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Stress Less and Live Longer Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Workopolis.com Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit www.CareerActivist.com.

Tips for Managing Workday Pressures

Your chest constricts just a wee bit. Your pulse is starting to race. And you notice that you're breathing faster than usual. Are you at the starting gate of your first marathon? Handling explosives that have a short fuse? Or are you just reacting to another tough day at work?

If you're like most people, stress on the job takes a silent toll on your body and your mind. Our biology can't always keep pace with modern demands. Maybe it's month end, and the numbers absolutely, positively have to be submitted by close of business today. Or you're overloaded with work because your colleague is 'ghosting' again (he's there physically but not producing his fair share). Eventually you may find yourself getting sick a little more often, turning in work that's sub-par...and possibly heading for a nasty case of burnout.

Good Stress, Bad Stress
It can happen to any of us, in spite of how strong or immune we think we are. True, there are different forms of stress, and some is quite positive (like the tension of pushing yourself to excel at something you care about strongly). But it's the negative kind that I want to address; that gruelling strain that grinds you down like find sandpaper, leaving your nerves exposed and raw. It surely makes sense to reduce this sort of pressure in your workday, if possible. Here are some strategic, longer-term ways to do so:
  • Define your personal vision of success. Is it getting that corner office regardless of the trade-offs? Competing for another raise or promotion? Or seeing your spouse, potential partner, children and friends more, even if it requires a pay cut? Work/life balance means something different to each of us.
  • Know what it takes to keep your job. Mastering the basics and understanding the political landscape are essential. So is divining your boss's needs and striving to consistently satisfy them. Once you're meeting accepted performance standards, consider taking a breather and turning your energies to other areas of your life you may have been ignoring.
  • Pace yourself. We each have our own innate speed at which we operate comfortably. Go too slow or too fast for drawn-out periods and you'll start to feel discomfort either way.
Tactics For Reducing Tension
The above suggestions are, of course, higher level decisions. They may take time and experimentation to determine what's best for you. In the meantime, anyone can practice stress hygiene during their workday. Among the more popular techniques are...
  • Taking a quick time-out. If your boss or colleagues are on your case, for example, remove yourself for a while from the situation. Go out to grab a coffee (decaf, naturally). Or else retreat into your cubicle or office. Do something constructive for a short while that takes your mind off of the problem. When you re-engage, you'll likely be at least somewhat fresher.
  • Seeing things in a different perspective. Do you frequently believe that you're right while everyone around you isn't? (I sure do, though more often than not I learn the hard way that my viewpoint is merely one of many possible perspectives). Or that your bosses seldom have a clue about their jobs yet they're promoted while you've plateaued? Could be it's time to examine things from their perspective. Maybe they're seeing something you're not.
  • Keeping fit and energized. Working out, eating right, sleeping well...not the easiest things to do when challenged, but doing so keeps you at your best. Proper oxygen and blood flow to the brain make for higher levels of alertness.
  • Looking at the bigger picture. Day to day it's so easy to get caught in the details of making a living. Have you stepped back recently to think about your place in the world at large? Me, I'm but a speck on an enormous blue orb that floats in a stellar sea of such magnitude that the mind reels trying to comprehend it; a perspective that every so often leaves me feeling more than just a bit insignificant, I grant you. But hey, I didn't say that this works for everyone!
  • Reward yourself on occasion. If we waited for other people to praise us or take us out to a nice dinner for a job well done, we might end up like that character who stands around forever in Waiting For Godot. So take the initiative to treat yourself once in a while to a mini-extravagance.
In the final analysis stress is truly a personal matter. Some people thrive on the constant tension that work can readily provide. Others need ways of smoothing out their days so that the strain is more or less muted. It all comes down to your physical and emotional constitution, desired pace of life, overall perspective, and your ability to deal with pressure. Only you can determine the combination that gives you the best of all these elements. In the meantime, go sip some green tea and repeat your mantra silently. If it helps to keep you calmer, don't knock it.

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