Corporate Wellness; How to Hack Stress at Work

Learn how to manage workplace stress and deal with difficult people.

Whether we love our job or not, most of us get stressed at work from time to time. Sometimes a job can go beyond stress and be downright miserable. Here are some things you can do to take care of yourself and lower stressors at work.

Notice your triggers.

The word trigger is often used to describe a person or an event that can induce stress. We all have buttons that get pushed from time to time and when it happens at work, we need to be mindful on how to deal with them.

Some people are good at identifying their triggers and implementing coping mechanisms such as deep breathing or perspective shifting. While others may not notice their triggers, but find themselves feeling extremely stressed by the end of the day. This is why one person may blow off a bad meeting like nothing happened and another is still talking about it weeks later.

Simply noticing your triggers can take some of their power away. Especially when you change your expectations surrounding them. For example, if you hope your boss will lavish you with praise when you finish a project, but has never done so before, then it’s probably best to set a reasonable expectation for their response. Or if it really bothers you, you can talk to them about your lack of recognition. However, if that is just not how your boss operates, you can think outside the box by celebrating your success with a supportive coworker or taking the initiative to look for another job. Getting upset every time it happens is only hurting yourself.

In addition, sometimes bosses who don’t seem to be complimenting you a lot may be praising you often behind the scenes. Good work overtime will either get you noticed or set you up for your next position. So even if you are not getting constant paise, the satisfaction that comes with a job well done and having pride in your work, will keep your spirits high.

Set boundaries.

Have you ever had a coworker who complained a lot about being overworked, when they seemed to be taking on all that extra work themselves?

Sometimes we do more than our share due to anxiety, a need for control, or workaholism. None of these are generally good reasons to work ourselves sick. Take a look at why you are having difficulty setting boundaries. Consider what things you like to do and are required for your position; versus the extra things you are doing to please others. That’s a clue to where your boundaries lie.

If you are spending a lot of time helping peers, when this is not your job description, consider if you can cut back on this. Doing work for others generally doesn’t do much more than enable them to do less. If they are struggling, support them emotionally and help them make a plan to talk to the boss. It’s not your job to save others at work.

Take breaks and practice self-care.

Taking a break, going for a walk, getting up and stretching, or talking to a friend can break up a stressful day. Simply doing something different for five minutes can help. Here are some simple things you try to lower stress and improve your day:

  • Practice deep breathing. Breathe in deeply and breathe out slowly. When we get stressed, we tend to breath more shallow, taking deep breaths will pump oxygen into our bodies and energize us. Besides basic deep breathing you can implement 4 count deep breathing where you breathe in deeply for 4 seconds, hold it for four seconds, breath out for 4 seconds. In addition there are many mindfulness, meditation, and de-stressing apps that promote deep breathing if you prefer a guided deep breathing.
  • Take a mindful walk. If you can, get outside. Notice what colors you can see around you and the new surroundings. This will activate a different part of your brain, helping to calm you.
  • Turn on music. If you’re able to focus and work with music on, go for it. Otherwise, listen to your favorite album on your break. Create playlists for varying moods, like if you need to calm down or want to get motivated. Classical baroque music is proven to improve concentration and memory.
  • Listen to a podcast or audiobook on your break. This can offer a mini-vacation and help you feel like you’ve left the work environment, even if you can’t. Podcasts cover just about any topic you can think of — from moving up at work to spirituality or crafting projects. Find your niche.
  • Close messages down for a while, especially on breaks. Most people can’t respond to every e-mail all day while staying productive and sane. It can also get overwhelming dealing with two or three screens at a time. Depending on your job needs, put the phone away while you’re on your computer. Consider leaving your phone inside on your break.
  • Think about your long-term goals. If you’re working to pay off bills, go on a vacation, or advance your career, think about what this means. How will you feel when this is accomplished? This can make it easier to cope when you go back to work.

Stop being unrealistic with yourself.

Many people have expectations of themselves that they would never have of other people. If you’re dealing with an issue at home, or unprecedented problems due to a pandemic, give yourself a break.

You probably wouldn’t expect a friend to be productive every day, handle every issue perfectly, and never get frustrated in a work meeting. Don’t expect this of yourself. There’s probably no such thing as being perfect at work every single day.

Realize Telecommuting is Different

Many people are newly telecommuting. While many of the stressors are similar, there are some key differences and new challenges. Many managers fear that employees will stop being productive when they work from home and start working less hours. Sometimes the opposite is true, however. Without clear start and stop times, employees may find themselves working overtime.

