USA Wellness Café
Stress Management Take-Out Course:
Managing Job-Related Stress

Written by Staff Writers of USA Wellness Café ™

All sorts of issues, ranging from work overload to difficult co-workers, can affect your contentment as an employee. This is true for any job setting. Just when you get one work-related problem under control, another taxing issue will often arise.

Even if you enjoy the work you perform, it’s likely that “people problems” will place you under strain on a regular basis. Co-workers, clients and supervisors can certainly keep your job pressures consistent.

Erratic schedules, fear of job loss, workplace politics and a host of other problems stacked on top of people-related problems can create a mountain of stress. Driving home from work, you may have to talk to yourself to maintain your sanity and focus. Just thinking about these difficulties can keep you tossing and turning almost every night!

After a time, the anxiety about your work problems can cause enough stress to impose serious mental health issues. You might ask your doctor for a sleeping pill or pour yourself three glasses of wine after dinner.

Key Point

Gaining skills to deal with job-related stress requires that you find control in many areas--even if it‘s just a tiny measure of control in those areas.

If you already feel like a twisted pretzel trying to cope, it can be daunting to even think about what to do. It might seem difficult to set aside just five minutes of time to reflect on a stressful situation. You’re already running on the treadmill, so slowing down to figure out what to do might seem like a luxury you can’t afford.

Instead, it can be easier to drag yourself home, put your feet up and zone out watching TV. You try to push a workplace argument out of your mind or forget an angry phone call from the boss. The only problem with trying to forget the job stress each day is this: When you’ve relaxed and cleared your head a bit, you realize nothing has changed!

You may fantasize about quitting your job, but that can be scary. What if you can’t find another? What if you can’t afford health insurance while you’re unemployed? The thought of giving up security for the unknown likely sends a flutter of panic through your system. You can see your home, family, and semi-comfortable existence fading into thin air.

Before you quit your job or vow to stay put for another five years, let’s review ways to address job-related stress. If you improve your coping skills and figure out all of the things you do have control over, you can then gauge whether it’s a good idea to leave your current position or hang on.

Politics Require Street Smarts

It’s important to know how to play the workplace politics game, especially. This involves behaving and reacting in ways that stabilize the company team without ignoring your own needs in the process. How people team up to grab power, which may exclude you altogether, is a reality game we all must play. It’s a fact of life and it’s not going away.

While figuring out which moves to make or not make, you have to ensure all of your personal power isn’t stripped away. It pays to play it cool, if at all possible.

Let’s take a look at how a workplace politics scenario can affect you. For example, you may get all excited about a new promotion you anticipate receiving. Then suddenly, the boss allows his nephew to take the job.

Instead of purchasing a new boat you’ve dreamed of with your raise, you’re now stuck with two problems: no boat, plus the stress of dealing with unfair nepotism. You might fantasize about strangling the boss’s nephew along with the boss. But, you’ve got to keep cool, go back in the lion’s den, and make yourself function to keep food on the table.

These tips can help:

  • Tell yourself the absolute truth. Truth is a terrific navigational tool. For example, if the boss’ nephew deserved the promotion, admit it. If you know you’ve been slammed at your place of work, admit it. Truth becomes your friend this way, and you can plan accordingly.
  • Steer clear of extreme thinking. You don’t want to push your own emotions to the limit, which is very draining. Avoid thinking, “My life is a total mess,” or “I was an idiot to take this job.” Find more stable, sane thoughts to reflect upon such as: “I will figure out how to deal with this situation step by step.”
  • Find an intelligent listener. When you share feelings of hurt, doubt and anxiety, you can get a better picture of your own life. Saying the words out loud to someone who can provide decent feedback helps put things into perspective.

“I once had job problems that I tried to ignore,” says a marketing expert we’ll call Angelina. “My boss was cruel, demanding and not mentally healthy in any regard. So what did I do as trained peacemaker from a dysfunctional family? I tried to explain away his hurtfulness.”

