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6 Tips for Taking Control of Work Stress

Amy Martinez

Most of us aren't crazy, but we are crazed.

We face numerous demanding and complicated situations--with no one right answer or clear path. We don't have enough time, enough help, or all the information required when we need it. Emotions can often run high and add another layer of unpredictability to our work. And that's just an average day.

As we move through the "grind and burn" of an overly busy and pressured work life, we find ourselves battling stress and uncertainty. We know change is ongoing, plans will get undone, and expectations won't always be met. Work priorities shift; the players change. You could be transferred, reassigned, restructured or--who knows--will there even be a job?

Of course, personal setbacks and crises don't go away just because work is already difficult. We often get an unwanted double dose, with big challenges facing us both at home and work.

We can't totally prevent difficulty and stress, but it's all too easy to make a bad thing worse. We can easily cook up our own version of "freak-out"with this unfortunate recipe:

To a Heavy Work Load, add 1 cup Personal Crisis. A major letdown, disappointment, rejection, a family drama, or downright awful news.

1/2 cup Attention Deficit Trait. The habit of trying to take care of too many issues or details at once. This prevents us from focusing on the most important issues.

1/4 cup Inner Frenzy. A "special seasoning" characterized by an inability to stop, breathe, reflect, and relax as we face a crisis. We expend a lot of energy worrying about all the "what ifs" and making contingency plans before we have gathered information and processed the situation.

3 tbsp. Fear. The powerful ingredient in all good recipes for freaking out. Fear often creates indecision and drives automatic negative reactions. Fear, in some fashion, is at the heart of most of our own internal disappointments.

If your workload and life challenges feel like a recipe for disaster, you're not alone. Fortunately, you can cook up a new dish. The key is to remove the elements that keep us feeling stuck and powerless, but add those that build resiliency. Start replacing the aforementioned ingredients with generous portions of Personal Energy Management and New Perspective. Specific ways to do this include:

1. Manage your own resistance. Become cognizant of how much energy you expend opposing what already is. It translates into less energy to accept, adapt, and solve your challenge.

2. Give your best, but don't get attached to the outcome. Trying to control the way things turn out will make you crazy. Instead, care enough to speak up and take action but not so much that you fall apart or blow up when a certain outcome is not achieved.

3. Stay in the present. How often do you relive the past? How much effort and energy do you give to thinking about future possibilities? Remember, right now is the only point where life is happening--and you can choose how to think and act in this present moment.

4. Be compassionate. Extend compassion to both yourself and others. When things go wrong, people start to blame each other (or themselves). But if you can soften your heart a bit, you send soothing messages to the brain--allowing it to figure a way out of messes and stresses without causing more damage.

5. Shift your view. Try to "re-frame" the situation. What other way could you look at it? What other points of view could you consider? Who could help you see this situation differently? Find them.

6. Understand your beliefs about adversity, and choose your response. The way you currently view setbacks, challenges, or adversity stems from how you have been taught to think about it. When you get clear on what you believe and where those beliefs come from, you can choose to "unlearn" them. You are in charge of your own thoughts and are empowered to respond in new ways.

Finally, wrap all ingredients up in a Sense of Purpose. Develop a "personal why" that gives your life meaning. Look for ways that crisis and adversity may connect to your larger life purpose. Treat these setbacks and crises as "defining moments" that will prepare and refine you for what lies ahead as you fulfill your purpose.

Amy Martinez is a senior faculty member with the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of leadership education.

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