A certain amount of stress at work is inevitable. Unfortunately, too many of us are feeling “unduly stressed,” according to a study by the online job platform CareerCast. Seventy-eight percent of respondents rank their stress at seven or higher on a 10-point scale. Since the average American spends just over 40 hours a week at work, a stressful job can lead to a stressful life.
“Stress is a root wood,” says Sue Hawkes, author of Chasing Perfection: Shatter the Illusion; Minimize Self-Doubt & Maximize Success, and CEO and founder of YESS! (Your Extraordinary Success Strategies), professional business coaching provider. “Distress is a negative; something is awful and you can’t function. But stress can be useful. It’s an interpretation of what’s occurring, and it can be catalytic or catastrophic, framed on your thinking.”
The CareerCast study identified the three most common stress factors, and Hawkes says it’s possible to get in front of each one to reduce your distress:
Meeting deadlines often includes accountability to a boss or to other members of your team. That can be challenging if your priorities don’t coincide, says Hawkes. Some personalities prefer to wait and let a deadline motivate them, which is a catalytic use of stress.
“Unfortunately, people are poor estimators of all that goes into what needs to be done,” says Hawkes. “They think something will take two or three actions, and they wait until the eleventh hour. Often it turns out to be 15 things, not two or three. Maybe the scope of the project changed in reality from what they had imagined in the first place.”
To meet deadlines, you need to start at the end and work backwards to today, she suggests.
“This allows you to evaluate competing priorities and understand who you need to coordinate with,” says Hawkes. “When you start at the end, you can see how you’re going to make things happen. When you look forward, it can feel like there’s plenty of time, and having plenty of time means there’s always time for procrastination.”
To work together to meet deadlines, you must communicate clearly and coordinate actions. You don’t want your catalytic use of stress to cause someone else to have a catastrophic type of stress because they feel out of control of the situation.
Another top stress factor is growth potential, which can trigger imposter syndrome, says Hawkes.
“We don’t always see ourselves accurately, and our view can be inflated or deflated,” she says. “We look at past performance to predict the future, but it may not be a strong determinant.”
To grow means going into new territory, and that means becoming a beginner again. “In the beginning, all expertise goes out the window,” says Hawkes. “That can cause you to feel incompetent and not effective if you’ve never tried it. Your entire identity comes into question.”
But pain equals growth. “Growing and learning involves having to deal with painful situations for your ego that can make you uncomfortable,” she says. “Having a mentor or coach or a network of support would be a game changer. They are people who have been through it, and can see who you can become, rather than limit you to what you see.”
Interacting with the public
Interacting with the public, such as networking, causes stress because it can bring about judgment. “We often worry about what someone else thinks of us, or we might be seeking approval,” says Hawkes. “But it’s often not as personal as we’re making it, because we’re all worried about the other person.”
Networking can be especially stressful for introverts. “A study took an equal number of introverts and extroverts and threw them into a networking event,” says Hawkes. “Introverts were just as effective at networking, but they told themselves a dramatically different story after the experience.”
Extroverts get energy from being around people, but introverts can rethink their approach, Hawkes suggests. “You have to get into your own thinking and find your own life hacks,” she says. “An introvert can plan downtime to recharge before or after the event. Or invent a story and find a way to make it fun. For example, you may not like lines or crowds, but you love the subject of the event. Put your focus there.”
Getting ahead of the stress
With each of the top 3 causes of stress, the key is to get in front of your own thinking. “Thoughts become things,” says Hawkes. “You wouldn’t feel a thing if you didn’t think something first. That’s introspective, and hard work. Don’t be afraid to ask for help removing the stress. Where you put your thoughts is how you manage your own thinking, and how you balance out the scope of your experience.”