How to Stay Stress Free in a Stressful Line of Work

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Most companies are looking to hire a team of people who can work with grace under pressure, work in a fast-paced environment, a self-starter, a team player, and all those bejeweled words that basically mean “we will overwork you and you will be stressed by the end of your first week”.

It’s like being stressed is a part of everyone’s work culture. But should it be? Is there a way to fight this? Of course, there is, and it is more simple than you probably imagined. However, it takes patience and training.

Ready?

Uncertainty – the main cause of stress

In today’s fast-paced work environment clarity is valued as a rare commodity that even the most established companies don’t have in their communication routine. This results in uncertainty that breeds stress and leads to errors, miscommunication, and stress in the entire team, department, or even company.

Larger companies are particularly bad at this, those who have a convoluted hierarchy and bureaucracy. Meanwhile, startups are relatively good at handling this well – it is where asking questions is treasured as a good habit, as opposed to the corporate world where you’re simply supposed to know everything and not bother anyone.

uncertainity

In startups and small to medium-sized companies, everyone is involved in every aspect of the company, even the founders and senior executives, and communication between everyone is encouraged – this is also called a flat organization, where there are no intermediaries between low-level employees and the owners of the company.

Why is this important? Because the vision and mission of the company are driven by the people at the top, and they understand better how the job should be done, and thus can provide more clarity and erase uncertainty.

Also, it’s not just about uncertainty in tasks and projects, but also uncertainty about the future the employees have for themselves within the boundaries of the company.

Once uncertainty has been cleared and you have a clear view of things around, it is safe to say that 50% of the stress you are feeling right now will be wiped away.

Employees – how can you eradicate uncertainty?

The answer might be obvious, but for the sake of discussion, I’ll say it here. It’s pretty simple, just ask whatever confuses you from your immediate supervisor. There’s no shame in asking questions, especially if it helps you be better at your job.

Interestingly, you can ask without actually asking. This is a trick that I usually do, especially since English is not my native language and sometimes I talk to clients whose native language isn’t English as well, and often meaning is lost between translation.

What I do is, in my own words, I explain everything that we’ve just talked about and ask for confirmation that I got everything right, that we are on the same page.

If I didn’t get something right, they would simply correct it and assume that it’s because of an unclear explanation on their part (which they will not take the wrong way), and if you got everything correct, then great!

Leaders, take note:

A fast-paced environment definitely causes stress to everyone, but being someone who’s at the helm of things will either exacerbate or reduce stress in the workplace. And it always starts with clarifying everything down to the minute details, and being available to answer questions whenever they are presented to you.

Focus on what you can control, disregard the rest

It starts with figuring out what is the cause for your worries. Is it the deadline, your skills, the resources available to you, a colleague, or perhaps something else outside of work? It is crucial that you pinpoint what worries you first and then start reframing your mindset.

focus

Is it something you can change or not? If it’s beyond your control, then there is no cause for worry, but instead, think of it as a challenge that you must overcome – this is called positive reframing.

For example:
  1. Stressor: I am stressed because of this work.
  2. Root cause: I think my colleague secretly hates me.
  3. Positive reframing: One person’s opinion of me doesn’t determine my success and happiness.

Many people get stuck on the first level, not knowing that by simply figuring out what the root cause is and by changing their perspective on things will basically remove the stress accompanied with it – and of course without actually solving the problem.

Remember, you don’t have to solve the problem this instant, you just need to have a positive attitude towards it!

Eliminate or reduce context switching

Context switching is moving your attention from one subject to another which are not closely related to each other. For example, right now as you are reading this article, how many tabs do you have in your browser?

You probably have the habit of going to Facebook then on Reddit or Hongkiat, then check your mailbox, and go to 9Gag, all in the span of 5 minutes. Or something along that line.

multitask

Such habits reduce productivity by up to 40%! That’s almost half of your total output. Not only does it make work go slower and overloads your brain, it also becomes a main cause of stress at work.

Too much information in your brain to process is not good. There are a growing number of studies and articles saying that multitasking is, to borrow Trump’s vocabulary, bad, very bad, and really bad.

Compartmentalization is the solution

This simply means setting dedicated time for specific tasks. Writing? Just write for an hour. Don’t check your inbox, social media, or even dare to talk to your friends. Set a specific time for checking your mail, for posting memes on Facebook, follow-ups on Slack or Skype, and others.

Don’t jump from one thing to another. It’s like changing your car’s gear all the time – might cause an accident!

If you can’t avoid jumping from one task to another, then lay out all of your tasks and figure out which of them are closely related to each other and line them up. Make the transition easier by making the flow of context switching as smooth as possible.

Train yourself to adapt to chaos

Practice the art of mindfulness. It simply means being aware of yourself, your thoughts, your actions, and on how they affect your surroundings.

Think about the last time you were on autopilot, probably when you were watching your favorite Netflix Original while eating dinner. You most likely didn’t notice how you scratched your nose, flipped your hair, took a gulp of soda, and perhaps you probably didn’t even taste your pizza. That is mindfulness’ opposite: mindlessness.

Being mindful means being aware of everything happening to you and how you interact with your inner self (your mind) and the outer world.

mindfulness

By being mindful, you will notice more things about yourself on how you deal with your issues and on how you cope. This means that recovery will be easier for you the next time around – simply because you are fully aware of it every step of the way.

Now, being mindful can help you deal with the chaos – that is your workplace. By knowing which information and stimuli around you are important, you can choose which ones should affect you. The noise from your colleague’s squeaking chair, the clunking of the air conditioning, or the spreadsheet in front of you? Easy pick, then tune out the rest and focus on that one.

Practice mindfulness daily

Here are some easy and practical steps in order to practice mindfulness, so that you’ll be more resilient at your workplace in no time.

  • Turn off all notifications you have on your computer, tablet, and smartphone. Email, social media, SMS, and definitely no popups on your screen. Anything that will trigger you to instantly drop what you are doing and check it out – cut that out of your system.
  • Focus on one task at a time for a specific amount of time. Do not multitask. What I do is I set a timer for 30 minutes and just focus on the task at hand. Just that. Laser focus. This is contradictory to the point above, but this is an exception. After the 30 minutes is up, rest for 5 or 10 minutes then continue again with your 30-minute sprint.
  • Practice mindfulness with an app for at least 15 minutes daily. Perfect for those who have no idea how to start. Try one app and tell us your experience!

Conclusion

When people say “it’s all in the mind” you’ll just probably laugh, but today studies in neuroscience and psychology are beginning to unravel the inner workings of the mind, and on how it physically affects us.

What you need to understand in order to combat stress in a stressful line of work is to be aware of things that are affecting you. Then decide what to do with that newfound knowledge – should you actually be stressed or just tune it out?

Also, don’t forget to take a vacation once in a while!



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