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Dealing with Stress at Work : Studying Work Patterns

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Stress can be insidious and cumulative. The best way to avoid suffering from it is to learn to anticipate it. By analyzing and pinpointing events and times that regularly cause stress, it is possible to set about preventing further problems from occurring.

Recognizing stressful times

In the aftermath of a stressful time at work, it is easy to forget just how you managed to cope. In order to analyze stress effectively and make changes, you need to recognize your own patterns and cycles of behaviour. To do this, familiarize yourself with those times of year, month, week, and day when you find you are most busy, keep records of the problems you experience, and obtain feedback from colleagues on how you perform when stressed.

Annual work patterns

Make up an annual or half-yearly chart to help you analyze annual work patterns. List all the major projects or tasks you need to complete, along with their start and end dates. Draw a line between these two dates for each task, and you will be able to see where the overlaps occur. These mark your busiest times at work and will help you to plan ahead, avoiding any bottlenecks, and taking holidays to coincide with quiet periods.

Preparing for pressure

The half-yearly chart discussed here shows the work pattern of someone whose busiest period is in March. During this time, five major tasks are ending, just beginning, or are in working progress.

Daily work patterns

Difficulties in time management and workload prioritization are among the most common causes of stress. Once you have identified where such problems exist, you will be better able to handle them. The best way to do this is to keep a detailed daily stress diary. Prepare a “to do” list of all the tasks you have to perform each day, and use this to analyze how you are coping with your workload. Note down any problems that interfered with or prevented you from completing your tasks. This may take time to produce, but in the long term will prevent day-to-day stress.

Using a stress diary

The three main reasons for using a stress diary are: to record and pinpoint stressful areas; to highlight increases in workload or other potentially stressful developments as they arise; and to have a tool for assigning priorities. Set out your stress diary as shown here, or tailor it to your preferences.

Getting feedback

A crucial part of dealing with stress is being able to communicate effectively with the people you spend so much time with – your colleagues. One way of doing this is to ask colleagues for help and advice in response to stressful situations.

If you find yourself under stress, try to make contact with colleagues who are sympathetic and attentive listeners – those who can resist the temptation to interrupt. Even if they are not in a position to offer advice, they can still help by letting you talk through your problems and giving you support and encouragement. Ask for honest feedback about when you appear to be most stressed – do you cope with meetings calmly but appear stressed before a presentation, for example? In return, try to offer support when they are under pressure. Be an attentive listener, and encourage them to talk openly about problems.

Gaining confidants

Sharing information bonds people, both in and out of the workplace. You may find that a colleague has a solution to a problem you have been having.

Analyzing stress cycles

Once you have analyzed your busy times of the year and recorded your daily workload for a month or so, take an overview to determine your personal daily, monthly, and yearly stress cycles. Bear in mind that the effects of cumulative pressure can increase stress. What may be easy to cope with during a quiet period will feel less possible during a crisis.

Consider which tasks you find particularly stressful – doing a large number of routine tasks may be less stressful than completing an urgent, complex one. Make yearly and daily charts of stress cycles, and use them to help you plan for a regulated stress pattern in the future.

A yearly cycle

The effects of long-term stress can be serious. The person to whom the chart belongs spends more than five months of the year trying to cope with high level of stress. Periods of low stress occur only when on holiday or spending time away from the office.

A daily cycle

Although every day is different, a typical pattern usually emerges for most people. Consider whether you can alleviate stress, for example, by delegating more or eliminating unncessary tasks.

TIP

Ask a colleague to let you know when you appear to be stressed.

TIP

Overestimate when calculating the time that a project will take.

TIP

Jot down problems on a day-to-day basis, and see if a pattern emerges.

TIP

Set realistic goals so that you do not feel stressed by too many failures to meet deadlines.

TIP

Never knowingly embarrass people by asking for help they cannot give.

TIP

Keep negative opinions about your colleagues to yourself.

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