Several ways to manage stress on the job

If you have too much to do and too little time in which to do it; find that the demands of others for your time are in conflict; or spend much of your time fighting "fires," you are probably experiencing excessive stress.

Managers ranked these three situations as the top job-related stressful situations across the country in a study conducted by John Adams, a Washington, D.C., consultant specializing in stress.

The right amount of stress can be a productive source of energy for getting things done, but finding the right balance is often difficult.

Stress can cause us to "burn out" in a high-pressure job, but "rusting out" in a boring, stagnant one can be just as stressful.

According to some recent research, the stress we experience daily can have a more disastrous, cumulative effect on our health and productivity than an occasional but extremely stressful situation like a death in the family or losing your job.

"But I don't have time to manage stress!" "My stress comes from factors I can't control, so there's nothing I can do about it!"

Sound familiar? It's not surprising.

Most people think that stress management has to involve a large scale lifestyle or job change. (Indeed, in some cases it may be necessary.) But there are little things all of us can do to relieve the daily stress we must live with.

Managers studied by Adams and others, who have successfully managed their own stress levels, have found several coping strategies that work for them. None of the following techniques takes a great deal of time, but they all require a strong, personal commitment. Decide for yourself.

No surprise here.

Caffeine, sugar, tobacco, alcohol and drugs are the well-known bad guys. You know what you have to do. Cut down or cut them out altogether.

Poor nutrition is a common problem. At work, avoid doughnuts, candy bars and other sugar-laden snacks, eat well-balanced meals (including breakfast), and avoid greasy, heavy restaurant foods.

If you feel you can't function without numerous cups of coffee, try filling your cup with half regular and half decaffeinated coffee. Gradually reduce the amount of regular coffee (and sugar) until you've reached a more reasonable level.

To improve cardiovascular fitness to the levels needed to combat stress, about three times a week each of us needs to elevate the pulse to around 130 beats per minute and maintain that pace for 20-30 minutes.

If your job is competitive and goal-oriented, you would be wise to choose a non-competitive, goal-less activity like walking, swimming or jumping rope.

Often the need to exercise arises on the job, when we're least able to do anything about it. Try some of these ideas when you can't exercise.

Get up and walk. Walk on your lunch hour or to someone's office. If you're tense and ready to explode, walking from one end of the building to the other can be helpful.

If you can't take time to walk, stretch. Systematically stretch your entire body. Roll your neck, rotate and stretch your arms, fingers, legs, toes, and waist.

If you are tied to a chair in a meeting, try isometrics. Tighten the muscles in your legs, arms, abdomen, feet and hands. Hold each for a count of 10 and release.

Few of us can take 20 minutes for relaxation breaks during the day. Instead, you may want to try periodic deep breathing. Breathing is the easiest physiological system to control. It can temporarily lower high blood pressure and results in sense of readiness to concentrate fully on the next task.

(Research shows talking with a spouse is not as effective in reducing job-related stress.) Choose someone who will maintain confidentiality and be non-judgmental and empathic. Sharing your feelings is a proven, effective release.

Numerous studies have underscored the importance of maintaining solid, interpersonal relationships on the job to continue good health in the face of prolonged high levels of stress.

Don't let one spill over into the other.

Make priorities in your work, including the typical crises, problems and complaints.
Choose a qualified individual to train to handle as many of these situations as possible. Incorporate a few practice drill in your training so you and your subordinate will be ready when the time comes.

During periods of high stress, we frequently lose perspective. Ask yourself, "One year from now, as I look on this crucial emergency, how important will it seem?" This technique will help you think more rationally.

Start small. Choose one technique that you would like to try and practice each change rigorously for 21 days. (Studies show it takes at least 21 days of practicing a new behavior to change an old pattern.) Then decide whether you want to continue the stress management technique you've chosen. The important thing is to pick one and start one.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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