What is the source of your stress and who to seek out for advice on dealing with it by Roz Usheroff
According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 80% of workers feel stress on the job, with nearly half indicating that they need help in learning how to manage stress.
For some, that management comes in the form of changing jobs. In fact 42% of employees change jobs due to stress. While this may seem like a solution, is changing jobs really the answer?
“Career choice is always a search for the self, and for work more fitting to that self” – Richard Bolles, author What Color Is Your Parachute?
Over the years I have counseled many people who, after making the change to a new job in the hopes of relieving stress and finding greater fulfillment, actually found themselves feeling greater stress than they did in their previous position.
Given that a change in work life such as dismissal or retirement, are ranked as being two of the top stressful life events on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, this should not be surprising. Yet for those who have made a change, it often is.
Ultimately this realization that stress has somehow followed them to their new job creates a sense of frustration and hopelessness. It also leads to questions such as what’s wrong with me, why can’t I cope, or worse yet, a graduating sense of resignation that work life is a necessary evil that must be endured for the sake of earning a paycheck.
Besides the personal ramifications, stress has a negative impact on the economy as a whole.
For example, the National Safety Council estimates that 1 million employees are absent from work on a daily basis due to stress. In addition to absenteeism, stress also leads to diminished productivity, employee turnover and accidents on the job, costing American industry between $200 billion and $300 billion annually.
In short, stress in the workplace is obviously a major problem that requires real answers at a practical, every day real-life level.
The first step towards getting to these answers, is to identify the source of your workplace stress.
The Origin Of Your Stress
The American Institute of Stress (AIS) has identified the following four main causes of stress in the workplace:
- Workload (46%)
- People Issues (28%)
- Juggling Work/Personal Lives (20%)
- Lack of Job Security (6%)
The logical next step after identifying the above stressors would be to delve into each one in greater detail, and then prescribe some course of action or coping techniques to reduce their negative impact.
However, and in my experience, this is tantamount to putting the proverbial cart before the horse.
The fact is that stress, regardless of its origins, is an inevitable part of life. Before employing coping techniques for specific scenarios, we have to first address the elephant in the room. Specifically, from what vantage point are you viewing your situation?
In this regard, we often seek the advice of others.
The Proper Lens?
In the sports world, and in particular football, there is a familiar term for someone who, from the comfort of their living room chair, critiques the performance of the players on the field.
Known as the armchair quarterback, these individuals offer their advice from a position of comfort and certainty based on the fact that they are not actually playing the game. In essence, they have little on the line other than their opinions.
For those offering advice to someone who is in the midst of a stressful situation, there is a parallel with the armchair quarterback.
The reason for this disconnect between well intended advice and meaningful impact is a matter of perception or view. Depending upon the person from whom you are seeking input, the advice you receive could be good or bad relative to your individual situation.
Even though it is always important to seek feedback from a variety of different sources, you must do so through a collective and scrutinizing lens that takes into account the following different personality types.
The Commiserator (Understanding)
Far too often the first people from whom we seek advice during a stressful period are those who themselves are dealing with stress. This is particularly true in situations where for example, co-workers share your specific problem such as working for a difficult boss.
While you may find temporary comfort in talking with someone who truly “understands” from where you are coming, the commiserator’s input offers no real answers, only a verification of your feelings. They do not provide a solution for the long term. Or to put it another way, you will likely end up in a shared misery comfort zone in which your job satisfaction and career prospects will flat-line into one of enduring disillusionment and discontent.
The Endurer (Strength)
Have you ever talked with someone who, after laying yourself out there emotionally regarding a stressful situation, snaps “who said life would be easy,” followed by the admonishment to just “pull up your socks” and deal with it?
It is as if they are challenging you to stop whining and simply grin and bear it, because we all have problems.
They then follow this up with a story of their own regarding how they had to endure tough times but came out the better for it!
Even though there is nothing inherently wrong with a pick yourself up, and dust yourself off admonishment, like the short term caffeine boost one gets from that first cup of coffee in the morning, it doesn’t last.
The reason is quite simple . . . in merely plowing ahead in an albeit determined but familiar direction, you will likely find yourself back in the same place you are today feeling more tired and frustrated than you were before.
After all, isn’t the definition of insanity “doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results?”
While perseverance is an admirable quality, it can also serve as an excuse to avoid facing up to a undesirable situation or difficult decision.
The end result of following the advice of the Endurer is ultimately the same as it is with the Commiserator . . . more of the same disappointment and frustration day-in and day-out.
The Go Getter (Positive Attitude)
We have all at one point in time or another encountered the boundless energy of the Go Getter.
You know who I am talking about. The individual who always seems to walk on the sunny side of the street. They turn lemons into lemonade bigger than life personality.
The polar opposite to the grimly stern “pull up your socks” and press through it personality, the Go Getter takes a positive view of life and the challenges it presents on a daily basis. Rather than admonish, the Go Getter encourages you to endure and to look for ways to adapt to your present circumstances.
Even though the Go Getter’s mantra of positive reinforcement is designed to bolster your confidence, the white cloud of feel good optimism upon which you will be floating when you leave their presence, will soon dissipate into the cold reality of your original situation.
Once again, and as was the case with the other two personality types you will, with the Go Getter, inevitably find yourself back at square one.
The Collective View
After reading the above, one might easily fall into a “so what are you saying Roz, is it hopeless?” Is there no-one out there who can help me to gain the right perspective regarding the stressful situations I am facing at work?
Yes, it is hopeless if you are only applying the advice from one adviser personality type.
The fact is that to successfully deal with everyday work stress, you have to have a balance of understanding, strength and a positive attitude.
From the standpoint of the Commiserator, understanding that there are going to be times that you will feel pressure and frustration and stress, and that they are not a sign of weakness, will give you a healthier and more optimistic view of both yourself and life.
With an Endurer personality, you will avoid wallowing in the difficulty of a stressful situation and know that you are empowered by forging ahead toward a solution. And if a solution cannot be found, you will have the courage to make a change.
Finally, and by adopting a Go Getter’s frame of mind, you will know that regardless of what happens there is going to be a tomorrow. The sun will rise again, and that new opportunities will present themselves if you put yourself in the position to both recognize and capitalize on them.
When, and only when, you have taken the positive from all three adviser personality types, will you be in the position to manage your stress to a successful outcome.