Dear New Shrink,
I have been under a lot of stress at work dealing with several looming deadlines. I am on several different projects, all of which have different parties involved. I am seen as a high-performing individual so a lot of extra work seems to come my way because of my ability to get things done. Given all of the work I have on my plate I end up working long hours, eating at my desk, and having trouble turning off once I do get home. Over the last few weeks I have noticed that projects that used to take me just a few minutes to complete are now taking an hour or more. I am flustered and on edge during the day. What can I do to better manage the stress of my workday?
Dear Stressed Out,
The first step in dealing with stress is to recognize when you are feeling stressed. Feeling flustered and on edge are normal indicators of stress as are problems sleeping, headaches, feeling anxious about work, and having trouble concentrating. Ignoring the warning signs you are now experiencing can lead to even greater problems. Stress can have a lot of negative effects on our ability to complete tasks and concentrate.
It is important to take care of yourself in order to better manage work stress. Find time to be active. Physical exercise has a great ability to help you relax while also lifting your mood and helping you to feel re-energized. Be mindful of what you are eating. You mention that you often eat at your desk, which may mean that you are eating quick and convenient foods that may not provide the nutrition necessary to keep you going. Sleep is also an important component in taking good care of yourself and managing stress. If your stress is significant enough to interrupt or delay your sleep it may be worthwhile to meet with your doctor to discuss.
Prioritizing tasks and successfully managing your time will help you to deal effectively with the tasks at hand. Break the big projects into smaller tasks and arrange your day so you have variety in what you are doing. Spending too much time on a particular task may be counterproductive in the long run. Make sure to schedule time for yourself.
It sounds like you are the go-to person in the office so when projects are presented to you try your best not to overcommit. If possible, delegate responsibilities or tasks to others on the team so the burden of the entire project doesn’t lie on just your shoulders. Monitor your expectations as well. If you tend to be a perfectionist you may be spending more time on a given task than is truly needed to complete the project.
Connect with colleagues. Feeling connected to those around you can help give you the tools you need to manage the stress of your workday. Whether it’s taking a quick break to grab a cup of coffee or taking time to share your thoughts on the current situation, having others around you can help give you the support you need to manage a stressful workload. Take time to observe those around you and see how they manage their day. Ask others for advice on how they manage their stress — you might pick up a great tip that will change your outlook on the tasks ahead.
KATRINA DAVY, M.A., Ed.M, is a Santa Monica-based professional career counselor. She holds degrees from Columbia and Cornell universities. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!