I am sure most of you have heard “when you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life”. Probably fewer of us have actually lived that phrase, and experienced what it is actually like to love our work to the point where it doesn’t feel like “work”. While it would seem beneficial for everyone to follow their dreams, it’s just not possible. The truth of the matter is that we need people fulfilling different roles in society for our society to function. We need garbage collectors, we need postal workers, we need accountants and (insert any job here you would personally not want to do). While there are some in every profession who probably genuinely love their work no matter what it is, many people eventually fall into their line of work as a means to support themselves and their families as best as they can. There is no shame in doing a job for these reasons. With much of the modern day focus on following your dreams, there is a burgeoning sense that by not doing that, we are somehow acting against ourselves and our ultimate happiness. For some time now, we have known that stress in all its forms is a major contributor to disease, and for many of us, the single biggest source of stress is our careers. Feeling stressed out and unfulfilled in our jobs is the whole reason we invented happy hour, after all. It’s why we spend months looking forward to vacation, and then experience the dread of that first day back at work. Job stress is a huge problem. If it’s possible for you to change careers, to take a leap of faith in the Universe and in yourself and pursue your dream, then by all means go for it. Don’t live out your life wondering what if, especially if you know that your skills and talents are exceptional. But, if you have a passion for something and lack the skills for it (like me and art, for example), it would be ill advised to leave a steady job with a regular income to make it in another field. So what about all those people who are working in jobs they don’t particular care for, who aren’t following their passions? Are they doomed to stress themselves into an early grave?
The answer lies in examining what stress actually is. In reality, stress is more of an internal perception or belief than anything external. Our reaction to situations and events determines whether or not we activate the stress response in our bodies. When it comes to job stress, there are several factors that play in to our reactions. We might feel taken advantage of, without autonomy, or be stressed by doing boring, monotonous work. We might get looked over for a promotion, or be dealing with unpredictable and varying workloads. The nature of our work itself might just be high-stress, even if we like who we work with and feel in control most of the time. How do we reduce our work stress if changing jobs is not an option? By changing our perception and experience of stress. Below are ten ways to accomplish this:
1. Cease resisting. Despite how wonderful it is to believe that we are all meant to be doing what we love as our jobs all the time, its stress-relieving to accept our current situation for what it is and that for now, this is the job we have to do. Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up, or losing hope. It just means that in the current moment and situation, we will stop resisting what already is.
2. Cultivate gratitude. It doesn’t matter what the job is, but in any given moment, there is at least one thing that you can be grateful for. If you can’t think of one, try harder. It’s there. Whether its that one co-worker who has a nice smile, or the window you can look out of, find as much as you can to be thankful for.
3. Connect inwardly. Learn what your core values are in life, and identify how you are developing them in your current job. Are you learning patience? Are you learning how to stand up for yourself, or where your boundaries are? Use your job to learn more about yourself, this will come in handy no matter what comes next.
4. Calm down. This might seem obvious, but learning to manage your stress response in other areas of your life will affect how you handle your stress at work. Practice meditation, take long walks, and get adequate sleep. Figure out how to be calm away from work, and it will pay off multiple times over.
5. Cancel out. Like noise canceling headphones, start developing a laser like focus on your work rather than paying attention to every little thing that goes on in the office. Often, we let other people’s job stress affect us, even when we have nothing to do with it.
6. Chime in. Sometimes the biggest source of stress at work is feeling like we aren’t being heard. To hold something back that we so desperately want to say because we are afraid of the repercussions can feel like a physical burden that weighs us down. Start finding your voice at work while being respectful of other’s opinions and most importantly, let go of the fear of what others will think of you.
7. Catch up. If you have any lingering projects or deadlines, take care of those so they aren’t hanging over your head. Tackle any nagging tasks, because even if you aren’t consciously thinking about them, they are always hanging around in the back of your mind ready to stress you out the minute you remember them.
8. Check out. Do you have enough time away from your job, and everything that reminds you of your job? Are you checking email or messages, or feel like you have to in order to be seen as a good worker? If so, STOP! Completely check out, and enjoy your time off. This may feel like it actually adds stress at first, but eventually you will be able to rejuvenate yourself and come back to work refreshed.
9. Clean up. Not that you have to be an OCD neat-freak, but keep your work area clean and organized. Too much clutter and mess can add to an already stressful day. Maintain your workspace, whether its a cubicle or an office, in a way that relaxes you and allows for improved productivity.
10. Crack up. Depending on where you work, what your job is, and who you work with, it might not be easy to crack a few laughs during your day. But if you can, try to find at least something once a day you can laugh at. Watch a funny video, read a funny story, or take a few minutes during lunch to call your outrageous friend who always gets you to laugh at something silly.
To illustrate the last point, I once called a friend in a panic after getting to work and realizing that my cat had peed on my pants. He had a sneaky habit of hiding in my closet and marking anything I left on the floor (those of you with male cats know what I am talking about…) I hadn’t been able to figure out why I was getting whiffs of that pungent musky odor on my drive to work. Turned out, after sitting down at my desk, I saw on my pants a very small spot with a very big smell. I immediately called my friend (for moral support? advice? I wasn’t sure), who proceeded to guffaw loudly over the phone at my predicament. She helped turn my panic into humor, which allowed me to better navigate the unfortunate situation.
Sometimes, all you can do is laugh, take a deep breath, and do the best with what you’ve got.