Don’t Stress: Making your stress levels work for your life.
L(L) staff writer Laura Donovan dishes on how stress can act as a positive force in your life with the right mindset and management tactics.
Before moving to New York City last year, I received the best advice of my life from a senior colleague.
“The greatest way to guarantee a stress-free existence is to do nothing and avoid risks,” my coworker and mentor, Matt Lewis, said to me over a celebratory lunch after my offer from the Levo League arrived. “You won’t achieve anything big, but you’ll have no worries either.”
The thrill of scoring an amazing job in my dream city had been slightly overshadowed by the logistics the job came with: I’d have to move, break my lease, snag an apartment, cancel my electricity and cable accounts…
In a nutshell, a stress-free existence is a sterile, dull one. When you lead an exciting life, stress follows. The good news? You’re completely in control of how you handle it.
The WSJ this week carried a front-page Personal Journal story that resonated with me: that moderate stress levels can actually do you some good, according to research at UCSF [via The Wall Street Journal]. A certain level of stress can energize you and help you reach goals. Try not to always put stress in a negative light, as it can serve a valuable purpose: to help you get things done and ultimately bring a sense of fulfillment.
No matter how much you have on your plate, stress management is going to make things easier. Here are a few suggestions for keeping it in check:
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: You’re not a polar bear, so prioritize exercise as you’d prioritize work. With all the endorphins flowing through your system, exercise will serve as a de-stresser when you feel you have too much to do.
At times, this assessment may seem incorrect. I’ve caught myself saying, “I barely have time to complete my work to-do list, let alone exercise” many a day, but working out is a staple of good health and happiness, so set aside some time each week to break a sweat. You’ll literally feel the stress leave your body as you push yourself physically, and suddenly your office-related worries won’t seem so grave.
You may spent the majority of your hours at a desk, but with some effort, you can make room for a work-out in the morning or nighttime. Pre-work grogginess or evening exhaustion might deter you from hitting the gym or going for a run, but I promise you’ll feel incredible afterward, and you’ll also see that it’s quite possible to make time for non-work activities!
Keep to-do lists
Every time I’ve been advised to make a to-do list, I’ve been tempted to make fun of the person who suggested it. I cannot, however, deny the effectiveness of to-do lists, as they are a visual reminder of all the things I need to take care of.
Anytime you feel overloaded, jot down everything you must do on a sheet of paper. Write out all your tasks —- even stuff as minor as cleaning your desk —- so nothing will fall through the cracks. You’ll probably find that there’s less for you to worry about than you initially thought.
You’ll also experience feelings of accomplishment and relief upon checking off the things on your list, and with all you have on your plate, you deserve to acknowledge your successes. It’s also wise to categorize your to-dos by category so you remember which ones to prioritize first.
Communicate with your higher-ups
It’s crucial to stay on the same page with your managers, so maintain close correspondence with each of your supervisors to understand their expectations. If you don’t know how to prioritize all your duties, ask your bosses which to-dos should be at the top of your list.
If you believe you lack the bandwidth to take on everything you’ve been tasked with, set up a meeting with the higher-ups so they can help you sort out the situation, possibly delegate some of those duties, and get in control of what’s going on. They may not be mind-readers, but bosses can tell when you’re tense, so consult them if you’re not sure how to go about tackling everything that must get done. Just be thoughtful and calm in your approach. Keep your cool, even if you feel like the world is crashing down on you, so you can discuss the circumstances rationally.
Make friends with your coworkers and turn to them for advice
Don’t underestimate the value of a close colleague. Chances are, these folks are just as swamped as you are, and the two of you can have cathartic chats about office concerns and take things off each other’s hands if necessary. Coworkers can be good friends, helpful employees, and trusted confidants, so make sure there’s at least one person at the office you trust. They’ll get you through rough times and be there for you during exciting moments as well.
Get some sleep
If anything can turn me into Grumplestiltskin, it’s lack of shut eye. Sleep deprivation has been found to affect mood and learning ability, so keep your brain, body, and mind healthy by getting at least seven hours of sleep a night. You may believe you have too much to do for this to be possible, but the more well-rested you are, the happier and more productive you’ll be at the office. Imagine working a 12-hour shift on three hours of sleep. Exhaustion could further stress you out, make you short-tempered, and decrease the quality of your work, so get a decent amount of sleep each night so you’ll be rested enough to do everything expected of you.
Remember that everyone around you is stressed
You may feel like you take on more than you can actually manage, but here’s another way of looking at your workload: your colleagues are almost certainly in the same boat. Your colleagues still have jobs because they produce quality work— so they probably have the same amount of work as you do. If you change your mindset to accommodate this reality, you’ll see you’re not the only one who is doing too much and also recognize that work gets dumped on your coworkers as well. If your workload is dragging you into a negative mindset, an easy pick-me-up is to foster compassion and empathy in your office—to remind yourself that you’re carrying the workload together.
When I found out I’d be moving to New York, my to-do list was endless. It gave me such a headache that I could barely enjoy my macaroni and cheese (side note: if I were a guy, I’d be considered a “man child”). But I was allowing my to-do list to dictate my stress level, and allowing it to produce anxiety instead of excitement. The fact of the matter, though, is that I had found an opportunity to level up in my professional life: and the excitement of my progress could have helped me power through the inane chores that came along with that move. Stress can be managed with the correct perspective and techniques.
Tell us, L(L): How do you manage your stress levels? What works? What’s the worst stress-management technique you’ve ever heard of or tried?