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Reduce Stress Now – 7 Practical Tips

I want to share 7 tips that will help you reduce stress at work now.  Job-related stress is common for many people, but it can be quite counter-productive, can lead to unhappiness at work, and can be detrimental to your health.

The fact that you are reading this post means you want to reduce stress and are aware of the consequences of stress for your work and well-being.  This is good news, as managing stress has to start with awareness.

It is very possible to reduce stress.  After 15 years of trying to figuring this out for myself, here are 7 tips I recommend using at work and after work to reduce stress:

How to Reduce Stress at Work – 5 Tips 

The key to reducing stress at work is to proactively manage your work load. By doing this, you’ll directly address the source of your stress.  Many times, we overly stress because we have too much work, too much complicated complicated work, or work where the results are outside our control.  Here are 5 ways to proactively alleviate stress before it spirals:

Tip 1: Prioritize and negotiate – Not all work is equally urgent.  It only seems so when we are stressed.  Take a step back, make a list of all the work you have to do, and prioritize them based on external deadlines and what is critical to your line of business.  If you do this, you might realize that perhaps only 50% must be done this week, and the other half can be pushed.

It’s okay to negotiate a longer time line if you have a good business reason. Additionally, stress is only reduced when the new priorities you propose are agreed upon by all stakeholders. So, for those that you decide to push, communicate or negotiate your decision to the affected parties, including your boss.

Tip 2: Practice tactfully saying no tactfully to additional work – Many of us want to be liked at work.  So, even when we are stressed and a senior person asks us to do one more thing, we tend to say yes.  Stop doing this!  When you are already overstretched, saying yes to one more thing will lower the quality of your work, and will aggravate your level of stress.  You can learn how to say no at work gracefully – something like, ” I would love to help with this.  Right now, I am under a tight deadline to do x, y, z. Can I help you with this in two weeks?”  or  “I would love to help with this.  If this is critical, is there something else on my plate I can push out?  I want to make sure I provide you with the highest quality of work.”

Tip 3: Communicate, and let go of what you cannot control – Often times, stress occurs when we worry about the results that are outside of our control. In this case, realize that you cannot control the outcome completely, and that’s okay. Instead, what you can do is communicate what you observed, and the risk it has on the outcome, to the relevant parties – your boss or other stakeholders. The key is not to point fingers, but to inform the relevant people that you see this risk, tell them what you are doing to mitigate it, and what they may need to do to help you mitigate it. Beyond that, you have to let go and let the chips fall where they may.

Tip 4: Get help and advice – If you have trouble with the first 3 tips above, find someone who can help.  It could be your boss if you two have a good relationship and you feel comfortable asking for advice.  It could be a mentor at work or outside of work – anyone who can give you sound objective advice, and has your best interests at heart.

Tip 5: Time-box your work – Work will never end if we let it control us until we die; don’t make work your only priority in life: Set time boundaries, and have non-work priorities as well. People are more likely to respect your boundaries if you respect them yourself. When you set your own boundaries and respect them, you will find ways to get the work done in the allocated time box – more or less.

How to Reduce Stress – Outside of Work – 2 Tips 

While stress may be related to work, we also carry it home, and even to our sleep, when we over-stress.  There is a marked physical reaction to stress – shorter breath or even holding our breath at times, darting thoughts, quicker heart beats, insomnia, and a general tension / nervousness in the body.  Any prolonged stress in this state, physically and mentally, can make us more prone to disease as we get older.  So, here is what you can do outside of work to reduce stress:

Tip 1: Sweat it Out – Do at least 30 minutes of some kind of cardio exercise 3 times a week.  Choose the cardio exercise that works for you. Anything that makes you sweat buckets. You may say, “I am already stressed — I don’t have time to work out.” Well, believe me, you need the break. I used to spend all of my free time working. Trust me, throwing all of your free time into work to relieve stress is an instinctual response that does not work. You need the break to think clearly.

My experience: I used to just run outside or on a treadmill. I was amazed at how much energy I had, even when I only had 4 hours of sleep. I realized that it was the nervous energy from stress that helped me run. While I run, my nervous energy dissipates, my body relaxes, and my head clears. I ended up using the running time to reduce any work panic caused by stress, and I actually thought more clearly about practical solutions.

