Tips for Stress-Free Work
By Michael Mercer, an industrial psychologist:
* Get along with people. “Low-stress employees invariably have smooth working relationships with practically everyone,” Mercer said. To achieve this, find things you have in common with others and act friendly with “absolutely everybody”–from the president down to those who clean the office.
* Always be diplomatic and tactful. Avoid acting angrily or impatiently even when you’re frustrated. “Expressing anger in the workplace usually results in direct or indirect retaliation, which surely increases stress,” Mercer said.
* Learn what is expected of you. Find out your boss’s expectations of you and the expectations of your boss’s boss. “These people greatly affect your stress levels,” Mercer said. “By meeting their expectations you simultaneously can get ahead plus decrease a possible cause of stress.”
* Be a team player with your boss and co-workers. “Team players are appreciative and receive much less grief than employees who act rebelliously or act like loners,” he said.
* Give three compliments a day at work, “People love receiving compliments and will conscientiously try to make your life easier since you made them feel good with a compliment,” Mercer said. “They’ll remember the compliment when you ask for a favor.”
* Set goals for yourself–personal and work-related. High-stress people rarely do things to accomplish their goals. Low-stress people, on the other hand, spend more than half their time doing things that help them achieve their short-term or long-term goals.
To determine how much time you devote to achieve goals, write down everything you did in the past seven days. On a separate paper, list three short-term goals (to achieve in the next three months) and three long-term goals (to achieve in three years). Then go back to your seven-day list and note anything that helped you accomplish short-term or long-term goals.
“Typically people spend less than five percent of their time doing activities that will achieve their goals,” Mercer said. “People feel more frustrated when they don’t accomplish their goals.”
* Prepare a daily “to-do” list. “Every day before leaving work, write a list of what you need to do the next work day,” Mercer said. That little bit of organization can help prevent you from being overwhelmed by tasks that need to be done.
* Keep a neat desk or work space. We’re not talking obsessive neatness here. Mercer said his desk is nine by four feet–all of which is covered with paper except for a 2-by-2-foot space in front of him. He reserves that space for things he is working on at that moment.
* Exercise at least a little every day. Even a 10-minute walk will help. “People bottle up emotional tension or stress in their muscles,” Mercer said. By exercising a little, you can release emotional and physical stress–and be more clearheaded when deciding how to tackle a stressful situation.
* Consider changing jobs. If all else fails, Mercer cites an often-used quote: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
“If the above nine tips don’t help you, then it may be time to find a new job,” Mercer said.
Inner speech shapes your life more than any other single force. Like it or not, you travel through life with your thoughts as navigator. If those thoughts spell gloom and doom, that’s where you’re headed, because put-down words sabotage confidence instead of offering support and encouragement.
Simply put, to feel better, you need to think better. Here’s how:
1. Tune in to your thoughts. If you’ve been feeling down, it could be you’re sending yourself negative messages too. Listen to the words churning inside your head. Repeat them out loud or write them down if that will help capture them.
With practice, tuning in will become automatic. As you’re walking or driving down the street, you can hear your silent broadcast. Soon, your thoughts will do your bidding, rather than the other way around. And when that happens, your feelings and actions will change too.
2. Isolate destructive words and phrases. Fran’s inner voice kept telling her she was “only a secretary.” Mark’s reminded him he was “just a salesman.” With the word only or just they were downgrading their jobs and, by extension, themselves.
By isolating negative words and phrases, you can pinpoint the damage you’re doing to yourself. For Fran and Mark, the culprits were only and just. Once those words are eliminated, there’s nothing destructive about saying “I’m a salesman” or “I’m a secretary.”
3. Stop the thought. Short-circuit negative messages as soon as they start with the command “stop!”
“What will I do if … ?” Stop! In theory, stopping is a simple technique. In practice, it’s not as easy as it sounds. To be effective at stopping, you have to be forceful and tenacious. Raise your voice when you give the command. Picture yourself drowning out the inner voice of fear.
4. Accentuate the positive. When a person is in a depressed mood, everything can seem depressing. So once you’ve exorcised the demons by calling a stop, replace them with good thoughts.
Be ready with a thought you’ve prepared in advance. Think about the promotion you got or a pleasant hike in the woods. In the words of the Bible: “… whatever is honorable … whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious … think about these things.”
5. Reorient yourself. Have you ever been feeling down late in the day, when someone said, “Let’s go out”? Remember how your spirits picked up? You changed the direction of your thinking, and your mood brightened.
Reorient yourself right now. You are tense because you must finish a huge project by Friday. On Saturday you plan to go shopping with friends. Reorient from “Friday workload” to “Saturday fun.”
By reorienting, you can learn to see yourself and the world around you differently. If you think you can do something, you increase your chances of doing it. Optimism gets you moving. Depressing thoughts bog you down, because you are thinking, “What’s the use?”
Make it a habit to remember your best self, the you that you want to be. In particular, remember things for which you have been complimented. That’s the real you. Make this the frame of reference for your life–a picture of you at your best.
You’ll find that reorienting works like a magnet. Imagine yourself reaching your goals, and you will feel the tug of the magnet pulling you towards them.
Over the years we’ve discovered that when people think differently, they feel differently–and they act differently. It’s all in controlling your thoughts. As the poet John Milton wrote: the mind “can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” The choice is yours.