Taking steps to better understand and deal with your stress can make you more positive and productive in the workplace

If you’re stressed at work, you’re not alone. According to an APA study, 24 percent of Americans reported experiencing extreme stress in the last year— and work was one of the top contributors to Americans’ overall stress levels. Much of the research on workplace stress indicates that workers’ stress levels rise when they perceive themselves as having little control at work, with lots of workplace demands from others, including co-workers, employees, and supervisors.

Workplace stress is a real problem, considering the fact that stress of all kinds can contribute to the likelihood of physical problems like heart disease and stroke, as well as exacerbate psychological issues like anxiety and depression. Despite the risks of too much stress at work, there are variety of ways that you can reduce and control your work-related stress– giving yourself the opportunity to be happier and more productive– both at work and everywhere else.

Identify your sources of stress and see if there are any real, actionable, and realistic steps you can take to deal with them

Many psychologists believe that a concept called locus of control can help both mental health providers and patients better understand stress. Someone with a very strong internal locus of control believes that they can control all aspects of their lives, while an individual with a significant external locus of control believes that nearly all aspects of their lives are controlled by outside forces. While being at the extreme end of either locus of control can be unhealthy, individuals who tend to have a decently strong internal locus of control tend to be happier, more successful, and less stressed.

Whatever end of the spectrum you fall, it’s important understand what events and outcomes you control, and which ones you don’t. Effectively reducing stress involves focusing on what you can control– things like practicing healthy habits, getting enough sleep, and coming to work on time, and being understanding about things you can’t control– such as an angry boss or co-workers, a demanding client, or a power outage that results in the loss of an important report or a missed meeting.

Tell your inner perfectionist to pipe down; set your standards high, but don’t expect too much from yourself

“Just do your best” is a phrase often uttered by parents to their children– and it’s something that many workers would benefit from taking to heart. No matter what field you work in and what kind of work you do, there’s only so much you can do. Whether you’re trying to make a sale, write an advertisement, or build a software program, it’s natural to make a few mistakes. In fact, making mistakes can be one of the best ways to learn and better yourself in your chosen field– but many of us forget this after a few years in the corporate world. Re-learning the ability to accept and learn from your mistakes isn’t only a great way to reduce stress at work, it’s also an effective way to improve your skills (even if your boss doesn’t necessarily agree).

Establish clear boundaries and don’t let your co-workers, employees, or supervisors take advantage of you

For good or bad, the average American worker often does not have too much control over their work conditions– including how many and which hours they work, how many breaks they take, hours of and pay for overtime, what projects or assignments they work on, and a variety of other work factors. Despite this lack of control, workers still need to have clear boundaries– things they will or will not do– when asked. For example, if an hourly worker is being pressured to secretly clock out an hour before their shift ends, many would (and should) refuse. Similar types of situations arise when workers are asked to lie, cheat, or steal, or become victims of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse by co-workers or supervisors.

While making a choice to do (or not do) certain tasks may cost you your job, in many cases, it may be better to find another one. Most states’ laws allow workers to be fired for any reason, so, especially if you’re working for a small firm, don’t expect a lawyer, courts, or the government to help you keep your job. Despite the risks of setting clear boundaries (job loss), doing so can provide many benefits, including not wasting time at jobs where co-workers and employers don’t share your values.

Be outgoing and volunteer to help others; positive work relationships can greatly reduce stress

Getting to know others at work is never a bad thing, especially if you’re just starting at a new job where friends and acquaintances can help show you the ropes. While making friends can be difficult at first, it becomes easier when you practice a few simple habits, such as saying hi to co-workers at the coffee machine and volunteering to help out at community service projects, company picnics and social events, work trips, and other company functions and events. Doing so can give you the chance to meet and talk to people that you’d never get to see otherwise, and can help you develop a reputation as a friendly, helpful, and committed employee.

Try mindfulness exercises like journaling, meditation, and yoga to boost your ability to relax

There’s only so much you can do outside yourself to change your stress level– and options like getting a new job or working for yourself may not always be realistic. That means that much of the work to reduce your stress level must be done within yourself– and mindfulness techniques, including meditation, journaling, and yoga can certainly help boost your ability to cope with stress in a healthy and productive way. You don’t have to run an Ashram or become a novelist to get benefits– simply engaging in one or more of these activities a few times a week can result in profound short term benefits for both your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Whether you love your job or hate it, work can be a stressful place. Lack of control over working conditions, long hours, and an increasing amount of demands from a variety of sources can leave many workers feeling like they’ve been run over by a truck by the end of the week– but it doesn’t have to be that way. While you might not be able to fall in love with a job you hate, following some of the above techniques might allow you to tolerate it– at least long enough to get yourself a better position.

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