Tips for Navigating Stress at Work
By Jennifer Card, M.Sc., Impact Coach
It’s important to remember that our ability to choose one thought over another lies in our capacity to be resilient and self-aware. Stressful situations will always be there. How we choose to navigate them through self-awareness, self-compassion and self-regulation are what matters most to our stress management tactics.
Here are some tips for getting ahead of stress through self-awareness:
- Adopt a growth mindset. Dr. Carol Dweck’s research suggests that approaching challenging tasks with an open and learning mindset takes the pressure off the performance and outcome. Try approaching challenging tasks with a sense of curiosity and a desire to learn instead of a need for perfectionism.
- Get to know your stress triggers (we all have them!). Then, be sure to check in with your assumptions and belief systems so you don’t over-think things. For example, asking yourself if you are making a mountain out of a molehill will help you reflect on the stressor. Is it a rational source of concern? Objectively reflecting on your stress triggers can help to put them in their place. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Conserve your energy for when it’s needed.
- Practice mindfulness. Being mindful requires you to be fully present and in the moment. When you are fully present you are not worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. Get to know how it feels to be fully in the moment. Mindful activities can include everything from yoga to hiking, to meditation – anything that positively shifts your focus to your experience of the moment. Being present allows the moment to be just that and nothing more.
- Ground yourself in YOU when everything else is changing. Research suggests that taking time to reflect on the positive things that hold meaning to you and that you value (such as, “I have a wonderful family”) will help to reduce the negative impact of a stressful event. Self-affirmation theory (Steele, 1988) refers to this as expanding your sense of global adequacy (Cohen & Sherman, 2014), where you remind yourself that you are more than this one stressful event.
- Nurture with nature. Research studies suggest that stepping into nature for as little as 20 minutes each day can help to lower your stress levels. Leave your cell phone at your desk, go for a quiet walk outside and look for signs of nature, even in the city. Breathe.
- Reflect on your tolerance for ambiguity. Not much is clear and change is the new norm. Your life experiences, preferences and personality all influence your comfort level and capacity for uncertainty. Simply being aware of your comfort edges during times of change is helpful to your ability to prepare for and navigate it less stressfully. Reflecting and becoming more mindful can help stretch you to become okay with uncertainty.
- Foster healthy relationships and support systems. Social media has reduced the amount of meaningful time we spend with one another. Be present with friends and loving relatives who have your best interests in mind. Talk to them openly and honestly about your feelings. Healthy communication helps you work through stress.
- Is the glass half empty or half full? Positive thinking is the ability to reframe a situation without focusing on the negative, freeing up thinkspace to find a solution. Along with mindset, our ability to positively or negatively reframe a situation impacts our stress levels. Being mindfully aware of how we process, contextualize and reframe situations helps mitigate the negative impact of stress. Choose to find the positive in every situation whenever possible. If something is tough, think of it as a learning experience and lean into it.
- Self-Care. When we get busy we forget to look after ourselves, and all of the self-care activities that “charge our batteries” go to the wayside. Remember that when our batteries are fully charged, we are better equipped to face challenges and less apt to let stress take over. Next time that you hear yourself say “Oh, I’ll do that next month when I am less busy” and it’s something that helps to meaningfully charge your batteries, try keeping in your agenda.
- Try coaching. Coaching provides a thinkspace to revisit your strengths, increase your self-awareness and check-in with yourself. Self-awareness is critical to your ability to not only navigate yourself but also navigate situations. Coaching can also help you to discover your preferences for stress-reducing activities in your life and help you to develop self-care goals.
Most importantly, reach out. We all experience feelings of stress, but if you are feeling chronically overwhelmed by stress talk to a trusted support person or family doctor. They are there to help.
Cohen, G. & Sherman, D. (2014). The psychology of change: Self-affirmation and social psychological intervention. Annual Review of Psychology, 65 (1), 333-371
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.
Steele, C. M. (1988). The psychology of self-affirmation: Sustaining the integrity of the self. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology, Vol. 21. Social psychological studies of the self: Perspectives and programs (p. 261–302). Academic Press.