Recognising you are stressed at work is often very difficult until you actually have obvious symptoms. Even then you attribute the symptoms to something else and don’t do anything to change your situation and therefore reduce the stress. So what happens is that it builds up gradually (while you’re trying to push through your life, or go around it!) and you don’t realise you are stressed until it has such a hold on you that you are almost incapable of doing anything about it.
This is when you break down at work one day, often over some very minor thing, and have to go home. Or you have a minor car accident because you just didn’t see the car you ran directly into. Or you literally just can’t get out of bed one morning to go to work because you are so fatigued. Or you make a very serious error at work that you wouldn’t normally make. Or the worst scenario, you completely lose all perspective so great is the stress and unable to cope anymore, attempt to, or do, take your own life.
Some Indications that You are Stressed at Work.
- You are constantly in “overwhelm” mode with no indication that anything will change in the foreseeable future.
- You are irritable, short and intolerant with everyone much of the time.
- You are constantly tired and fatigued, even when you have had a good sleep.
- You are taking more days off work with on-going minor, but genuine, illnesses.
- You are constantly having minor accidents – near misses in the car, running into the back of someone’s car, cutting your finger, tripping over, running into a door – all due to lack of concentration.
- You don’t want to go to work because
– of a difficult manager
– low morale in the organisation,
– no longer committed to the job and need a change,
– bullying, harassment, victimisation from other staff.
- You are working very long hours and taking work home every night and at week-ends.
- You are experiencing physical pain in your body but nothing shows up in tests.You are not sleeping, or you go to sleep but wake up at 3 a.m. and can’t go back to sleep.
- You are drinking more alcohol than normal, eating more cakes and chocolate or smoking more.
- You are becoming negative and depressed about everything and have a great sense of powerlessness to change anything.
- You are having headaches, even migraines, which are not normal for you.
- You are constantly anxious and apprehensive inside.
- Day and night, you are completely pre-occupied and worried about something you are having to do at work.
- You are skipping meals and when you do eat you eat junk.
- You haven’t time for people, either family or friends.
So If Any of This is You, What Do You Do?
1. Stop, Look and Listen.
You have to stop, step back and get some perspective. You have to begin to take control of your life before something or someone else does.
You need to look at what is happening to you and realise that you can’t keep living your life this way. Acknowledge that you are not working very effectively or productively anyway at this moment.
Listen to what the people who care about you are saying because if you are experiencing what is written above then those close to you will be concerned about what is happening to you – even if you’re not acknowledging it yet.
Take a half day or a full day off work. Give yourself a commitment free week-end. Go sit in the park or take a walk along the beach. Better still take some holidays. Spend some honest time with yourself – without the comfort (and distraction) of the glass of wine, chocolate bar or a cigarette.
What Challenges You About This?
Most people who are experiencing the symptoms above will not acknowledge that they are stressed. In fact they are often annoyed when someone suggests it, as if it is a slight on their competence. Yet everyone around them can see they are stressed in the way they are acting and behaving.
So the first step in changing is acknowledging that family, friends and supportive colleagues are seeing you more clearly than you are seeing yourself at this point in time – and doing what they suggest.
2. Take Some Time Off – A Break.
Of course, you will say that you can’t afford the time. Sometimes it is difficult to take time off when you know you should because of a particular commitment. You need, however, to make some interim responses in this situation.
- Organise a break, ideally in the next 4-6 weeks. Diary it and determine to let nothing get in its way.
- Make sure the break is stress free. A “touristy” holiday is not what is needed. Neither will a holiday at some ritzy hotel with lots of wine and fine rich food help. What is needed is a break to unwind and stress down with no commitments or time tables. Sometimes you can do this at home. Sometimes a B & B in the country is a better option.
- Release the pressure by taking small “breaks”. Take a lunch break and get out of the office. Stand up from your desk periodically and stretch and do some shoulder and neck exercises that relax you.
- Make a decision to be out of the office by 6 p.m. at the latest every night and don’t come to the office before 8.30 at the earliest in the morning.
- Stop taking work home at night and at the week-ends. This will all begin to make small differences until you can take some leave.
These are short term strategies, not long term solutions.
3. Re-assess Your Life and What’s Important.
- What’s driving you?
- What price are you paying for it?
- Is it worth what you are paying?
- What are you gaining living your life as you are?
- What are you missing out on?
Make decisions to change your life. Put first things first.
If you can’t do this reassessment by yourself go and see a professional coach/mentor/counsellor and work it through with him/her.
Decide what you can change. Work out what you need to do to change those things. Determine the things that are outside your control which you can’t change. Decide how you will respond to those things in a way that doesn’t stress/distress you.
Develop new work habits – how to work smarter, not longer and harder. Learn what you need to learn to do differently. Get a coach to help you – at least in the short term.
4. Start Putting Your Health and Well-Being First.
Diet – eat as much natural, unprocessed food as possible. A protein rich diet is very helpful with stress. Consider vitamin supplements – at least as a short term measure. Cut the caffeine, alcohol, sugar, fat. Drink lots of water.
Exercise – a great stress reliever. Find exercise that fits your life-style. Increase your incidental exercise – walk up stairs instead of taking the elevator, park further away from work and walk, for example.
Relaxation – teach yourself to switch off. Learn some strategies. Find a hobby, sport or activity that takes you into a different space where you relax and let go.
5. “Cement” the Change in You Life.
You know what cement does. It hardens and provides extra strong support. It’s not easy to move. This is what you have to do with the changes you make in your life to ensure you manage the stress that is part of all your professional and business life today. Much you may not be able to avoid. You can, however, learn to manage it more effectively by developing strategies to ensure you don’t slip backwards.