Angelina says her boss was actually doing a lot of cocaine and ended up having a traffic accident that killed someone. “When I saw him on the news, I knew my kind, caring ways did not help him or me. I’d spent three years covering insanity! I should have taken a better route--one leading to a different job!”

If Angelina had told herself the truth (her boss was cruel and not acting normal), she could have staked out new territory for herself--at another company or by starting her own business. Deluding oneself is a dangerous way to live. Truth is a wonderful form of protection!

In typical workplace situations, stress comes and goes in cycles. You can’t very well quit your job every time the boat starts rocking. But, it does help to create harmony outside of work. This keeps workplace stress in perspective. If you’re having a healthy private life, this helps you gauge your professional life more objectively. You can determine when things will improve or not, if you are a healthier person.

Over-focusing on things at work, in good times or bad, will backfire after a time. You’ll have less patience and often over-judge co-workers who are simply having a bad day. Work can’t take the place of family, friends, recreation, and a host of other things you need for work/life balance.

Having things to look forward to after work prevents you from soaking up too much negativity at work. If you’re going out to dinner with friends, you can ignore a hateful person more easily or encourage a lazy person with more vigor or a sense of humor, if this is appropriate for the situation. If your own emotional bank account is full, you can “lend” some of your strength to other people during the day.

Make Decisions That Work in Reality

Key Point

Those who are doing wrong are especially fearful of calm people. If you’re cool-headed, they know you can report them in a focused and credible manner, if they’re doing strange or criminal things.

When you take good care of your own emotions, you can trust those emotions more fully. There’s a voice inside each of us that usually tells us the truth, if we listen to it.

For instance, if your innermost feelings tell you that no advancement or significant raise in pay is forthcoming at work, you may want to spend your mental energy creating a home-based business that you run on weekends. This way, you might expand that weekend business into a full-time job if you decide to quit your present job.

Look at all the choices you do have when you feel backed into a corner. It’s amazing how much control you can find if you use a bad situation to prompt you to make better choices. In fact, if life gets rocky, pay attention to what you need! Things going south are wake-up calls telling you boldly that you need to take care of you!

Always look at every single option you possibly can as you move through life. Ask: What jobs am I qualified for? How can I expand my skills to make myself more marketable? Where would I really like to be in five years or ten years? What kind of additional training do I need?

To stabilize yourself, act in ways you can be proud of. Pretend you’re coaching yourself to come out as a winner versus a loser. For example, don’t compromise your dignity by talking about a co-worker in a demeaning way. But do speak up when something huge is at stake. Just make sure you don’t take the heat for the negative or dangerous actions of others.

“As a young nurse, I was working with a woman who was stealing drugs,” says a nurse practitioner we’ll call Deanna. “Boy, was I in a pickle. I had to decide to report this person, keep quiet, or confront this person. When I called HR for support, they told me to go into the company website and type in the information anonymously! Yeah, right. Like no one would figure out who spilled this criminal accusation.”

Deanna says she realized other people knew about the drugs. And now, HR clearly knew about the problem, too. But, HR was trying to point the bullets straight at Deanna--while she innocently became the voice of reason (forcing her to channel blame and a possibly face litigation for attempted character defamation) in an untenable situation.

“I typed an anonymous letter to the hospital attorney and hospital CEO,” says Deanna. “This way, higher ups had to confront the situation--or at least investigate it properly. The culprit needed to be fired, for heaven’s sake! My typing in a report on the hospital website was nonsense. And, this delay was dangerous to the patients who needed the stolen drugs on our floor.”

The nurse stealing the drugs was fired after a short investigation. Deanna believes the hospital hired an outside private investigation firm, which saved employees from coming face-to-face with the issue.

“Workplace politics can make you feel alone, weak, professionally inadequate, and partially insane,” says a pharmacy tech we’ll call Sharon. “I once worked with a guy who was OCD to the max. He had a weird method of filling pixels with pills that fit numbers in his head. He’d arbitrarily place 50 pixels in one, 85 in another, and various amounts in the rest. If the exact count was not maintained by the techs, he’d go crazy on us!”

