Friday, August 3, 2012

Dealing With Stress On the Job

By Dr. Ellen Diana, Psychologist & Author of the Charge Up Your Life Series

Stress at work ranges from mild annoyances to debilitating levels of anxiety. The importance that you attach to each situation depends on the intensity you ascribe to it, and the degree of control you have over it.

Part One

First, it’s important to get some perspective on the events themselves. To do this, follow these three steps:

1.    List all the stressors you can think of at work. Don’t worry about whether they are big or small and don’t judge yourself for feeling stressed about any of them. Just list them.

2.    Next rank them in order of importance and assign a number from 1-10 for each 1 for your small stressors, such as never having enough supplies, up to 10 for the highest stressors, such as seeing a co-worker with less experience be promoted before you.

3.    Then, consider the most stressful event you can imagine happening to you at work and assign that a rating of 10.

4.    Now go back to your list from #2 and consider whether any of these ratings has changed. Often when you consider events from the perspective of the “worst thing that could ever happen” to you, your original ratings will decrease. See how your first and second sets of ratings compare.

This exercise shows you the importance you attach to each situation which you encounter at work that you judge as stressful. Just seeing the list in front of you gives you a measure of control because now you know what you are dealing with. You may have identified several major stressors, or you may have discovered that you have multiple small stressors which have added up over time.

Part Two
The next step is to determine what is and isn’t under your control by doing the following:

1.    Take each item on your list from Part One and determine how much of your stress is under your control. For example, if you’re always running out of supplies, you could buy your own, so this stressor might be 80% under your control and 20% out of your control. Most supplies could be readily available at your local office supply store while some are provided only by the company.

Regarding your colleague’s promotion, this could be 90% out of your control and 10% under your control. Who gets promoted is sometimes a joint decision of supervisors and it can be difficult to know the ins and outs of how management works. You could, however, speak with your immediate superior about the promotion; acquire some understanding of the decision-making that went into it; and inquire about your chances for promotion in the near future.

Problem solve through each one of the items on your list. What is under your control? What is out of your control? Jot down your ideas for each item. Assessing the degree of control you have over each situation, whether you like the resulting percentages or not, is calming because you’ve decreased the degree of unknowns. Often, it’s the unknowns that creates the most stress.

Part Three
Your final step is to determine how much stress is comfortable for you to handle. Stress is an inevitable part of the workplace and you will not eliminate it entirely, so it’s helpful to understand how much you can tolerate before you become overwhelmed. Try the following:

1.    Take each item on your list from Part Two once again and decide if you can handle the amount of stress that it generates.

2.    If you feel you can handle it, then cross it out. Perhaps being short on supplies is an annoyance but one that you can choose to manage.

3.    Notice the items you’re left with. These are the workplace stressors that require your attention. These are the items which will determine whether you stay with this job and learn better coping strategiesor you leave to find a more supportive and reinforcing work environment.

When stressful events are magnified in intensity, solving them can seem insurmountable. Multiple minor stressors can build and create intolerable amounts of stress, while major stressors can be difficult to identify when you are diverted by minor ones. Sorting through all of your stressors, to determine what is and isn’t solvable, can help you to feel more control over your workplace environment in general. With a greater degree of emotional control, the decisions you arrive at are likely to be more reasonable, logical, and ultimately more beneficial to you.

About the Author:
Ellen Diana is a licensed psychologist, co-author of the Charge up Your Life Book Series and certified school psychologist with 30 years’ experience working with children, adults, couples, and families in schools and in private practice in Phoenix, Arizona. She has published a number of articles in scholarly journals on psychology and education, and co-authored five self-help books in the Charge Up Your Life series. Helping women to evolve into their best selves through personal growth and self-awareness is a passion of hers. Ellen raised three successful children as a single parent and so has special interests in mentoring other women in transition and helping parents to raise resilient children. Contact Ellen at or through her website

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