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Coping with Work-Related Stress

Finding fulfillment in your career doesn't have to come at the expense of your health.

Occupations are commonly cited as a major contributor to perceived stress. Millennials and Gen Z adults typically report the highest stress levels among surveyed Americans. This suggests a large portion of the population, specifically teenagers to individuals in their early 40s, are experiencing problematic levels of distress. While changing our employment is an option, it can come with numerous barriers and negative consequences. However, improving one’s mental health typically focuses on managing current stressors, rather than engaging in avoidance behaviors.

So, how can we decrease stress while staying in the same environment? Both we and the environment must change. First, our expectations of both ourselves and our jobs can increase our stress levels. For example, managers/supervisors tend to focus on outcomes rather than processes. We are also often rewarded and encouraged when we succeed and avoid mistakes. However, this approach does not align with the human experience. Not only do we all make mistakes, but we tend to learn and grow through our mistakes (i.e, the process). We can strive for success and put forth sufficient effort, but we must understand our own expectations of ourselves and ensure they are accurate and functional. One common component of therapy involves cognitive reframing, in which we challenge our current thinking and replace it with thinking that is more accurate and functional. In the workplace, this might involve changing our personal expectations from “I have to be perfect and avoid mistakes” to “I’ll work hard to the best of my ability, but mistakes will happen and they don’t necessarily mean something about me.”

Next, we must identify how communication plays a part in our daily interactions. We often engage in mind-reading, a common thinking error (or cognitive distortion) that affects how we see the world. This can manifest in assuming our boss thinks we’re incompetent, that our coworkers don’t like us, or that a presentation went poorly (despite lacking evidence). Better understanding others’ expectations of us and communicating our own abilities/personal expectations can help us combat unhealthy thinking patterns.

Boundaries also help us remain accountable to our desire for work/life balance. For example, setting a plan for when we will (and won’t) access our work email allows us to unplug from work more effectively. These boundaries can also be reinforced with others when they ask us to work outside of our intended hours (e.g., “I saw your email from Saturday. Thanks for sending that over; I’ll get working on that first thing Monday morning”). While some jobs/situations may require us to be flexible with our work/life balance, we want to ensure we are communicating our expectations of ourselves to others especially when others are not respecting our efforts at achieving healthy boundaries.

Finally, be proactive rather than reactive. More specifically, regularly engage in self-care. This is in an effort to avoid burnout. One common sign of burnout is engaging in a significant push to “catch up.” While this might seem like a helpful tactic, it is actually contrary to our mind’s and body’s needs. We need to engage in something other than work, something that is meaningful and soothing. Self-care should be a habit that helps avoid stress, rather than an infrequent answer to stress.

If you’re looking to decrease your stress and improve your mental health, contact Roswell Psychology today.

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