7 Tips to Handle Stress in the Workplace

Joel Igu
Joel Igu

Joel Igu is a first year GMBA student at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Previously, he studied Medicine at the University of Nigeria where he was the Medical Scrabble Champion two years in a row. Upon graduation from medical school, he practiced Clinical Medicine and Surgery in multiple urban and rural locations across Nigeria, engaged in community health practice, partnership building and extensive training of health workers. In one of his more recent roles, he ran primary health care in Obudu Local Govrnement Area of Cross River State, Nigeria (population: 220,000), where he supervised, trained, and managed over 200 health workers. He has collaborated with the Nigerian government as well as private and international organizations on multiple health goals. While working on a Masters in Global Health Sciences at the University of California San Francisco, he conducted research on the use of Misoprostol in the prevention and treatment of PPH and completed his thesis on PMTCT capacity delivery in southern Nigeria. He is currently setting up a Nonprofit in Nigeria that aims to reduce maternal mortality. In his spare time, Joel enjoys a tough game of Chess or Scrabble, both of which he plays competitively. He also loves to share stories with friends over home cooked meals.

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A long day at work. The printer chooses today to run out of paper and the shredder is jammed. Finals are coming up, and you have to network to grab that internship, but if you are going to stay up all night and study for finals, you must skip the next episode of Game of Thrones. You remember that you have to make that one-hour call to your family today because you promised last week and cancelled on dinner twice already. Now that you think about it, you forgot your mum’s birthday, which was yesterday. You are in a bad mood, but you must smile because you wouldn’t want to be the grumpy coworker.

Sound familiar?

Research shows that in the United States “people issues” account for 28% of workplace stress and 20% of stress at work is from balancing work with personal life. Of course stress at work is unavoidable. Even though workload accounts for almost half of the workplace stress, stress at work is uncomfortable at best and at the very worst can lead to a full breakdown and health issues. In fact, stress has been estimated to cost United States businesses about $300 billion annually. Luckily there are several ways to manage stress.

Kill Procrastination

Many stressful moments of my life are caused by procrastination. In fact, I think that if procrastination were a company, it would probably have higher share values than Apple. Procrastination is growing and affects more people than you would think. Virtually everyone has fallen prey to procrastination at some point. Some of us are just more affected than others. Staying ahead of the waves can help avoid the storm. I often kick myself hard for being late for a task that I could have completed early because I underestimated it, or wanted to save the task for later, “when I am ready.” It is much more relaxing to do it all NOW and know that you can relax later. After all, the opposite of stress is relaxation, right? Maybe. Do not put things off till tomorrow if you can do them today.

Compartmentalize When Possible

A large part of being professional is being able to focus on tasks when they are relevant. It wouldn’t help to think about work when you are having fun anymore than it would help to dwell on recreational activities when you are working. Compartmentalization is a skill. We must learn to understand when to take a break and how to focus.

Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

We all have limits; after all, we are human. It is important to know what your skillsets and capacity are. Committing to tasks you do not like, are uncomfortable with, or are simply incapable of will surely lead to stress because we are not machines, and even if we were, we simply cannot outperform our capabilities. This is why you must never lie on a resume or try too hard to impress your boss. You may hit a brick wall and stress out.

See the Big Picture

I love to play chess, I love to travel. I love to do a jigsaw puzzle or do the crossword. But I know that if my salary were contingent on any of these things, they would suddenly become stressful to me. Even a small test can become stressful because you know it is compulsory, or at least important. It would otherwise be nothing but a game. Try to see the big picture.

Have a Social life – Do Something You Love

I personally must play hard to work hard. For me playing hard may mean reading a book that engages my mind or a night at a club in Vegas. But without changing the topography of my mind periodically, my “battery” would run down. Everyone is different but the trappings of freedom direct us to enjoy our moments of leisure. Do not forget to recharge–you may need it at work. Know what you love and make out time for it.

Reach Out When You Are Drowning

No one is perfect. All said and done, there are moments in which we get overwhelmed. This could be because our workload is too much, or our abilities to cope are exceeded. It doesn’t matter. One key to success is knowing when your limit has been exceeded and reaching out to friends, family, professionals or even the internet to find some help. Do not suffer in silence. Very often other people rely on us and we cannot let them down by pretending to be alright when we are indeed grasping at straws.

Remember That Tomorrow Will Always Come

Just remember that there will always be a better day than today, no matter how bad today seems. If you remember this, you will not get derailed by stress. Remember that no matter how bad things seem, someone in the world probably has it worse than you. In my culture, there is a saying that goes “I was crying that I did not have shoes, until I saw a man without legs.” Be positive. Always. Life is beautiful after all. Heuristics show that we are more likely to forget unpleasant experiences if we can build better ones in the future.

Stress is an unavoidable part of our daily lives, but coping effectively with stress is vital. What is stress management to you? A balancing act or survival strategy?

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