by Leslie Whitaker
Have you missed work recently because of stress?
If so, you are in good company. One out of every four workers reports absenteeism due to work-related stress, according to the National Mental Health Association, Alexandria, Va. Stress can be caused by circumstances at home, such as difficult relationships, or at work by pressures such as heavy workloads or lack of job security. Whatever the cause, when left simmering unattended, stress can inflict long-term damage.
Having a bad day every now and then is to be expected, but when stress is chronic, meaning it is continuous or persists over an extended period of time, it can result in serious physical harm. Chronic stress can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to viruses, premature aging and life-threatening diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Among the clues that your emotional life may need attending are: poor work performance, feeling overly emotional, frequently being set off by little things, insomnia, fatigue, headaches and backaches or a rise in blood pressure.
Even if you are not able to change difficult work conditions, you can take some steps to protect yourself from the stress that results. Below are some of NMHA s tips for handling stress:
eat right and exercise regularly;
take care of essential and difficult tasks first; eliminate those that are unnecessary;
divide large projects into smaller tasks and make to do lists;
grant yourself 10 or 20 minutes a day for quiet reflection;
say no when asked to do more than you can reasonably handle;
when you re in a bind, speak up and suggest a practical solution;
do not strive to be perfect; everyone makes mistakes;
remember the above tip applies to your colleagues as well as yourself; and
talk things out with a trusted loved one for support and perspective.
If you take some of these steps and still feel overwhelmed, it may be time to seek professional help. Here I speak from personal experience. Over the years I have consulted a number of experienced therapists and job coaches recommended by my friends and colleagues. These knowledgeable professionals have helped me meet personal and professional challenges, discover and build on my strengths and even led to creative breakthroughs. In addition to helping people cope with stress and anxiety, clinical psychologists and social workers can help you do exciting things like get up the courage to pursue a dream job or project, or take life-changing steps by addressing unproductive patterns in your personal and professional life.
For referrals, contact your primary care provider, a religious leader, trusted friend or the NMHA at 800-969-NMHA (6642) or www.nmha.org. Career coaches can be found via personal or professional referrals.
Whether you find that exercising regularly or consulting a coach helps you with a particular problem, please share your experience with others who are in similar binds. Too many of us keep these sorts of breakthrough to ourselves, believing that seeking advice and support reflects poorly on us, when actually it signals that we are ready to grow and change, which is an incredible show of strength.
Dear Readers: Write to me if you have found a way to tackle workplace stress that you would like to share with others, and I will devote a column to your tips.
Leslie Whitaker Got a problem at work? Leslie Whitaker, co-author of The Good Girl's Guide to Negotiating, would like to hear from you. Send Leslie an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 5063, River Forest, Ill. 60305.
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