All Stressed Up and No Place to Go?
Tips on Reducing Stress at Work

By Mimi Donaldson

There you are - stuck in another meeting. Everyone has a glazed look in their eyes because the meeting has gone completely off-track. The meeting is already running late and you begin to worry about your next appointment. Your face feels hot, your right temple starts to throb. Just then, a co-worker asks another unnecessary question. Now you know it’s going to be at least another 20 minutes before you can leave. You sigh in exasperation. “My day is ruined,” your internal voice declares.

And it may be. Stress can do that. As a matter of fact, stress can ruin your whole life. Stress is an internal response to an external event. If you don’t learn to control the stresses in your life in a positive way, your mental and physical health will suffer. In the above example, the runaway meeting is the external event, and all your responses are the stresses you feel. Since the externals seldom change, how do you change your internal response?

At WAR With Yourself: Let’s use the overly long meeting as an example. Stress is caused by resisting what’s going on. When we encounter a runaway meeting, an annoying co-worker or an uncomfortable situation, we respond with three emotions: worry, anger and resentment.

Notice the first three letters of those words describe the stress response perfectly: WAR -- the war within you. If you look at your stress event, you will find that the worry, anger and resentment are not caused by the runaway meeting. The meeting is merely the trigger that sets off those three emotions. The WAR within you is really a war with yourself. Let’s look at what the true causes may be.

  1. You Worry about being late. Do you fear that if you’re late, there will be reprisals or punishment? Worrying is never going to bring a solution. As soon as you begin to feel worry, you know it’s time to start thinking of a solution.

  2. You feel Anger at the co-worker who asked another unnecessary question. Is your anger related to the fact that not everyone is as prepared as you are? Do you feel that others are taking up your time learning what they should have already known? This anger doesn’t take into consideration the fact that people learn at different rates or have differing amounts of time to study. If you sit back and listen to the answer, chances are that, from time to time, you will find out that you didn’t know the answer after all and that by letting someone else ask the question no one will ever know of your ignorance.

  3. You feel Resentment toward the people who don’t know how to conduct a proper meeting or who have nothing better to do than sit in a meeting. Are you often impatient with people who don’t do things exactly as you do? Well, people seldom will. Use what you consider to be their weak points to strengthen your own activities. Learn what others are doing wrong, and then don’t do it.

The Pause That De-stresses: How can we learn to stop fuming and seething and become the person who calmly sits through the meeting?  Remember, stress is caused by resisting what’s going on.. But there is another way to react: Accept. I don’t mean, “Oh goody, I’m going to be late to my next appointment!” I mean, “Ah, a meeting that’s going to run late. That’s one of the things that drive me crazy and here it is.” Use humor to accept. Once you accept a situation, you can act upon it. When you’re busy resisting, you’re paralyzed.

When you accept, you can push your internal pause button. You can pause while you decide what course of action to take. Use your pause button to gain control over an automatic stress response. Ask, “Are any of my stress reactions going to help me get what I want?” Of course, the answer is no. So, what can you do instead?

There are three alternative actions: adapt, alter or avoid. For the “runaway meeting” example, you can eliminate the third one right away -“avoid.” Unless you are the CEO, you can hardly avoid meetings that run late.

“Adapt” means adapting yourself to the situation. Listen to what’s going on in the meeting and see if there is anything you can contribute or gain. If you can get past your resentment at being there, this may turn out to be a perfect time for you to come up with a solution to something that will make you shine.

“Alter” means changing the situation. Find a way to steer the meeting, even if you’re not the one in charge. Rather than sit and fume about how you will be late to your next appointment, make an effort to bring the meeting back to focus and win the approval of your boss at the same time.

Regardless of the situation, you have the choice to resist or accept. Resisting leads to stress and accepting leads to bliss. By reducing your stress at work, you’ll be able to focus on the more important things, such as improving your productivity and creativity.

Read other articles and learn more about Mimi Donaldson.

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