no point in you being physically home if you’re not mentally home for 2-3 hours after arrival. A few simple ways to do this: change outfits or shower as soon as you get home, or simply sit in your car for 20-30 minutes to decompress prior to walking through the door.
- Get 7 or more hours of sleep. Don’t think for a second that you can survive on anything less – less than 3% of the population is able to do so. When you don’t get enough sleep, your cognitive functions (including rational decision making), emotions, and even physical body suffer.
- Drink more water. Like sleeping, water has a huge impact on your brain’s cognitive function – just 2 hours of dehydration reduces your problem-solving, attention, and coordination.
- Turn digital off sooner. Blue light exposure stimulates your optical nerve, causing the brain to think it’s still daylight, which means it won’t produce the necessary neurochemicals to get you to sleep. Turn the television, iPad, and even e-readers off (unless they don’t have a background light) and put the phone face down and on Do Not Disturb at least 1 hour before bedtime.
- Limit caffeine intake to 2 cups of coffee/caffeinated tea per day.
- Take the lunch break. It doesn’t have to be to eat lunch (though you must be eating your 3 meals or snacks throughout the day), but it does have to be a momentary disconnect from what’s at hand. You know how the best ideas come in the shower? Because that’s a time when you’re disconnected from everything – work, your phone, even your family. Give yourself that during the day at least once.
- Stand up. Every hour, on the hour, stand up and take a few steps around the office (or outside, if it’s available). Take a few deep breaths and recalibrate. You’d be surprised at what 10 deep, quality inhales and exhales can do for you when you feel like the world is falling to pieces around you.
- Don’t skip the meals (and nutritional foods). Do you work through the entire day, eat one meal at the end because you’re “too busy” to eat throughout the day? Doing this literally puts your body in fight-or-flight mode – it’s storing everything you give it, afraid of never getting food again. There are affordable meal replacement bars and at any time – there is no excuse for not providing your body with the nutrition it needs to function optimally.
Mental changes to make to alleviate job stress:
These are often the “tougher” things to address – they can feel sticky, heavy, and even confusing – especially if you haven’t identified the exact source of what’s causing the stress. Consulting a license professional is one of the best ways to make this process easier.
- Strive for progress toward excellence, not perfection. Nothing and nobody are perfect, and Rome wasn’t built in a day. Small, progressive steps toward excellence are what will get you to success – not perfection. Why do you think there’s a new iPhone every year (with limited, tiny changes)? Because perfection is unattainable – and improvements happen incrementally.
- Recognize that the work never being done is a good thing: The work is never finished and never will be. If it was, you wouldn’t have a job anymore!
- Drop expectations. Stress results from the difference between what you think something should be/want it to be and how/what things are. It’s what causes irritation (to piggyback off our previous example, it’s the toys that haven’t been picked up that you expected to be picked up when you walked into your home). We’re not saying to have zero expectations – but reserve the expectations to yourself – after all, you are the only thing that’s in your control.
- Be grateful. This may seem cliché, but an attitude of gratitude shifts your whole perspective. It corrects the stress-inducing foundational belief that things here and now are different than they should be. The easiest way to kick your gratitude into high gear is to write (or say to yourself) 3 things your grateful for, right before you go to sleep and right after you wake up, every day. These can be the same 3 things every time, everyday – the roof over your head, the job you do have, the family/friends you can lean on…
- Seek therapy, mentorship, or counseling. Nobody can manage everything alone. The highest-performing athletes, CEOs, and entrepreneurs have therapists and/or mentors – having one is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength. Consider it a tool in your professional and personal development arsenal.