Do you ever come home from work feeling so worn out that all you can do is plop yourself in front of the TV and zone out? You might feel like your brain is too fried to even sustain a conversation and your body is tense and irritable. Your back aches so much that you need to pop another Ibuprofen just to fall asleep.
All of a sudden, without realizing it, this becomes your norm. Day in and day out you use up all your energy at work. Then, you go home too exhausted and worn out to even enjoy your personal time. You get caught in this hamster wheel of a life chasing “success” without realizing the consequences.
Often times, it’s only once we stop and take a breath that we notice how stressed out we’ve actually become. It’s just like that poor hamster. It’s only once the wheel stops flying that the poor guy realizes how exhausted he is. And if it never stops, he just keeps running until he’s out of steam.
Sure, our personal lives can cause some of that stress, but it’s hard to deny that most of it comes from our work lives.
A lot of us spend too many hours, hunched over our keyboards consumed by the pressure to succeed. We work to meet the goals set by our bosses, the expectations set by our co-workers and worst of all, the unrealistic need to meet everyone’s demands that we place on ourselves.
Inevitably, our physical and mental health take a hit. Our bodies scream at us to relax and take a step back. But sometimes we are too busy on the hamster wheel to hear the warning bells. We deal with the headaches, back and neck aches, anxiety and stress, insomnia, extreme sleepiness or whatever other alerts we are getting, and just keep working.
The most mind-boggling thing is that if you seriously stop and consider what you want most out of life, I doubt whether having work dominate your day would be up there on your list.
Let’s consider for a moment, what you might think on your deathbed about the question: Where were you the happiest? I doubt if the office would even crack the top 10. And yet day after day we allow it to consume us.
I once read a book where the author investigated and wrote about this exact thing. Some of the most common answers when the dying were asked about their regrets said they wish they’d:
- spent less time at work
- spent more time nurturing important relationships
- had been truer to themselves and their feelings to allow themselves to be happier
But somehow we lose track. We think that to be happy we need a bigger car, a nicer home and more mega holidays. And to get all those nice things we work more, to get the promotion, and aboard the hamster wheel we go.
All that being said, the reality is that we all gotta work. But the key is figuring out a way to not allow work or the stress from it to consume us. Below, you’ll find just that key. I’ve made a list to hopefully, help all you hard workers better manage the stress from the workday.
I’ve divided the How to Deal with Stress at Work list into three sections. The first includes solutions that come from outside of ourselves, which tend to have much shorter term, immediate benefits. The second part details solutions that come from within. These tend to provide long-term benefits. Then, if all those fail, I’ve added a last resort section too, for those times when nothing else seems to be working.
- Limit shoptalk outside the office. Set short time limits for talking about work outside of work. If I’m talking to my partner about work, I set 5-minute limits. After that, I force myself to stop and talk about something else. I even implement this with co-workers when we’re out to lunch or grabbing a coffee.
- Nurture important relationships. Make sure to utilize your time outside the office to decompress, have fun and strengthen the bonds with your loved ones.
- Be healthy. The healthier you are outside of your stressful work environment, the more you resist the harm caused by a stressful and sedentary work day. By be healthy, I mean the whole sha-bang: eat right, be active and GET TO BED EARLY! There’s no way you’ll be able to deal with stressful situations properly if you’re tired and grumpy from sleep deprivation.
- Set firmer boundaries. Be clearer and more honest with your boss about what you can realistically produce. There’s no benefit in agreeing with deadlines or demands that you know you can’t meet.
- Book regular wellness therapy sessions. Physiotherapy, reflexology, acupuncture or even just a massage or spa day can help to deal with the day-to-day symptoms of stress and tension. This is by no means a long-term solution. Use only as temp plan to avoid having to take meds.
- Change your mentality. You might not be able to change your context, but you can change the way you see the situation. Stop complaining, stop allowing the office politics to consume you and focus on the things that you love about your job. Sometimes, the greatness or horribleness of something is only based on how you look at it.
- Take responsibility. Don’t forget that you choose your path. What you do with your workday is nobody else’s fault but your own. If you aren’t happy, make a change. If don’t want to change jobs, at least recognize that as a decision you made. Don’t blame others for your situation.
- Put work demands into perspective. Our bosses often have the lovely skill of making it seem as though the world will explode if you don’t submit X report by Y date. I mean, if they’re paying you to do X task, I’m not suggesting you don’t try to get it done, but just remember, (for most jobs) the world doesn’t end if you can’t get the order sent by 6 pm.
- Remember what your goals are. If you do like the career path you are on but are just going through a particularly hard time, remind yourself what you’re trying to achieve. Reconfirm that this is the professional path for you and that inevitably means dealing with some lows. Achieving goals isn’t always sunshine and rainbow. It requires putting up with some shit times too.
- Meditate and/or do yoga in and outside the office to develop a stronger sense of balance and better ability to keep your cool. The meditation will help your mind with the stress, and the postures from yoga will help your body compensate for all the sitting you make it deal with. Squeeze in a few postures or a short meditation into the workday. You’ll see how much more chilled out you’ll feel.
Last resort remedies
- Think outside the box to create a livelihood that is right for you. That might mean leaving your current job, it might not, but either way, it’ll mean big change. Maybe to be more satisfied with your professional life you need to work fewer hours or be able to work from home sometimes, or maybe a change of industry or department would work better for you. Define what would make you more satisfied and take steps to get there. And don’t just limit the plan to what people usually do. Open your mind up to whatever crazy idea attracts you and do what you need to do to achieve it.
- Move to Spain or if that’s not realistic, adopt the Spanish mentality about work. In Spain, people aren’t defined by their work. They go to the office, do their job, then life starts as soon as they leave the office. All their office worries, problems or pressures are left at work. There is so much disinterest in people’s work lives that you can know someone for months and not even know what they do for a living. Learn to let go of all work-related thoughts and stress, as soon as you leave the office.
I do think it’s important to foster a career and professional life that fulfills you and helps you contribute to the wellbeing of your community or the world. You just have to make sure not to lose focus. There are much more important things in life than working more, to make more money, to buy the bigger house, to make sure to have that super mega house with the spare bedroom.
At the end of the day, that spare bedroom won’t matter. Focus on what does.
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