Since many of us suffer from work-related stress, I though I’d tell a little bit about what I’ve found helpful.
Obviously some things you can do outside of work can help you build up stamina for overcoming work-related stress too. Such methods are widely publicized, including for example:
- taking a longer holidays
- resolving private conflicts
- fixing diet and sleeping habits
- taking digital detox
- setting one’s priorities
- getting organized overall
Many books and articles exist about these topics, so I leave these topics be.
However, I’ve found there is less material on what you can do at work. Although I borrow from a few sources, the focus today is on things you can do at work. Let’s go…
1. Look for small Oases of Serenity
Try to find a “green meditation escape” in or around your workplace. These spots are everywhere, you just need to find yours. Spending just a few minutes looking at green plants is enough to ground you to back your senses, resulting in a calmer state on being.
Once I worked in a rather dull industrial area where I hadn’t yet found any “green meditation escapes”. Just as I was about to give up, I stumbled along a backside of a large pharma-company – which to my surprise was equipped with a small Japanese garden. There were small water streams, small pools, it was small but comfortable. I went there regularly twice a week after lunch to enjoy that serene spot, 10 minutes an I was reloaded. Had I not looked for this small oasis, I’d never found it.
2. Think Less, Be More
Being present in your current surrounding, without judgement, is a panacea for all things related to stress. Being present is somewhat lost skill among IT-workers who work with abstractions day in and day out. We easily become over-thinkers and our capacity to feel diminishes. Most meeting structures in old-fashioned companies support this separation of thinking and feeling.
Re-learning this skill is really about letting go of the need to control any given situation. Anthony Hopkins (the actor) once told his life advice: “Expect nothing and accepting everything”. This sums up pretty much the skill of being present. It it, however, not an idle or surrendered state, but rather an passively active state where one’s will is activated but not letting other people and situations be as they are.
For coaches specifically, being present is essential. I’m consciously trying to operate from this state, and letting my ego diminish. It’s hard. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But when it works, it’s quite beautiful. It seems then, that the less I DO, and more I BE, things tend to move forward the best. The more I diminish, the better the organization learns and progresses.
3. Talk to someone who can affect Your Stress
If we are stressed from a work situation, it’s in our nature to begin shutting down and trying to fix things by ourselves. We feel a bit ashamed perhaps, if we struggle with our work. Asking for help doesn’t easily pop into one’s head when one is stuck and feeling pressure to finish something.
I’ve found that talking to someone – anyone – who can affect your stress, is helpful. Good candidates to talk to in modern environments are scrum masters, other team members and even department heads. Most people are glad to help because they too learn from your struggle – they too struggle, you know? Everybody struggles.
From a help-giver’s perspective – any scrum master (or agile coach) ought to be give help-seeker their full attention and discretion. I explicitly tell people in agile organizations, that they can come to me with any problem, any time. I did this in military too, when I was responsible for 180 men. Soldiers came to talk about all kinds of stuff. Offering a human connection works in agile and hierarchical organizations.
Often a short talk is enough to alleviate the burden, and allow help-seeker go forward with an alternative view-point or a renewed image of themselves (=new power). This kind of thing is fundamentally coaching, but we can call it ‘just talking’. Obviously, if someone has clear signs of burn-out, then I’d involve line manager or HR.
One possible source of stress is the raw amount of things that need to be done in a foreseeable future. There are techniques, like ‘Getting Things Done’, ‘Personal Kanban’, and all kinds of ‘Task Managers’, that offer a structure around time/task management. Use these methods if they work for you, for me they did not work.
What I’m doing is Journaling++, think of it as a hybrid of classical journaling and task management, where I can both plan and self-reflect. I have a separate text-document for each month, where I jot down tasks, completion ticks and some reflective notes per day as the month evolves. I write on average two lines of text about each task, as part my reflection. It’s enough for me, write more if you need more.
It’s quite lightweight process really. I believe I’m using about 20 minutes a day with the journal. At the end of the day I make sure all open tasks are moved to next day so I can go home without brining work there. Come next day, the first thing in the morning, I’ll see open topics and use a bit of creativity design the day. This design-step would keep every day different, even if my work was monotonous (which it isn’t).
What ever kind of journaling you’ll do, doesn’t matter because you’ll stil read at least following benefits: 1. You don’t need to keep so much stuff in your head. 2. You will learn your strengths, weaknesses, values and patters. 3. You will experience less stress because you are actively making sense of the world around you – this will give you a sense of distance from things.
5. Make a Decision
Sometimes stress is a signal that the current work situation as a whole is not fruitful for you anymore. My advice would be then to decide exactly how long you’ll stay in the current situation (organization or job) if things don’t get better. This decision relieves you from the mental ping-pong of self-questioning, and frees energy for finding a new phase in your life.
Some say that “changing a company won’t change your problems”, but while there’s a hint of truth in that, it’s not necessarily true for all situations. I agree, that we tend to find ourselves in repeating situations and conflicts, until we learn something about ourselves.
However, there are situations, especially regarding work atmosphere and workplace conflicts, where changing a company or job works wonders. There is a difference in running away from a toxic environment and deciding not to work in an toxic environment.
That’s it, these were my top five tips for stress management at work.