Monday Mornings with Madison


“Stress” continues to be the number one buzz word circulating around water coolers these days. Those that haven’t lost their job, worry that they will. Those who are still working have seen their workload increase, downtime vanish, and duties expand beyond their expertise (and any conceivable 40-hour work week)… while constantly being reminded about how grateful they should be to even have a job. 

Stop and take a few deep breaths. In, out. OK?  Here are some things to help you understand stress and deal with it better. The tips below are meant to help you prevent stress from taking a serious toll on your health — and your career.

Step 1:  Understand Stress – Pinpoint the source of your anxiety.

What is stress?  According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, stress is simply your reaction — either positive or negative — to change.  So a certain amount of daily stress is normal. When stress places prolonged or extreme pressure on your coping mechanisms, it can become a clinical problem that requires professional help. Continually high levels of stress can wreak havoc on digestive and nervous systems, leading to ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, recurrent headaches, high blood pressure and heart attacks.  The psychological impact can result in burnout (losing interest in work) and depression.

There are two sources of workplace stress. Understanding the difference between the two is the first step in learning how to cope.

Internal: Stress may come from how you perceive your situation. The very thoughts you have can worsen your stress reaction. For example, one day your boss emerges from a long, closed-door meeting looking upset. Then he e-mails you requesting a meeting. You may immediately think you’re facing the ax.  According to doctors, just imagining a catastrophe is enough to trigger your body to go into a stress reaction.

External: Outside factors, like toxic work environments, can also drive workplace stress. Common characteristics of stress-inducing environments include authoritarian or non-communicative supervisors, socially isolating work, and jobs that require a lot of effort but offer little reward.

Whether the source of the stress is internal or external, such factors can produce strong – and possibly damaging — physiological responses.

Handling Internal Stress.  You may not be able to eliminate the stimulus, but you can learn to change your response and calm your mind. Start keeping a list of everything in your day that causes stress. Is there something new or different in your work life? Do certain colleagues make your blood boil? Pinpoint how every item on the list makes you feel.  Then ask yourself, “Is my reaction appropriate or over the top?” This step is key, because once you understand the source of your emotions, you can find a healthier way to deal with them.

Handling External Stress.  If you are in a toxic work environment or have a toxic boss, eliminating the source of the problem (i.e., finding another job) may be the most effective solution in the long term.  Or if you’re just carrying more work than you can possibly handle, it may be a while before your company hires more help.  But until the job market rebounds, find ways to regain a sense of control over your time and your surroundings. For example, if you must endure a two-hour commute in rush-hour traffic to arrive at the office by 9 a.m., try to start your workday earlier so you avoid the worst time to travel. If you can’t stand your colleagues, shut your office door or take your work to a conference room for part of the day. Next week, we will look at how to express and expel stress without destroying your career. 

“If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.”
George Burns, US actor & comedian (1896 – 1996)

© 2009 – 2012, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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