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How to Manage Work Stress

My mother likes to say, “I’m too blessed to be stressed!” Of course, she loves to say this in the middle of a stressful situation. It’s a cute saying but an unrealistic reality due to the unpredictability of life.

Over the years, I’ve found myself saying this affirmation during various trials and tribulations in my career ranging from career transitioning to dealing with problematic coworkers and managers.

While I’ve managed to overcome most of these issues, one thing was common among them all, I was stressed to the max!

Many people have given me their take on stress and how to manage it, but here’s my take on it: stress is a part of life, you can’t avoid it, and stress isn’t entirely a bad thing. For me, stress helps me zero in, focus, and get the task at hand completed. Now, I also tend to allow stress to completely overwhelm me and at times this has thrown me off track and away from my goals.

As a woman with a type-A personality, I tend to be a perfectionist in my work. It also doesn’t help that I’m often the only black woman in the department; this has been a constant in nearly all my jobs. Due to a variety of social expectations about race and gender, I have internalized the idea that I need to “work twice as hard to get half as far.”

However, I decided to stop giving all of myself for a job that can and will replace me if I quit, or get fired, or worse, drop dead. The truth is, companies’ concerns about their employees don’t go beyond the surface and managers (the bad ones anyway) will suck you dry without any regard for your emotional or physical health.

So, how can you start reducing stress at work? These are the hard lessons I learned and am sharing with you:

  1. Be Transparent: Communication is key. If you’re stressed, you need to talk to your co-workers or managers right away (read my article about Building a Relationship with Your Manager) and have a detailed conversation about your work, your skills, and your limits. This might mean getting additional training or support to complete a project or even being taken off a project. Don’t be scared to raise your voice; put your health first.

  2. Be Realistic- If you can’t commit to a project, meeting, or additional work...don’t make any promises. This tip goes back to communicating your needs and limits. Don’t bite more than you can chew even if you are trying to please your boss, they won’t be happy anyway if you are unable to fulfill your commitments.

  3. Be About Yourself- I use to come into work earlier than my boss, work through lunch, stay later, and even work over the weekend. And for what? I didn’t get a promotion or even a raise and as a salaried worker, I wasn’t even paid for the overtime. Stop It! Come in on time, take lunch, leave on time, and leave your work AT WORK!

In my new role, I no longer feel like I have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. I like my job, but I come to work, take my lunch, and leave right on time. I don’t check or respond to emails at night or over the weekends and I have told my manager upfront my abilities and level of commitment I have to various projects.

As a result, I actually enjoy my job because I realized, it is just a job and I am my own person. Now, I have time to focus on my personal life. My stress is so low at this point, it’s freaky!

Having a stress-free experience at work is all a part of my new philosophy of centering myself first and foremost in my career.

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