Tip 2: Participate in a Creative Outlet once a week for at least an hour.  A creative outlet is an activity you enjoy (e.g. competitive sports or salsa dancing) where the right side of your brain completely dominates. This way the left side of your brain — the one used for work — is allowed to rest completely.

This may feel counter-intuitive, as stressed out people never seem to think there is time for fun. Participating in a creative outlet, however, is instrumental to reducing your stress at work. We cannot be our best if we make our left brain work all the time. A creative outlet can relieve the mental symptoms of stress — the constant working of the left side of the brain 24/7, even in sleep. (Note: Watching TV is not a creative outlet, as many of us just suppress the stress into our subconscious while we watch TV.)

My experience: My creative outlet, believe it or not, is Salsa Dancing.  I have been a salsa dancer for 10+ years, and I love the escape and challenge; I interact with completely different people at a Salsa club than I do at work.  When I dance, my brain has to focus on listening to the music; how to follow, turn, and synchronize with each partner I dance with.  This way, my logical left brain is “left at home” to rest.

At the end of the day, the key to reducing stress is to proactively try these tips to address stress head on.  It may not feel comfortable at first, but stress is not comfortable either. Stress will happen at work; there is no way to prevent it completely.  We sometimes just deal with it, thinking we have no choice. However, I wrote this article to prove that you don’t have to be ruled by stress. If you address it early, you will be more productive, happy, and on top of your game. Good luck at your job!

Your comments:What is your challenge in managing stress?   I look forward to your comments below.  Thanks.  I am always in your corner.

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Lei

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Top 10 Least Stressful Jobs

Last week, we started talking about work related stress and its direct impact on your health and life longevity.   I am sure all of you have been stressed at work before – stress before the major deadline on a project,  new job stress, stress from an unexpected negative performance review, just to name a few…

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Consequences of Stress – A Different Perspective

Did you know that April 16 is National Stress Awareness Day?  Ironically, you and I are probably too stressed to notice.  Well, in honor of April 16, I am dedicating all of the blog posts this month to the consequences of stress, and how to reduce stress.

We are so used to having stress in our work that I think we often forget the price we actually pay in the long run. This is because the consequences of stress (illness, early death) do not show until many years later. By contrast, the rewards of putting ourselves in stressful situations are more apparent and immediate – praise for a successfully completed project, a raise as a result of our stellar work, or a quicker path to promotion.

To raise more awareness that work related stress can actually kill you, I want to give you a different perspective than the accepted norm that stress is just part of life.  It is important to realize that you are choosing stress when you make decisions about where you work, how much you work, and how fast you try to climb the career ladder.

  • What if the consequences of your stress related to trying to get the maximum raise you want at the end of year, is you are 25-50% more likely to get a heart attack or stroke later in life?   This is actually based on facts (see infographics below). What would be your response?  Many of us think, “Maybe I will beat the odds and be part of that 50% that doesn’t get a heart attack or stroke.”  Is it really wise to gamble your health on those odds time after time?
  • What if overworking and over stressing can literally and directly kill you?  If you knew that for a fact, would you still want that promotion sooner?  Maybe not.  While I can’t say this for sure, there seems to be a lot of truth to the idea that overwork can kill you:  In one study of 820 adults, 53 of them died during the 20 year study period.  Additionally, in Japan, 10K managers, executives and engineers die annually from overwork. It seems like this happens because they work in hostile environments that cause higher levels of work-related stress.
  • What if which career you chose to pursue is directly linked to how long you might live?  Well, this is also true.  The following 10 careers are considered the most stressful careers of 2012, according to Careercast.com.
    1. Soldiers
    2. Firefighters
    3. Airline pilots
    4. Military generals
    5. Police officers
    6. Event coordinators
    7. Public relations executives
    8. Corporate executives
    9. Photojournalists
    10. Taxi drivers

Do you feel like you are more aware of the consequences of stress on your health?  If so, will you do anything about it today?  What you choose to do every day at work (how long you work, how much you stress) can affect your long term health and happiness.  Remember, the annual salary we need to be happy is only about $50K.  Given this, how much of your health and how many years of life are you willing to sacrifice for more money and status beyond the $50K you need to be happy?

Your comments: Are you stressed at work?  If so, what are you doing about it?  I look forward to your comments below.

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Lei

Is Job Stress Killng You?
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