Hi! I’m Sara, a Chicago-based career coach and this is my debut post at The Chicago Chic. I help people across the country find happiness at work. My first topic is about something that people (myself included) struggle with- all the time- it’s that pesky thing we call stress. In this post, I will guide you with a few easy steps that can help you find your way to a little less of what you don’t want and a lot more of what you do.
I know we’re just getting to know each other, but here’s a true and pretty personal story from one of my past jobs to move things right along:
I would stand in the bathroom stall feeling a mix of the physical sensations of anxiety along with extreme fatigue, both from the late work nights and the sheer emotional exhaustion of dealing with this day-in and day-out. I’d think to myself “How did I get here? This was supposed to be a great job, what I thought I wanted and worked so much for. Why is this so hard? What’s wrong with me?” A few tears would try to break through, but I didn’t want others to hear or for my mascara to run. Aware of the time and needing to get back to my desk, I’d compose myself, put my invisible armor back on, and continue on with my work as best I could…until I needed another few minutes of bathroom refuge. This went on for months and months, the stress slowly eating away at my mental and physical health. I felt stuck and didn’t know what to do to change the situation.
Feeling the pressure
This is a personal story, but remarkably, this is a very common situation for a lot of my clients. Not always necessarily the exact specifics, but feelings and sentiments of being unhappy and not knowing what to do about it are all too common. According to the American Institute of Stress, ‘80% of workers feel stress on the job and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress’, that’s a huge percentage! Several reasons could be the cause- toxic workplace cultures, intense and demanding expectations from employers, very high expectations for success we place on ourselves or the need to impress family and society at large- job-related stress is around every corner.
80% of workers feel stress on the job and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress
Stress can interfere in our overall happiness, seeping into our non-work time. It becomes a toxic cloud affecting our moods, health, relationships, etc. Of course, not everyone will find their work as intensely stressful as I described above. Maybe it’s more of a numbing ache than an open wound, but you know it’s there and gnawing at you. No matter the stress you feel, everyone can agree they’d rather have less of it. The goal is not to banish stress entirely – that’s not possible – but it needs to be at a level you can handle and sustain in order to have a healthy, successful life in and out of the office.
So, how do you get your stress at a level you can handle? In a nutshell, you can change how much you can handle or you can remove the stressors. I’ve got two simple steps that may help:
Changing how much you can handle
This requires taking action: changing your inner thinking and approach. From developing more mindfulness to spending time on enjoyable self-care activities, there are many ways to do this. Here’s a tool I find very effective: take just one minute to list a few of your stressful thoughts. Now try and shift your perspective on each one of those thoughts. Easier said than done at first, but it takes practice.
Also, note that situations differ for people in general, one situation can cause tremendous stress while the same situation can mildly affect another person. Why? Because they think and see matters differently. This is where I spend a lot of time coaching people because it’s often helpful to have another person help you investigate and shift your thinking, but you can still do this on your own. This basic process comes from the work of Byron Katie.
1- Figuring out your stress triggers may not be obvious at first and you might have to do a little digging to find the root of the stress. For example, on the surface you may feel stressed because you’re starting a new challenging project at work and not sure how to do it yet. But, dig deeper, why is that stressful? It could be because you fear having to ask for help and see it as sign of weakness or failure.
2- Question the stressful thought. Ask yourself, is it true? Is it true that if I ask for help I’m weak or a failure? How might in fact the opposite be true? I can think of several arguments as to why asking for help when you need it is the smart thing to do. It’s actually what many successful people do!
By identifying the stressful thoughts and taking a look at what we’re believing about a situation we can create a lot of space, freedom and let go of a lot of stress. And without anything outside of us needing to change.
Removing the stressors
This has to do with taking action to change what’s going on for you on the outside – changing the external circumstances. This runs the gamut from up and quitting your job to making small changes that can reduce your stress and make things more manageable- or even pleasurable!
First, a note on quitting. Many people find themselves in untenable work situations. Instead of owning up that this isn’t working, we hang on to dear hope, the hope of magical change; or we simply allow our fears and excuses to govern our happiness. Examples- we tell ourselves we have to stay because we won’t find another job or we won’t be as good as other people without our fancy job, and will end up living in our parents, etc. But again, with these fears and objections I’d encourage you to re-visit the above and ask yourself, is it really true? I know it might feel true, but get quiet for a moment and ask yourself again. Find your truth.
Then there are lots of situations that do not require quitting but instead, finding opportunities where you can change matters. Often there are small changes we could make that would make a big difference to our stress. The reason why we haven’t made them yet is usually due to assumptions about expectations. Look for the wiggle room where you can approach things in a way that feels better for you. For example, you believe that we should act a certain way at work even if it doesn’t align with your character- you might feel like you can’t be yourself. That’s stressful. But maybe we really don’t need to take on the extra projects, or always work with a certain colleague you don’t like, or have to eat lunch at your desk just because everyone else is, or whatever it is. All I’m saying is you may need to adjust situations. Just take a closer look.
Thanks for reading! Learn more at syoungwang.com