1. Expecting Someone Else to Lower Your Stress Level

It is tempting to blame others for your stress—your boss or your supervisor, perhaps—and if they are to blame, then you might expect them to change or rescue you from your predicament. Keep in mind that changes or decisions created by top management are typically reactions to external events. It is likely that managers are trying to respond effectively to outside forces such as economic downturns, stiffer competition, marketplace shifts, or new technological advances. The changes they have wrought make sense from their point of view, and it is unlikely that they will backpedal just to make life easier for you. If they stagnate, it may ultimately be worse for you and your organization in the long run.

Blaming others for your situation further damages your sense of control, for you view yourself as a helpless victim without alternatives or choices. Blaming also triggers anger and the release of stress hormones that can damage your health and deplete your energy. It is unrealistic to expect someone other than yourself to rescue you from a stressful job situation or protect you on the job. Your bosses are too busy taking care of themselves and they, no doubt, feel as much or more stress than you. You need to take charge of managing the pressure, for ultimately you can only count on yourself to lighten your psychological load.

How do you go about doing this? First, assess whether you can take any reasonable steps to change the stressful conditions. If so, then take those steps. If not, then two choices remain: (1) adapt to the situation, or (2) find another job. Oftentimes adapting just requires a change in your perspective. Try to put yourself in your boss's shoes  to understand why certain changes or new practices are necessary, even if you don't like them. And recognize that you are never really trapped. Your choices may be difficult, but choice always exists. You can weigh the pros and cons of staying with your job and learning to adjust if the pros weigh heavier, or you can begin searching for a new job if the cons win out.

2. Assuming That You Can Resist Change

It has often been said that “the only constant is change.” You can attempt to resist change in the workplace, either consciously or unconsciously, directly or through passive-aggressive maneuvers. If you resist, you may decrease your anxiety or stress level in the short run, but in the long term you are setting yourself up for greater stress and eventual failure. The very act of resisting change is in itself stressful, and may prove more difficult for you than going with the flow. Many people waste far more energy clinging to old habits than it would take to accept and adapt to the changes. Fighting change is almost always a losing battle. Can you really expect to succeed in your job, in an ever-changing world, if you keep doing the same old things in the same old way?

The same thing applies if you decide to accept the need for change, but only at your own pace and according to your own schedule. Here the goal is to minimize stress by “pacing yourself.” While this may be well-intentioned, it can often backfire. Why? Because failure to keep up with your organization's rate of change is still resistance, however well-intentioned. You can slow things down for other people, cause backlogs for yourself and others, and risk the wrath of your superiors. If you are the boss, then you run the risk of falling behind your competitors.

You need to keep in step with the intended rate of change deemed necessary by your organization or your competitors. Some people, if allowed to go at their own pace, would take forever to change. If you lag behind you will eventually have to play catch-up, and there is no guarantee that you can successfully close the gap. Remember—you may not have control over the type or speed of changes thrust upon you, but you always have control over how you choose to react to the need for change.

However, the whole notion of “pacing yourself' on the job to lower stress is a good idea, but only if you pace yourself in the right way. Pacing yourself properly can enhance productivity and lower stress. Pacing yourself wisely is not a matter of slowing down, but rather using strategic planning for structuring your time. Here are some pacing tips that will enable you to recharge your batteries, revitalize yourself, and ultimately be more productive and creative.

  1. Pay attention to your natural body rhythms to determine at what times you function at your best. Are you a morning person or a night person? When possible, schedule your most difficult tasks for your peak performance hours. Try to avoid tackling difficult or exhausting projects during the part of the day when your energy is at its lowest.

  2. Shift between pleasant and unpleasant tasks. After finishing a difficult piece of work, switch to something mindless, easy, or pleasant.

  3. Allow some time each day, even when you are swamped with work, for pleasurable work tasks, even if they are not highly productive.

  4. Use your breaks and lunches to relax. Do not work over lunch unless it is absolutely essential.

  5. Take mini-breaks for three to five minutes throughout the day to relax and balance yourself. Talk to a co-worker, have a refreshing drink, and so on.

