It seems that an inevitable byproduct of a struggling economy is fewer employees with increasingly more to do. Add to that the fear of being the next one to go and we have too much to do, too little time to do it, job performance under a microscope, and a shortage of other options. The end result is a workforce of people who feel both stressed and stuck – not a great combo for overall well-being for the individual or the business.
As a psychotherapist, I see a good number of people who feel stressed and stuck. The bad news is that, in many cases, the situation or environment is not controllable or changeable. My work with clients is to sort out what can be changed, if anything, what kind of support can be added, and how much of their stress stems from an unhealthy belief system rooted in their subconscious.
It is easy to see how beliefs like “it has to be perfect,” or “I need to please everyone,” or “it’s all or nothing” can create more stress, anxiety and disappointment in a work environment, especially one with unrealistic expectations. My work with clients is to help them uncover and explore these beliefs, to challenge their validity, and to, hopefully, make room for more compassionate and balanced ways of thinking.
Having more control over our thoughts is a skill worth cultivating. Our “monkey mind” can think us into a state of overwhelmed helplessness in a stressful environment. If we learn to actively seek out thoughts that feel better, we can keep ourselves calm and maintain a better perspective. This skill allows for greater efficiency and ultimately getting more done in a stressful work environment.
One of my clients shared a thought that helps her when she begins to feel paralyzed by the numerous tasks at hand. She is an accountant. The thought, “we’re saving money here, not lives,” gives her a relieving shift in perspective. For her, just remembering the big picture and having a calming mantra to replace fearful, negative, escalating thoughts made a difference.
There are a few tangible suggestions I recommend to my clients for managing work-related stress. First off, the basics, food and water. It is very easy to get caught up in the flurry of activity in a fast-paced high-stress environment only to realize you haven’t stopped to eat or drink. Guzzling coffee doesn’t count, the caffeine acts as a diuretic and will dehydrate you instead. Too much caffeine one day can also affect the quality of your sleep that night, only to set you back the next day. Drink good quality water, and lots of it. Food is equally important. Lack of proper nourishment can reduce your ability to concentrate and deplete your energy. A handful of nuts, a piece of fruit, or a protein bar, are good examples of snacks that can hold you over until your next meal.
Taking mental breaks every couple of hours can also be helpful. Give yourself a small reward like reading a book, briefly checking in with a friend or coworker, walking outside for 5 minutes, or drinking a cup of decaf tea. We don’t have to take up cigarette smoking to feel as though we deserve a break. Simple breathing exercises are a great tool to employ when stress is building. Just focusing on a few deep, slow breaths can be very calming and promotes physiological well-being as well. Oxygenating our blood aids concentration and keeps us from getting sleepy, important for sustaining efficiency throughout our work day. Standing up and doing some simple stretching can help too. Stretching gets our blood circulating and gives our bodies a chance to move in an energizing way.
These are simple suggestions, but how many of us really do them? One way my clients and I have increased the odds of their being able to implement these strategies is by using external prompts as reminders – a watch that beeps on the hour or at selected times, a post-it note in an obvious spot, an alarm on your cell phone or computer, even a small pen mark placed on the back of your hand where it will catch your eye. Use these prompts as reminders to do well-being checks. Am I hungry? Thirsty? How is my body feeling? Are my current thoughts useful or defeating and sabotaging? Personally, I have well-being checks set up on my phone and a favorite affirmation as my lock screen. Find a soothing or inspiring quote and post it where you’ll see it.
Managers, you can acknowledge the stress and support employees’ well-being by posting these ideas and strategies, modeling appropriate self-care yourself, or even setting up one or two official well-being breaks during the day. An employee may be hesitant to take a break if no one else around him or her is doing it too. Presenting the idea of self-care as being beneficial to overall productivity may be one way to spin it so people feel more comfortable.
We can’t dodge the impact of a struggling economy, but we can work with our reactions to it and take steps for proper self-care. When approached with positivity and curiosity, an environment of material lack can unexpectedly initiate a great amount of personal growth.
Rachael Kalan, LCSW, Psychotherapist
Rachael received her Master’s in Social Work from Bryn Mawr College. She is a Licensed Psychotherapist, a Certified Spiritual Counselor, and an EMDR and EFT Practitioner. (EMDR and EFT are both excellent techniques for processing trauma, managing emotions and shifting deeply rooted negative beliefs.) Over the past twelve years, Rachael has worked with both teenagers and adults with various issues such as eating disorders, addiction, anxiety, depression, self-harming behaviors, grief and loss, spiritual issues, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, career issues, relationship issues, phobias, and sexual abuse.