“My work stress is driving me nuts,” my friend Connie said one day. “Do you ever feel that way?”
By AIS FELLOW- Rozina Lakhani, MD, MPH
According to one survey, 80% of employees reported feeling stressed at work sometimes and 60% of absenteeism was associated with stress in some ways in that survey. Although stress can come from many sources, work stress particularly leads to burnout. In a study among physicians, burnout was independently associated with a 25% increased odds of alcohol use. It also increased odds of suicidal ideation among physicians by 200 percent. Stress is a natural part of life. In the right amount, it can push you to perform at your best. But too little or too much is not good. Also, not enough leads to low motivation, and too much can have adverse effects on your health and happiness.
Are there ways you can use its positive benefits and dodge the negative? You probably employ some of those tactics already. Would you like to learn some more ways to dodge your stress? Let’s explore. Before you go into what methods can help, let’s see if you are experiencing any signs of stress and burnout.
Answer the questions below with either not at all, sometimes, most of the time or all the time.
1. Do you feel emotionally exhausted for many days?
2. Do you find yourself getting more irritable than usual?
3. Are you finding that your focus is not as sharp as usual?
4. Are you finding that you are getting less productive than usual?
5. Are you losing the job satisfaction you used to have?
Your answers may reveal if stress is getting more than your ability to cope with it.
As many people spend the majority of their waking time at work, occupational pressures can become their primary source of stress. If you are feeling an increased level of job stress, you may be at risk of burnout. If you let it continue, it can affect your quality of work as well as your safety. Did I say safety? Yes. Because when you are stressed, you are likely to be absent-minded. You are at risk of making mistakes, which can lead to injuries and harm. Not only that, but you are likely to be more irritable, which can affect your client’s satisfaction. When you feel burnout, you are likely to put less effort into your work. And, as mentioned above, you are at a higher risk of alcohol and substance abuse. You could also be at higher risk of mental illness and sometimes suicidal ideation.
As CPR can revive somebody from physically passing out, this formula can revive someone from mentally passing out due to stress.
So, what can you do?
To deal with any stress, I have shared a simple 3 step formula in my book Stress to Joy; Your Toolkit to restore Peace of Mind in Minutes. The acronym CPR represents it. Calm-Process-Respond. As CPR can revive somebody from physically passing out, this formula can revive someone from mentally passing out due to stress. There can be many causes of stress at work. For this article, let us review ten common causes of job stress, and how you can apply this formula to come up with practical solutions.
1 Forgetting the Purpose: One patient told me that before he started his work as a legal assistant, he was very passionate about it. It excited him to go to work every day. As time passed, he started getting focused on the day-to-day tasks and started feeling stress and lack of job satisfaction. When he started working with me, he went through the three steps of Stress to Joy (STJ) CPR: Calm-Process-Respond. Calm: He started using mindfulness and progressive muscle relaxation. It helped him calm his mind and body. Process: I usually advise my patients to journal. So, he started with a gratitude journal followed by processing his thoughts and feelings. As he wrote, he realized that he was feeling frustrated as he did not see the purpose of his daily tasks. Once we discussed the ‘why’ behind each task and how, in the end, somebody’s life became better, he started seeing his
small role in the whole legal process. It helped clients achieve justice and improve their quality of life. Respond: He decided to write the result of his work on a poster and place it in a prominent place at work. It helped him stay passionate. Every time he started feeling the drudgery of daily tasks, he looked at the result. It helped him face the stress of day to day documentation in a positive way. He started dodging the adverse effects of stress. The further away you are from the beneficiary of your work, the harder it is to remember how your work is helping someone. For example, an IT worker may have a difficult time as he or she may never see the person who benefits from their assistance. So, if you find yourself in a situation like this, identify how your work helps someone, how it helps your team and allows it to make someone’s life better or safer or easier. Keeping that purpose in your mind would help you dodge the stress of daily challenges.
2 Job-Skill Mismatch: Jasmine was a very creative person. She was assigned a job that had very little to do with creativity and required a lot of organization. The more she pushed herself, the worse she felt. There was a mismatch between her skills and the job that had assigned to her. She applied the STJformula; CPR: Calm-Process-Respond. Calm: She calmed down her mind and body using yoga and breathing exercises. Process: As she started processing, she realized that she was putting herself down for not being able to do the work that was assigned to her. Her self-esteem was at an all-time low. I shared with her the technique of grateful achievement- https://drrozina.com/blog/build-confidence/
Respond: Once she identified her strengths, she was able to see where she was deficient. She worked with her supervisor to improve those skills. Identifying her talent in other areas, her supervisor assigned her jobs where her creativity came to flourish. It allowed her to problem solve better, and both she and her organization benefitted. She was able to dodge the adverse effects of stress by identifying her strengths and working on improving her weaknesses. In her case, she was able to make some changes in her job assignments while staying with the same organization. If she had to change, she also found the strength to change and apply for a job more suited to her skills. She started dodging the adverse effects of stress. You can do the same.
