What if you could act in a way that does not involve heavy doses of stress? What if your decisions were guided more by logic and empathy, rather than reactions to situations you can’t control anyway? What if your stress is the one thing that is causing problems at work?

Those are questions I’ve been asking myself lately. I had a light bulb moment about how to manage my stress a few months ago as a way to deal with time pressures, and many people responded and said it made sense. Lately, I’ve started seeing stress as an encumbrance that is self-defeating--and a major productivity killer.

Stress is really just a way to exert your energy as a way to control a situation. You think, if I get stressed about the lack of income or the new employee who is not working out, maybe that exertion will somehow change the outcome. It never does. When you get stressed, try to remind yourself about the facts of stress. The exertion is using mental energy. It’s better to use that energy to think through the conflict, make some good decisions, or even just take your team out for lunch and have a good time. Life is short. Stress makes it shorter and less enjoyable.

A bigger problem is that stress makes you a miserable person. You have the look of someone who is wearing an invisible vice grip on your temples. It’s contagious. Everyone around you feels stressed and then makes bad decisions or uses up their mental energy trying to solve a problem that just needs to resolve itself over time. Time heals all wounds, even the ones caused by stress.

The worst part about using stress in business is that it also destroys productivity. I don’t claim to have my stress under control at all times. However, I’m at least aware of the fact that I tend to turn to stress, to almost befriend it and use it, instead of just realizing that all work situations--that’s right, all work situations--can be managed in some way. None are 100% insurmountable. (Maybe they just seem that way.)

Think about it. Work is just work. So you get paid later than you thought. So the boss thinks you are clueless imbecile. The problems you are facing at work look like a giant swinging a club, but zoom out on your life. That giant? He’s not as big as you think. Interestingly enough, the really stressful parts of life--say, getting married and having kids--seem so large and impossible to control, we sometimes don’t stress out as much about them. We get more stressed when the printer breaks down. It’s human nature. We think the printer should be able to function. The catering service for a wedding? They will probably screw up in some way or another.

We also do a lot of blaming. The printer broke because of you. Seems funny, right? But for some reason we do that at work. It wasn't you. Blame it on HP. They can handle it.

Stress is easier to manage when you gain perspective. It’s also easier to manage when you tell someone about it. The main reason work stress is often manageable is that we have a team that can pick up the slack and help us, yet we choose to think it is our issue and we should be able to handle it without assistance. The reason the stress exists is because of that flawed thinking, not because there is anything all that urgent or complex (in most cases). If it was really complex or impossible to resolve, we’d probably just chalk it up to something beyond our control.

Let’s settle this issue right now. Think about the stress you are feeling today. What is it? Why are you feeling this loss of control? How does it compare to other issues? Is there a way to just set it aside and breathe a little right now and see the big picture? What is the worst outcome possible for this current situation you are facing? Is there some alternate outlet that might prove to be a better option anyway? Selling your business? Moving to a different area? Fixing the printer?

As always, I want to help. It’s my job. I don’t want to just throw out these ideas and then slink back into obscurity behind a keyboard. If you have some work stress right now, feel free to vent to me directly and I will offer some tips and guidance. As always, if you don’t get a response, try me again or post on my Twitter feed because I have some pretty intense email filters running these days.

 

Published on: Aug 20, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.