Do you feel powerless about aspects of your job? Do you feel unappreciated? Overworked? Are you always tired, irritable? Do you lack enthusiasm? Think of quitting? If so, you may be experiencing job stress.
Stress is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a problem when you feel so overwhelmed by work demands that normal coping strategies don’t work.
Studies report that anywhere from 70 to 80 percent of North Americans feel stressed at work, and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress. Job stress can lead to varied health, social and economic problems. Workers, for example, may experience physical violence, verbal abuse, phone rage, back pain, insomnia and cardiovascular diseases.
High Stress Jobs
Job stress is not limited to any one type of occupation. Studies, however, consistently rank the following as highly stressful: combat personnel, disaster relief workers, inner city public school teachers, astronauts, nurses, air traffic controllers, professionals who work with severely challenged or ill patients, prostitutes, short-haul bus or taxi drivers, social workers, airline pilots, deep-sea fishermen, hard-hat divers, factory workers who do monotonous, rapid, repetitive tasks, farmers, police men/women, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, attorneys, physicians, flight attendants.
Job categories don’t tell the whole story. Some workers in high stress jobs manage jobs well, while others in less demanding jobs are stressed. The severity of stress depends on the demands placed on workers and the perceived amounts of control they have in performing tasks. For example, managers who perceive they have considerable responsibility but little authority, experience severe stress.
Certain personal characteristics contribute to job stress. These include poor planning, inability to relax or manage change, and failure to care for physical, intellectual, social or spiritual needs. Unrealistic expectations, emphasis on security, a loner lifestyle and inability to delegate also facilitate stress.
Work environments that promote stress offer little support, challenge, flexibility, recognition and feedback. Workers have no decision making influence, ambiguous job descriptions, rude customers or clients, few breaks and excessive competition. Little or no preparation, inconsistent rules, endless paperwork, few advancement opportunities, politics, and insecurity, caused by layoffs, are other stressors.
Minimizing Job Stress
Change perceptions. A major stressor is how you see real or imagined threats to your well-being, and the perception that you can’t cope or don’t have options. Since your perceptual bias is learned, it can be unlearned.
Keep problems in perspective. View mistakes as learning experiences. If you have a setback, identify what went wrong, modify plans, and try again.
- Manage time. Keep a daily record, and recognize time wasting habits. Identify time needed for essential tasks, and modify your schedule accordingly. Make lists and prioritize. Avoid unnecessary meetings and delegate when possible.
- Clarify roles, responsibilities and goals. Know what’s expected. Ask supervisors for constructive feedback on performance. Discuss ways to eliminate frustrations and rigid demands.
- Explore ways to creatively redesign your job. List energizing and draining job components. Spend more time on energizing tasks and less on draining ones. Intersperse frustrating activities with short breaks and rewards. Rotate job functions. Schedule breaks.
- Maintain optimism. Expect success. Fill your mind with positive, constructive thoughts. Listen to inspirational tapes, read motivational books. Begin each day with a positive thought. Rephrase negative thoughts to make them positive and illustrate control.
- Lead a balanced life. Look after your mind, body and spirit. Leave worries outside the bedroom and sleep at least seven hours. Eat healthily. Watch sugar, coffee and alcohol intake. Exercise regularly.
Schedule quiet times to think and reassess. Reevaluate priorities -- career advancement, family or health. If you want more time with your children, cut down on golf with colleagues.
Do something stimulating and enjoyable each day. Enjoy small pleasures such as walking.
- Develop support systems. Cultivate meaningful, supportive relationships that allow you to share frustrations. Consider professional assistance. Hospitals, mental health professionals, company EAP programs and educational institutions offer courses, counseling and advice. The internet and books provide a wealth of knowledge.
- Choose productive attitudes and behaviors. Identify people, places, activities and conditions that revitalize you. Also identify places, activities and conditions that drain energy. Each month, pursue at least one activity that revitalizes you, and eliminate one that depletes you.
Use stress as an energy source to change, grow, accomplish desired goals, and achieve competence and confidence.