Sharon laughs, “Just try explaining this kind of person to the higher-ups! They’d look at us like we needed psychiatric help for reporting such a thing, but I swear, this guy was for real. We finally got the pharmacy manger to monitor this obsessive-compulsive weirdo, and he was too chicken to require this OCD man to get some professional help. The manger found another reason to firm him instead, thank God!”

Here are some important strategies for job stress:

  • Have a sense of humor. It’s probably the one thing that will keep you sane in an insane setting.
  • The crazier things are, the calmer you must remain. When you’re calm, you’re in control and you can think straight.
  • The crazier things are, the slower you must move. If a volcano of stress is about to blow at work, move like a turtle. This way, you can calculate your words, reactions and input.
  • Realize your true place on the totem pole. If you’re down on the bottom, realize it and take a step back. Document craziness or wrongdoing very carefully.

“Keep in mind that the person on the bottom of the pole has the power to turn the power structure over,” says a senior marketing manager at a major bank we’ll call Faith. “Loaded with facts in a bad situation, which you’ve documented, you carry a lot of weight if called into a meeting with the boss.”

Try to avoid being mean-spirited and always take the high road, however. If you like and respect people, you will gain respect in sticky situations. People tend to trust any worker’s opinion if he or she truly likes and respects others.

“It always a good idea, I think, to blame situations,” says Faith. “This way, you don’t have to point your finger in somebody’s face. You say to your manager, for example, ‘Bill, I think the night shift has a lot of dedicated workers, but maybe they just have a little too much freedom and not enough supervision.’”

Faith is right. By describing the situation and what’s gone wrong, you’re not lacing up anyone’s neck for a public hanging. You’re simply stating that the problem is out there. With some changes, perhaps it can be fixed.

Keep a Broad Perspective on Life and Work

Remember that it’s vital to create harmony outside of work. Having things to look forward to when you’re not working helps balance the stress. For instance, if the boss is demanding to the max, you may want to spend your mental energy creating a home-based business that you run on weekends.

Look at all the choices you do have when you feel backed into a corner. It’s amazing how much control you can find if you use a bad situation to prompt you to make better choices.

In order to get better answers, you have to ask better questions, such as:

  • How long do I want to stay in this job?
  • Will I be happy working here five more years?
  • What training would I need to change career fields?
  • How can I devise a way to get unstuck?

Job burnout is a major issue with many American workers. They feel trapped on a treadmill that seems to go absolutely nowhere. Keep in mind, that your choices--decisions you act on--are powerful. Start with tiny steps and try to create something better in your imagination only. Then, transfer your new vision into reality.

Envision These Steps

A factory worker we’ll call Allan hated working in a car parts factory. In his early forties, Allan felt trapped between job security and growing older in a job he’d grown tired of. The job was a godsend when Allan was younger with a wife and two small children. But, Allan was now ready to do something else.

Here’s how he slowly changed his job stress situation:

  • He cleaned out a shed on the back of his property, remodeling it into a garage.
  • He started a car detailing business on weekends. His two teenage sons did most of the work in this garage.
  • Allan’s wife, a marketing major, created brochures for the new service.
  • Within months, the family rented a commercial building and got a business license.
  • Allan moved the business into the new building and hired two full-time employees.

Did Allan move from his job at the car parts factory? No. He took additional training and became a company supervisor. This took two years.

“Our family car detailing business brings in three times more net income than I make at the factory,” says Allan. “But, I feel better about my job because I’m not 100 percent dependent upon it. I plan to stay here for a few more years and then expand the car detailing business even more.”

Why Job Stress Escalates

Most of us will burn out at any job if we attach to much effort to it. Running a business or running a line at a factory can become boring, difficult or overly stressful by doing the same things over and over.

By mixing in new, appealing activities into your life, your job will not have monstrous power--disproportionate power--over your life and your happiness. If your focus is only on your job and the co-workers who get on your nerves, you will lose the steam you need to do your job properly.