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Work Stress: Ways to Cope

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Stressed out? Have a million things to do in the next month? Feeling like you don't know what to do first with projects piled on your desktop? Are deadlines starting to stampede you like a wild herd of buffaloes?

In an effort to minimize stress The Peorian and I are devoting a three-part series to minimizing and conquering stress. Each of the three parts will focus on a different aspect, including attitude, leisure hours, and work life. I hope this series will give you some down-to-earth, helpful tips for making 2012 and beyond a little less stressful and more serene.

Below is the third and final part of the series. Parts one and two were published in the previous two editions of The Peorian.

This segment will focus on work stress. Commonly, work is targeted as the culprit for people's high stress levels. Typically, people state that work stress is caused by impossible deadlines, demanding bosses, unreasonable hours, and poor pay. But as we learned in Part One of our series, we can control some of our stress by adjusting how we think, feel, and react to stressors in our workplace.

In part three of our series, we will discuss how we impose some of our workplace stressors on ourselves and learn some tips for reducing the tension and anxiety in our jobs.
Research shows that American workers are spending more hours at work than ever before. Some researchers say a typical family (assuming that both partners are in the workforce) is putting in more than 1,000 combined hours per year more than was the case 25 years ago.

In this fast paced world, it appears that many employees feel trapped by technological advances. With cell phones, pagers, faxes, and PALM Pilot messaging systems, many employees feel that they cannot get free from the pressures of the job. With pressure building at some positions, many employees are battling the dilemma by scheduling flexible hours, trying 32-hour work weeks, setting personal boundaries with overtime and taking work home with them.

While some employees note that mounting hours at work are a stressor, others say just looking at their desks is a source of stress. Piled with paperwork, some employees state their work space makes them feel pressured and uncomfortable.

Some people have found it helpful to use the "touch it once" technique to minimize stress. Jeffrey Mayer, the author of "Winning the Fight Between You and Your Desk," states, "Five seconds here, two minutes there — it's subtle, but it really adds up."

The basis of the technique is to touch any new paperwork only once. It is essential to make a decision to throw it away, handle the task that moment, get it onto someone else's desk, or create a folder and file the paper away. The goal is to create a system for clearing your desk and an organized process for handling work. The system seems elementary, but it helps minimize those piles of papers that become environmental stressors.

Other employees have found that making a workspace more environmentally pleasing is helpful in lowering stress. Play peaceful music, or place pictures around you that are pleasing. Have something joyous to see that reminds you of tranquility or makes you laugh.

Here are this week's 10 down to earth tips for taking the stress out of work.

1. Clean off your desk. Use the skills we have discussed to lower your stress levels and create a positive working environment.

2. Make a master list of pending projects. This list should be both short and long term and on a notepad. It is too easy to lose post-it notes or little slips of paper. A notepad captures your attention and you can refer to it during the day. Whenever you finish a task, cross it off your list. This helps with organization and gives you the psychological advantage of feeling accomplished and successful. Some people have found it useful to use software programs that note daily tasks and automatically move unfinished tasks to the next day.

3. Take breaks every 20 minutes. Research shows that we do our best work in 20-minute segments. Take a short break and close your eyes, take a short walk, or do some deep breathing. It doesn't matter what you do with your short time-out, as long as it changes the tempo of your work stressors.

4. Avoid interruptions if you have a project that must be completed. Let your voice mail pick up your calls, close your office door or hide out in a conference room where you can't be found.

5. Go home on time. Learn to set boundaries and balance work, home, and personal time. Sometimes working overtime gives the impression that you are willing to have extra work dumped on you.

6. Work less by using some of the techniques we have discussed. Create time for yourself, your family and friends.

7. Ask questions to clarify your responsibilities and job expectations. It is easy to get stressed out if you don't know how to tackle a particular task.

8. Make your job more fun. Studies show that people who enjoy their jobs are more energized, more alert, and less stressed. The key is to make your work more of a game. Invent tricks to make it more interesting. Transform stress into an opportunity to learn or find solutions.

9. Delegate! Decide what you absolutely must do yourself and which tasks can be delegated to others. Delegating responsibilities saves time and can produce better work performance. Many times delegating responsibilities shows others that you trust their abilities.

10. Get more involved by discovering your own talents. If you are not comfortable with a project, suggest something that might be more workable or productive. Find ways to use your expertise and feel more productive and in control of your destiny.

Remember, you can make changes in your life if you change your perception and take steps to lower your stressors.

Joy Miller, Ph. D, is an internationally known licensed psychotherapist, trainer and author. She is the founder and president of Joy Miller & Associates.

Contact her at (309) 693-8200 or jmatherapy@att.net

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