Likewise, it can be hard to transition from workplace to home life if both are in the same place. Consider renewing or creating a ritual that helps your transition from one to the other. Ideas might include:

  • Shut down your computer and work programs at a given time. This sets a clear mental boundary for yourself, and a physical boundary for those you work with.
  • Change your physical environment during the transition. Go for a walk, a drive, or to pick up a smoothie. Then come home. Your body will start to get used to this change and it will help your mind transition to the next part of your day.
  • Add exercise within your day. At work, you might have been used to changing spaces, walking to meetings, or even in and out from the parking lot. We don’t do as much of that in a home work setting. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to stretch, take a break, and walk around a bit.

Address People Problems

Sometimes our problems at work go beyond the need for basic self care. We’re doing everything right, but those around us make it nearly impossible to work.

People who leave a job most often report that it’s due to the workplace management or culture. It’s less often about the work itself. At least pre-pandemic, many people spent more time at work than they did anywhere else. That’s a lot of time if it’s a place that makes you unhappy.

A workplace bully may be trying to get control in at least one area of their life, similar to a playground bully. Those who often complain they are overlooked and underappreciated may have felt that way since childhood. They’re now subconsciously taking on that role at work.

Then there’s workplace politics. Sometimes the “Employee of the Month” or who gets a promotion is more about who gets along with peers or the boss best and less about plain hard work. Some workplaces value teamwork over productivity, or vise versa. It makes work a tricky maze of politics.

Here’s a look at the two personnel problems people usually struggle with, and ideas that might help.

Difficult bosses

Anyone who’s been in the workplace for a while has probably dealt with a difficult manager from time to time. A boss that’s not in touch or a clear communicator can make it very frustrating for employees. You may feel dismissed, misunderstood, or like expectations are totally unrealistic. What’s the fix?

As an employee, it may feel like your options are limited, but here are some options you might consider.

If your boss is way out of line such as harassing you or others, being intimidating, or acting in a dangerous manner, then a talk with human resources may be appropriate. Your workplace may have a protocol to follow in this case; refer to your onboard training or ask a trusted colleague for advice if possible. Those with more experience at the organization may be helpful.

Before you consider another job or you can try these tips to get along better with your boss.  

  • Seeing things from their perspective. Middle managers are famously stuck between the needs of employees and upper management. We often perceive them to have more power than they do. Sometimes what’s best for those under them is in contradiction with what their bosses want. That puts them in a bind and the pressure they are putting in you may really be coming from upper level deadlines.
  • Notice when they are being a helpful boss. If your boss has been difficult in the past, you may stop noticing when they’re being helpful and working with your needs. There are cases where your boss is doing their best but are limited in their options due to budgets. When we focus too much on when they are not being helpful, we can lose sight of the good things they do, do for us.
  • Talk to them directly about your issue. Many of us assume our bosses know what we’re struggling with. Often, they’re caught up in so many aspects of managing they really don’t. They may believe your problem is typical workplace conflict and not get the nuances of it. Explain your point of view and depending on your boss’s personality, have a solution in mind to offer.
  • Accept them where they’re at. As dark as it sounds, your boss maybe unlikely to change. If they’re usually grumpy, rarely reward extra work, or constantly scrutinize your work, they will probably keep doing so. That’s not your fault, and it’s not something you should necessarily accept. At this point you may need to consider if the steady paycheck it worth the benefit of putting up with them and stop taking their behavior personally, or you may decide its time to find a new position.

Difficult coworkers

There’s few things more miserable than having daily conflicts with those you work with. Sometimes people go way overboard, targeting new coworkers or those with less power. Often workplace bullies, those who are rude and ridiculing of others at work, target those they are most threatened by.

If this person is not your manager, then firmly standing up to them may do the trick. Once they know you’re not going to be a punching bag, they will back off. If they don’t, then talking to the boss or HR may be in order.

Sometimes the person you’re dealing with isn’t targeting or bullying you. You simply push each other’s buttons or have different life views or values. In this case, revisiting boundaries, and understanding why they upset you, can be helpful.

Ask yourself why this person bothers you as much as they do. Do you hope to be liked or accepted by them? Do you feel professionally threatened by them in some way? Do they have different work styles or values than you, and if so, could you accept that?

Just like talking to your boss, sometimes a frank conversation can clear the air. Talk to them about whatever conflict is happening, listen to their side, and express yours.

Other times, realizing that they are no more or less valuable than you can be helpful. You were hired just like them, to do a job, and you both have the right to do it. You might be the senior employee or the new kid on the block. You both have an important perspective to offer.

There are many ways work can be stressful. Understanding yourself and your coworkers better can help you be less reactive to problems. Taking care of your basic needs and adding in some self-care routines can help you be more productive, calmer, and maybe even happier at work.

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