As many of you know, my job is being eliminated at the end of this month and for the first time in over 30 years, I will not have an office to go to. This isn’t entirely a bad thing. I’ll miss most of the people I work with, but I won’t miss working in such a large company (~3000 folks in our local operations alone.) As if having to work isn’t bad enough, with that many people crammed into a relatively small space(s), it’s an environment ripe with drama and stress. And I know that’s not a pitfall limited to large companies.
We savvy, fit people know that stress is not a good addition to a healthy lifestyle. Not at all. And we’ve got enough to deal with trying to get ourselves all shipshape without having to worry about some workplace brouhaha messing with our heads.
So this week, in anticipation of my next-to-the-last week at work, I’ll share with you some of my office stress coping strategies from the last 30 years, in hopes that any/all of them might help your days be a little smoother.
1. Be who you are. It sounds simple enough, but too often we let the expectations (real or perceived) of others shape our behaviors, especially if the so-called “others” are higher up the operational food chain. At the same time, we want to fit in and be comfortable with our peers. As we all know, frequently there’s a gap (and sometimes a gaping canyon) between the behaviors expected of the upper level folks and the ones we work with every day, and if we adjust how we behave to meet those differing expectations, pretty soon we’ll start feeling like we’re caught in an endlessly revolving door.
The best way to handle this duality, IMO, is to eliminate it. Be the same you (in all your wonderfulness) to everyone up and down the ladder. Sure, some folks might not like it at first, but you’ll be presenting your authentic self (the wonderful one) to all. Who they see is who they get—no matter who they are, and you’ll soon be seen as someone with integrity and without guise.
2. Don’t confuse who you are with what you do. I remember reading a quote years ago (and I’m sorry I can’t attribute it—it’s been eons since I read it), but it went something like this:
Meaning, of course, that if you base your sense of worth on your position, your salary, your perks, your proximity to the boss’s office, etc., then what happens if that’s suddenly taken away from you? You’re left with an identity void, and I can’t answer for you, but I’d be heading for the nearest Little Debbie rack to deal with that.
Now imagine viewing yourself based on your actions and character traits (honesty, compassion, committed, efficient, trustworthy, etc.). Those are portable and you can exit with your head held high and breathing deeply, because you know that no matter what you DO for a living, your value to the planet is still yours. Always.
3. Skip the gossip games. I fall victim to this far too often, which is why I almost listed it as #1. To make myself feel better, I distinguish between “informational gossip” vs. “malicious personal gossip”. The latter is never helpful, and I do a decent job of avoiding it. The problem with the “informational gossip” is that it’s still gossip—unconfirmed, unsubstantiated, and possibly unrealistic. While it’s sometimes nice to anticipate oncoming issues and start working on a plan (or an escape route), it’s often a waste of time and a senseless source of stress. It’s hard enough dealing with what you KNOW to be true to take on additional stress of possibly phantom issues.
4. Find a good vent partner. This is the person to whom you can “let it all out” but who you can trust to “keep it all in.” Sometimes the best stress reliever of all is a good old-fashioned rant, and once it’s out of your system, you can focus on the actual issues.
5. Create a positive personal space. Bring in pictures of people or things you love to create a calming influence. Keep small bottles of essential oils (lavender for peace, citrus for energy, peppermint for energy) in a drawer or cabinet. Play music or nature sounds in the background.
Caveat: Your need for calm shouldn’t shift your stress into your co-workers’ workspaces, so don’t go overboard with the scents, and play your music softly. Better yet, use earphones. Skip the music entirely if you can’t resist singing along.
6. Take small breaks throughout the day, including your lunch break. Get up, walk around. Find an unused quiet space to do some deep breathing. Stretch. Laugh. Read a chapter of a book. If you can get outside for a few minutes for some sunshine and fresh air, fantastic!
For lunch, leave your work area. (I can count on one hand the number of times each year that I eat lunch at my desk, and some of those were because I used my lunch hour for shopping or something else fun). A midday break can clear your mind and re-energize you for the rest of the day. If it’s accompanied by a healthy lunch, even better!
7. At the end of the day, leave. Completely. Create an end-of-day process that signals your mind that your workday is over. You might take a moment to jot down your stopping place and where you want to start the next day. Put away any items you no longer need to have out. Develop a ritual that says, “I’m done here for today.” And then leave.
Not a lot for 30 years, but those are the highlights. I left out profanity usage and snacking, because while they made me feel better for the moment, in the end they weren’t particularly effective coping strategies.
I know folks (self included) would love to hear any good strategies you’ve developed for dealing with workplace stress, so don’t be shy about shouting them out. And if you have any questions, ask away. I’ll do my best to hop into the comments and see if we can’t figure out a solution.
Meanwhile, here’s me, wishing YOU a calm, stress-free, and productive workday, no matter where it takes place.