3 Lack of Work-Life Boundaries: My friend Sam was having skin issues due to stress. She was working as a director and spending 50+ hours at work and 15+ hours in commuting a week. When at home, she was still thinking about work. The boundaries between her work and her life were blurred. With more people working for themselves, the ability to communicate via emails and text at any time of the day, and dealing with people in different time zones, many people are having difficulty keeping these boundaries. It puts you at risk of burnout. She applied the STJ formula CPR: Calm-Process-Respond. Calm: She calmed down by practicing mindful driving. Progress: As she started processing in her mind, she realized that by not choosing to put those boundaries, she was unintentionally making a choice. She identified her work hours and nonwork hours.
Respond: She responded by communicating her concerns to her team. She told them that she is going to respond to urgent needs sometimes outside office hours but not between certain times, like 10 pm to 8 am. She also chose to focus on her family and herself outside the work hours. She started working one day a week later so she could exercise more. She started dodging the adverse effects of stress. You can do the same.
4 Expectations: John was feeling helpless when he thought that this manager’s expectations were excessive. He was feeling helpless, as it was more than he could handle, and he became increasingly irritable. He applied the STJ formula. CPR: Calm-Process-Respond. Calm: He calmed down using feet to floor relaxation technique. Process: He realized that his irritability was due to his avoiding to discuss his concerns openly with his manager. He focused on his purpose and his strengths. Respond: He chose to bring it to his supervisor. While focusing on his strengths, he explained how adjusting expectations would also benefit the organization. He started dodging the adverse effects of stress. You can do the same.
5 Self-Expectations: Jim did not have the problem of high expectations from his manager. He had too high expectations for himself. He was never good enough for himself and felt stressed. He applied the STJ formula. CPR: Calm-Process-Respond. Calm: He calmed down, using meditation. Process: He realized that his stress was coming from his high expectations. He realized that he would never say to anybody, what he said to himself. He would appreciate his coworkers more if they performed at his level and realized the value of appreciating himself. Respond: He acknowledged and adjusted. He chose to appreciate himself. He started giving himself starts and doing an excellent job when he achieved simple goals. This allowed him to start enjoying his work more. He started dodging the adverse effects of stress and you can do the same.
6 Relationship Issues: The other day, my friend Rene and I met for lunch. As we were catching up, she shared her frustration due to a coworker’s demeaning comments. One time he even called her “stupid.” She knows that she is smart, but she was having a hard time adjusting. Those words kept repeating in her head. It was affecting her work performance. Their team communication suffered due to her discomfort. Many days she didn’t even feel like going to work, leading to absenteeism. I shared a technique to release the hold of those words that made her laugh a lot. She applied the STJ formula; CPR: Calm-Process-Respond. Calm: Laughing helped her calm down. Process: She realized that her coworker’s comments were his problem, and not hers. She didn’t need to punish herself for that. Read the details of how she processed and let go of those thoughts in a previous blog: https://drrozina. com/?s=camel+face+technique Respond: It made so much sense to her that she told me, “I am going to put a camel picture on the side of my notice board at work. It will remind me of my choice to let go.” She started dodging the adverse effects of stress. You can do the same.
7 Insufficient Time: Rachel had so many tasks that she was feeling stressed and overwhelmed. She applied the STJ formula; CPR: Calm-Process-Respond. Calm: She calmed down using art meditation. Process: She realized that her stress was coming from her trying to do everything on her list, which was impractical. She had learned the 5D technique to prioritizing in the Stress to Joy book. Respond:
She applied the 5 D formula:
1 D: Delete
2 D: Diminish
3 D: Delegate
4 D: Delay
5 D: Do it
She started dodging the adverse effects of stress. You can do the same.
What if you don’t recognize your elevated stress level and take action to lower it? So, develop a regular habit of calming down, processing by either talking to someone or journaling and responding wisely. If you do that, you will be able to dodge many of the adverse effects of stress and enjoy health and happiness.
38 Winter 2019/2020 | CONTENTMENT The American Institute of Stress | www.stress.org
Dr. Rozina Lakhani is an MD-Psychiatrist, # 1 bestselling author, Speaker and Employee Wellness Consultant. Her mission is to promote health and happiness and prevent stress and suffering. She is the medical director at Shifa Health and a clinical professor at the University of Washington. Dr. Rozina received her medical degree from the Aga Khan University in Pakistan and completed her Master of Public Health degree and her residency in Psychiatry from the University of Illinois in Chicago. She is a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and a Fellow and Contributing Editor to Contentment. For more information visit Dr. Rozina’s website at https://drrozina.com/.