Q: I'm often under a lot of stress at work. How can I prevent the pressure from affecting my performance?
A: A certain amount of stress gets us to perform. We need deadlines, we need expectations, we need to know what the reward system is. It gets us to work at a higher level. The problem is that it can reach a point where the more you're handling, the worse you perform.
In today's work world, the stresses you face can be categorized into three areas.
The first is environmental stress -- the stress of your workplace having 24/7 access to you via e-mail and cell phone. To alleviate this, you have to create boundaries. You can say that after 8:30 p.m., you're not going to respond to messages or calls until the next morning.
The second is resource stress. Most people and companies are doing more with less. Just to hold onto your job these days, you're expected to do the work of two or three people with fewer resources than you had just a few years ago. Try to pool your efforts with your colleagues and come up with a plan that works well for everyone. Let's say I work in customer service and I've inherited twice the number of accounts I started with. I can brainstorm with my co-workers in customer service on how we all can manage our workload together: There might be a more efficient way of serving customers when I use the collective thinking of the team. Normally, management will appreciate the new approach if it leads to greater efficiency. Normally.
The third is interpersonal stress, which usually has to do with your boss -- or, if you're self-employed, that client who's impossible to please. Learn to communicate with your boss to clarify what they expect from you. You can't fix the other person, so don't try.
You also need to take care of yourself physically. Exercise at the gym, play organized sports -- do something to purge the body of toxins and clear your mind. We literally hold stress in the body, and if you keep shoving it in there, you're going to have physical symptoms. You've got to release that energy from the body.
Katherine Crowley is a Harvard-trained psychotherapist who specializes in workplace issues. The co-author of Working for You Isn't Working for Me, Crowley co-owns the corporate consulting firm K Squared Enterprises.
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