Practical steps for reducing your stress at work

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Part of my job as a psychologist is to observe – observe patterns of behavior, be attune to my own thoughts and feelings, and to derive some potentially helpful information from patterns I see.   I have observed some factors in life that really wear people down – they are not really hidden but are often subtle. Sometimes they are obvious and plain, but people (both the person experiencing the aspect of life as well as those around them) tend to minimize the impact the issue has on their life.

So let me share some of my observations (remember, psychologists are often ‘masters of the obvious!’)

The Busyness of Daily Life

People are busy — at work, at home, with their families.  There seems to be little “margin” built into our lives — we are scheduled from dawn to midnight, with little time for rest and re-energizing.  Both managers and employees state that the major reason appreciation isn’t communicated more is because of busyness.  In fact, I devote a whole chapter in The Vibrant Workplace to the issue of why we are so busy at work and steps to create some “space” for each of us.

Health Issues and Chronic Pain

Individuals who struggle with chronic pain are well aware of how even persistent low levels of pain can wear a person down. But those of us who are blessed not to have this struggle can experience it intermittently. Not too long ago my right ankle started bothering me – it was sore and swollen after I ran (using the term “run” loosely). I ignored it for a while but it persisted, so I finally decided to go have it checked out. After seeing my doctor and getting some tests, it turns out I have partially torn a tendon in my ankle. What has amazed me, however, is how this small injury and relatively mild level of pain can take a toll on my energy.

Financial Stress

Obviously, many in our country are experiencing significant stress in their lives due to a number of economic factors – loss of their job, reduction of hours and pay, foreclosure on their home. And the impact of these events on people’s lives is huge. But many, many other Americans are experiencing a lower level of financial stress that is more under the surface – wondering if they will continue to have a job in the coming months; lower cash flow that leads to deficiencies in their plans to pay for childcare, private school or college; or the family budget just being tighter on a month to month basis.

Loneliness or Lack of Emotional Support

A chronic complaint I hear from many people is that they don’t feel connected to anyone. Yes, they may be married and have children – and they may even have a decent marital relationship. But most people need more than one person with whom to connect, feel cared for, and have a sense of community. Teenagers, single young adults, stay-at-home moms, successful business people, older adults – all talk to me about their frustration in building meaningful, lasting relationships with others in their lives.

Significant Life Changes

Fall is one of the most transient times of the year – children are going to new schools, young adults have entered or returned to college, individuals who work in educational settings are staring new positions, graduates from last spring are still to figure out where they are going to work and live.  Life change can be stimulating and exciting and at the same time anxiety-producing.

Relational Conflicts

All of us who have experienced (or are experiencing) relational stress understand both the emotional and physical toll taken by living in relationships where conflict is present. Physical symptoms can include sleep disturbance, headaches, fatigue, upset stomach, or back and shoulder tension. Recently, I had a professional relationship that created tension and turmoil in my life – and it just wore me out. It wasn’t even a major conflict, but an issue that took a while to address, and I could sense its impact on me daily.

Lack of Purpose or Direction

When people don’t know “where they are going,” or if they don’t see a larger purpose for their life and what they are doing, not only can they become discouraged, but they can also become fatigued emotionally. They just drag throughout the day and run out of energy doing regular daily life tasks. Seeing how today relates to the “big picture” of life seems to be important.

So what should we do with these non-surprising observations? I think there are at least two practical action steps that flow from the points.

First, take a self-inventory

How many of these factors are you currently experiencing in your life? Does their presence help make some sense of your recent lack of energy and tiredness? If so, acknowledge these stressors present in your life. Give yourself some slack. Regroup and assess what steps you need to take to either address the stressors or to manage your life better while they are present.

Secondly, be aware of those around you

See if the people in your life (family members, friends, co-workers, classmates) have these issues going on in their lives. Be gracious and supportive to them. Be a friend. Be patient with them if they aren’t “performing” up to their normal functioning (whether it’s at home, work or elsewhere).

Life is tough; sometimes more than other times. Hang in there. We are all in this together (we really are). If you are doing okay, help somebody else out. It will be your turn eventually.

This article first appeared on Appreciation Blog.