Workplace stress is not inevitable. Here are some simple techniques to lower your own levels.
Stress sucks. According to the American Psychological Association, stress can result in headache, muscle tension, muscle pain, chest pain, fatigue, upset stomach, insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation, lack of focus, irritability, depression, eating problems, addiction ... and social withdrawal. Yow!
Fortunately, stress isn't inevitable, even in today's hyper-connected, highly competitive world. Here are six techniques that I've picked up over the years and now use on a daily basis.
1. Create an Oasis
In the past, people worked 9 to 5; in today's business environments, there's pressure to work (or at least be available) 24/7. Needless to say, that pressure generates oodles of stress.
An absurdly easy way to get reduce that stress is to shut down your computer and your cell–not just while you sleep, but also an hour before and after you sleep.
This takes discipline, because you're probably in habit of checking email, texts and so forth. This also takes self-confidence, because you must believe that you need to be at the constant beck and call of your boss, colleagues and customers. Do it anyway.
2. Find the 'Sweet Spots'
Having a overlong to-do list can a huge source of stress, because it feels like you can never get them those tasks completed. Here's a thought: Why bother?
Instead, categorize each task by difficulty (e.g. easy, medium, hard) and then by potential impact (e.g. large, medium, small). You'll probably find there are about 10 tasks that are both easy and will have a large impact. Hit those "sweet spots" first.
In most cases, you'll achieve 80 percent of your goals by only doing 20 percent of the work. And that takes the pressure off, thereby reducing stress. As a bonus stress-reliever, ignore those tasks that are hard and won't have much of an impact anyway.
3. Renegotiate Your Workload
Unreasonable expectations of what you're capable of accomplishing are a huge source of stress–regardless of whether those expectations come from yourself, from your boss, or from your customers.
The cure for this kind of stress is a dose of reality. Look at how much time you've got to spend, assess the amount of work that needs to be done, and, based on that, be realistic about what's actually going to get done. If you're expected to accomplish A,B,C and D, and there's only time to achieve three of the four, decide–or force your boss to decide–which three will actually get done and which one will not.
4. Turn Off the News
The news media, like every other form of entertainment, makes money by producing strong emotions in its audience. Outside business news, those emotions are almost exclusively negative: anger, fear, anxiety, dread, and frustration.
While those manufactured emotions do provide momentary distraction from work stress, they do it by adding more stress. Watching or listening to the news in order "to relax" is like having a beer to dull the pain of a hangover; it only makes things worse in the long run.
So whenever there's a news story that starts to make you angry or upset, change the channel–unless it's 100% relevant to your life–or click to another page.
5. Disconnect from the Uncontrollable
There are always events that you simply can't control: the economy, traffic, politics, other people's emotions, customer decisions, and so forth.
While it can be useful to observe and predict such events (in order to know how to react to them), once you've decided how you'll deal with them, it's stressful (and, frankly, a little nutso) to continue to focus on them.
Worrying about stuff you can't control isn't going to make an iota of difference either in the short or the long run. It's wasted energy and extra stress you don't need. Change what can change and shrug off what you can't.
6. Avoid Stressed People
You may not realize it, but your physiology is programmed to mirror the physiology of the people around you. (This is a neurological phenomenon resulting from the"mirror neurons" in your brain.) In other words, you can "catch" stress from other people.
So although it may not be possible to avoid stressed people all the time, you should try, as far as possible, to limit your contact with such people–at least until you've conquered your own stress. At that point, the opposite effect kicks in, because the calmness you will have achieved is also contagious–provided you've made it into a strong enough habit.
How do you relieve, reduce or eliminate stress? Leave a comment below. And sign up for the free Sales Source newsletter for weekly column updates and extra success-oriented content.
GEOFFREY JAMES writes "Sales Source on Inc.com," the world's most-read sales-oriented blog. His new book, Business Without the Bullsh*t, will be published in early 2014. To get weekly blog updates, sign up for his free "Insider" newsletter. @Sales_Source