How to stop stress from eating you alive at work

Image from Unsplash by Sharon Wright

We spend an unholy amount of time at work, let’s be honest. Usually, five days — sometimes six, if you’re unlucky — out of seven. Monday comes around casting a somewhat dismal shadow on your Sunday evening. But it’s when stress starts repeatedly impacting your life that it’s time to do something about it.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced some stress at work, it’s natural. There’s a deadline looming and whether it’s just that you lack organisation, or you’re completely overwhelmed with tasks — it’s certainly stressful.

When stress builds and builds in a job it can lead you, as the employee, to look elsewhere. A job that won’t be as stressful, the manager will more understanding, right? Sadly, this isn’t always the case and sometimes it’s you — you’re your issue.

What?

Let me take you back to my first ever 9–5 job. I was an editorial assistant in an online publication company — there were a few of us at the same level and similar ages. I somehow became the skivvy of the group. All menial tasks were given to me, instead of being divvied out. I was deemed the weaker writer of the group — it was my first writing job, so instead of helping me better my craft they just gradually pushed me into a lower position.

I became ‘the helper’ helping everyone out with tasks they couldn’t be bothered doing. I didn’t speak up — I thought everyone was a good writer and I was put in my rightful place. Best not to argue my point.

I inadvertently put myself in that position. I was the one who said I would help and I was the one who didn’t stand up for myself when everyone was making fun of my writing.

I was there for just over a year, and in that year, one of my colleagues slipped up and mentioned everyone had had a pay rise in our group — but I hadn’t. I plucked up the courage to raise the issue with my line manager — they’d only gone up by £1000 a year which is what, £20 extra after taxes or something? I just wanted to know why the company — or my line manager — hadn’t deemed me worthy of this seemingly minuscule pay rise. Her response? ‘We discussed this, and they all promised me they wouldn’t say anything to you.’

Well, thank you, now I feel much better.

Five of the seven of us were made redundant and that was that. Or was it? The experience of feeling at the bottom of the pack has stayed with me for my entire career. Isn’t it funny what memories you cling on to? Every job I’ve had, I’ve been worried someone read my work and laughed in my face at how poor my writing was. So I always took a step back, I never asked for more money in any job I had because I felt it was greedy — although it turned out other people doing the SAME JOB as I was but were getting paid sometimes thousands of pounds more. More fool me.

At the time I hadn’t realised that being made redundant from that first position was the best thing that could have happened to me. But I can look back now and say it categorically was. Imagine, I might still be still stuck in that dead-end job being made to feel worthless!

The next few years would see me job hop from marketing job to marketing job. I never really found any of my managers inspiring or able to impart wisdom. It’s amazing how many people get given the title marketing manager but couldn’t teach me anything useful about marketing.

Most of my marketing positions have seen me sat right below the managing director of the company. I thought these positions would be the perfect jobs — they have built a company from scratch — they must have some good knowledge to share?

But here’s what I’ve learnt across my career so far — don’t let people make you think you are worthless, do not be scared to voice your opinion and do not bite off more than you can chew.

Here are my top tips to eliminate unnecessary stress at work

Put it back on your line manager

If you get asked to do something as a priority, for example, and then your manager comes back to you and says ‘oh and this also needs doing as a priority’ just ask them — well which one is a priority because I can’t physically do them at the same time. One of them will be done before the other. If they still don’t give you an answer, just work with what you’ve got. And when they say where is the other task — you can just say that you did raise it with them. Always cover your back — email is a good way to do this.

Find another job

Sometimes, the best way to vote is with your feet. Goodbye and good luck finding some poor sucker to fill this position. If you’ve countlessly stood your ground and your manager is still the issue, then maybe it’s time to say adios and hello to Indeed. It’s been widely recognised that people leave managers, not companies. You would think managers have realised the problem by now — but in your case, maybe they haven’t.

Always approach issues with tact

If you go into a meeting like a bull in a china shop no one will listen and take you seriously. Always argue your point with a tactful approach. Being able to sensitively discuss issues is a real skill and is one you should continue to work on throughout your career.

Learn how to say ‘no’

This is a problem I found myself in my first editorial job. I said yes to everything, which ultimately made me unhappy and stressed out. I always want to try and help if I can and if that sounds like you too then believe me you only end up burning yourself out. Even if your answer is ‘yes after I’ve finished X’ then that’s much less brutal than a straight ‘no’. I can’t stand it when people say jokingly ‘it’s above my pay grade’ when I know they could just help me for two seconds. But if you genuinely have no time to dedicate to helping someone, be clear with them and tell them why you can’t help them.

Have hobbies outside of work

If work is your whole life, when something stressful happens at work it can really impact your home life. I’ve found that since having things to do outside of work, I don’t focus on work all the time. You need a good work-life balance, not a work and sit-at-home-thinking-about-work balance.

Work is a big part of most of our lives, but it doesn’t have to negatively impact your entire life. Only you can change things for yourself and create new opportunities. So, if you’re always stressed at work maybe it’s time to shake it up?

Imagine you just didn’t stress anymore about the little things? How cool would that be?

I’m a freelance writer sharing freelance advice, tool reviews, and writing tips. Sign up to my newsletter https://bit.ly/39SwJTi

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