“I don’t know why this is so hard. Are you stupid or something?”
I was already under a lot of stress. These words from my manager only made matters worse. New to my job, I was working around the clock building a complex financial model for a software company our firm was advising.
A few numbers in the model weren’t adding up, and my manager was in my face, demanding to know why. The tension had been building inside of me for weeks. I knew if I didn’t find an outlet, I’d fall apart.
This kind of workplace stress is something we all deal with at some point, regardless of our career focus or goals. While many view it as entirely negative, stress is not inherently bad. In fact, a certain level of stress can improve your focus and sharpen your attention.
But for many, stress can become debilitating. Left unchecked, stress can reach a point when it negatively impacts your career, life and health. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced this firsthand.
But situations like that manager questioning my intelligence don’t have the same negative impact as they once did. As time has passed, I’ve learned techniques for overcoming triggers that cause stress.
Here are four ways I conquer career and workplace stress so I can perform at a high level:
The benefits of exercise are well known, so there’s no need to expound on those. The tough part is making time to exercise. This is no easy task, but I’ve found that blocking off time in my calendar is critical. If I don’t set aside a specific time to exercise, it doesn’t happen. If there’s no time for an extended workout, even 15 minutes of exercise will give you a boost of energy and relieve stress.
About a year ago, I started the habit of going on short walks throughout the day. Taking a moment to get up from my desk and go outside is always refreshing. These walks elevate my heart rate, if only for a few minutes, and enable me to go back to my work with renewed focus.
Read a Good Book
Social media has become ubiquitous, and the next post, tweet or status update is always one click away. At the same time, book reading has steadily declined. Too many of us miss out on the many benefits of reading good books.
A few years ago I was challenged by a professor to read 30 books in a year. He promised that doing so would help me think more strategically. As I worked toward this goal, I found reading was a great stress reliever. We all are constantly pulled in a number of directions, and balancing it all takes a toll. Reading good books can be relaxing, help you sleep better, and reduce your stress. (If you’re looking for ways to read more, here’s a great resource.)
Write It Down
One of the best ways to conquer stress is to simply write down how you’re feeling. What’s bothering you? Why is it bothering you? What are some ways to take action? Taking a moment to reflect and write down what you’re experiencing will provide relief.
The writing process also provides clarity of thought. You can put pen to paper or keep a digital record on your computer or phone. The benefits are there regardless of the medium. Keeping a journal and writing down my thoughts and feelings has allowed me to compartmentalize my frustrations. Writing will help you find clearer solutions to your problems and enable you to focus on what you can control.
Find Someone to Serve
Shortly after finishing college, my company went bankrupt and I was out of a job. It was the height of the great recession and I struggled to find work. During one rough stretch, I was encouraged to serve others, and I volunteered to organize service projects at my church.
One Sunday morning I was coordinating parking for a large church meeting. Our parking lot was fairly small, and my job was to direct cars to the various parking lots nearby. A heavy rainstorm struck shortly before the meeting and I stood in the rain for several hours.
By the end of the meeting I was completely soaked, but I had never felt better. Serving others had a cleansing effect on my soul and eliminated the selfish cares that were holding me down. I’ve found the fastest way to forget your own needs is to focus on the needs of others. This may sound counterintuitive, but it works.
Next time you’re overcome by career stress, try one of these four techniques. Go for a walk or run, read a good book, write down how you’re feeling, or find someone to serve. The benefits are real and immediate.
Don’t let stress debilitate you. Take action. Be proactive. Learning how to effectively conquer stress will enable you to achieve greater career success than you can imagine. Invest in yourself by implementing one of these four practices today. You won’t regret it.