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Life Beyond Stress

Dealing with Stress in the Workplace and Everyday Life

My Private Spot in the World

Life is stressful. I think that we can all agree with that. However, you may be surprised by the amount of stress the American population experiences as common, daily, and persistent. You may be concerned, when you realize how much impact this continued chronic stress has on our everyday lives.

Statistics Related to American Stress Levels

According to the American Institute of Stress and the American Psychological Association, 77 percent of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress. One third of Americans feel that they are living with extreme stress. 48 percent of Americans also expressed the belief that their stress levels have increased in the past five years.

As Americans are often most concerned about financial costs, I feel it is important to point out that in 2014 it was estimated that the cost of stress related illness and loss of productivity to employers was $300 billion dollars. However, it should also be noted that it is work that is creating a great deal of the stress that then necessitates time off of work and loss in productivity. 30 percent of American workers indicate that they are "often" or "always" under stress at work, and 35 percent state that their work interferes with personal and family life thus creating a significant level of stress.

The Negative Impacts of Stress

Stress is associated with many temporary and life-threatening ailments. Over 40 percent of Americans indicate that they experience headaches after dealing with stress. Other side effects of stress are, fatigue (51%), upset stomach (34%), anger (50%), nervousness (45%), decreased sex drive (15%), and feeling tearful (35%). Unfortunately, these symptoms are not just momentary illnesses that are remedied once one is no longer in a stressful situation.

The impact of stress is additive. When people find themselves in constant or chronic stress, they often experience an increase of insomnia, frustration, depression, anxiety, and headaches. These issues in turn increase the impact of stress and reduce the individuals' ability to rebound from individual stressful situation. Ultimately, prolonged stress leads to a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, high sugar levels, increased risks of heart disease, and increased risks of psychological issues.

Reducing Stress in the Workplace

Wisdom, as well as many doctors and mental health providers, will tell us to get away from situations that cause chronic stress. However, as the statistics show us our workplaces are often responsible for our chronic stress levels, and it may not be reasonable advice to leave our jobs. That said, I have worked in companies so toxic that my doctors did advise I alter my work. However, I know how unlikely most people are to heed this advice.

So, what can you do to reduce your stress levels and improve your overall well-being?

1. Avoid what stress you can. If you can alter your career path to reduce your stress levels and improve your life, please don't hesitate. Short of that, reduce the stress you can. If you find that there are certain people within your workplace that cause you an increase in stress, avoid spending unnecessary time with them. If you find specific tasks increase your stress levels, do what you can to mitigate this stress. It may be as simple as delegating specific tasks or taking care of certain tasks from home or at a specific time of day. By all means do the things that you love about your job and spend as much time as you can with the people that make your life a joy. When I was working in crisis management, Wednesdays were my special day. I saw all of my favorite clients on Wednesday. I also learned to incorporate mindfulness practices into my day. I had many clients who found mindfulness practices helpful in controlling their anxiety levels, and practicing mindfulness with my clients allowed me to both support their attempts at mitigating stress and to relax while doing my job.

2. Choose your commitments. We often find ourselves under undo stress due to a tendency to say yes to too many things. This is a particular issue for women in the workplace. If you find that you take on unnecessary tasks or volunteer to do more than others, you may want to reconsider this. Although we are often advised to make ourselves indispensable in the workplace, we often actually end up wearing ourselves out and becoming less effective due to spreading ourselves too thin. Ultimately, you are better off to do the essential tasks of your position well than you are to take on extra work that you haven't the time to preform well.

3. Control the aspects of your environment that you can. Many workplaces don't allow much control. However, things as simple as avoiding noxious noises, or making sure you are physically comfortable in your office can improve your ability to control your stress. I worked in an office recently that was notoriously cold. None of us enjoyed attending meetings in a freezing conference room, and we quickly learned that we were better off to bring a blanket or heater with us to the meeting than we were to suffer in silence. Meetings never got any shorter due to the awful environment. At least, staying warm allowed some ability to fight off the inevitable illnesses that popped up.

4. Consider your schedule and reduce your to do list. The workplace isn't employee friendly these days, so it is often necessary to triage your work day. Job descriptions have expended phenomenally over the last decade. However, employees only have so much time to devote to their work. Therefore, it is essential that you become aware of the necessary tasks associated with your job and that you prioritize these. Every job carries with it tasks that may be ideally done with regularity, but can often be done with less frequency and zeal than others.

5. Find an outlet for your stress within your work day. There is only so much that one can avoid, minimize, and organize. Ultimately, it is essential that you find moments of meaning and joy in your workday. You may think that you can't squeeze a minute out of your busy schedule. However, it is essential that you find a way to turn some of the stress in your work life into something healthy. It may be as simple as taking your coffee break looking through books at the bookstore next to your office instead of spending those few minutes in the office sending faxes or emails. When I worked with a psychosocial rehabilitation club house, I would take time to walk through the thrift shop every day. This allowed me to stay connected with members who worked in the thrift shop, get a few minutes of exercise, and decompress from my regular sedentary tasks.