  6. Choose leisure activities that balance the unique stresses in your line of work. For example, if you deal with people's complaints all day long, choose solitary, peaceful pursuits. Or if you are cooped up in a windowless office all day, choose outdoor activities. If you work alone, make sure your leisure time includes social activities with friends.

  7. Take vacations. Carefully consider the length and type of vacation you plan in order to balance work stresses. If your work is very sedentary, plan an active vacation. If your work is physically exhausting, plan a vacation where you allow a good amount of time for just kicking back and relaxing. If you work alone and feel lonely, visit friends or family or vacation with others.

  8. If possible, take a break during your workday to exercise, do relaxation practices, or run an errand. The following six stretches are specifically designed for the workplace, to be done at your desk in your chair (Marshall, 1999). Take a few moments daily to do one or more of these stretches when you feel tense or fatigued, and notice the results.

Chair Twist

Sit toward the front of your chair. Swivel your thighs toward the right side of the chair so you are sitting diagonally on the seat. Inhale and lift your right arm up to the ceiling. Exhale and move your arm to the back of the chair on the opposite side, taking hold of the chair back. Bring your left hand to your right knee. Inhale and lengthen your spine. Exhale and twist to the right, pressing your right hand against the back of the chair to deepen the twist. Breathe into your rib cage. Relax the muscles in your back and gently twist a little farther. Stay in the pose for four to six breaths. Return to your center with an inhalation and repeat on the opposite side. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Chair Twist

Shoulder Rolls

Sit upright and inhale while lifting your right shoulder to your ear. Exhale and slowly roll your right shoulder forward, around and back, dropping it away from your ear. Continue these shoulder rolls three more times, alternating right and left. Inhale as you lift both shoulders up to your ears. Exhale as you release them. Repeat the shoulder lift five times and then relax your shoulders. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. Shoulder Roll

Side Stretches

Stand with your feet parallel. Inhale and stretch your arms out to your sides and overhead, with your palms facing away from your body. Exhale while holding your left wrist with your right hand and then inhale. Stretch the fingers of your left hand toward the ceiling. Exhale and stretch to the right. Pull your left arm with your right hand. Keep your left arm and head straight. Breathe softly as you stretch. Inhale as you come back to the center. Exhale and switch hands, holding your right wrist with your left hand. Inhale as you reach up through the fingers of your right hand. Exhale while stretching left and inhale and return to the center. Repeat this sequence on each side. (See Figure 3.)

Figure 3. Side Stretch

Open Chest Stretch

Sit near the edge of your chair. Interlace your fingers behind you, palms facing your back. Lean slightly forward. Lift your arms and rest them on the back of the chair. Inhale and lift your chest. Exhale and relax your shoulders away from your ears. If your hands do not reach the top of the chair, clasp the sides of the chair back and press your chest forward, relaxing your shoulders and opening your upper chest. Hold this position for three to six breaths. With an exhalation, slowly release your hands and bring them down by your sides. (See Figure 4.)

Figure 4. Open Chest Stretch

Neck Stretches

Sit upright, with your head aligned with your spine. Inhale and on exhalation, drop your right ear toward your shoulder without lifting the shoulder or turning your head. You can use your left hand to gently assist your head and neck in stretching toward your right shoulder. Take several breaths in and out. Gently massage your neck and shoulders with your left hand. Slowly lift your head and switch sides to repeat the sequence. (See Figure 5.)

Figure 5. Neck Stretches

Back and Shoulder Release

Part One: Sit on the edge of your chair, placing your feet about two-and-a-half feet apart, parallel to each other. Lean forward and place your forearms on your inner thighs. Press your inner thighs out with your forearms. Breathe deeply in and out.

Part Two: Make sure your knees are directly over your heels, and your feet are parallel to each other. Slowly stretch your arms down toward the floor. Rest your ribs on your thighs and your armpits on your knees. Cross your arms, placing your hands at the opposite elbows. Continue to breathe deeply. (See Figure 6.)

Figure 6. Back and Shoulder Release

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