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Freaking Out!: 7 Steps to Beating Stress at Work

Updated on July 18, 2021

Its all in your head

“Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness.”  ― Richard Carlson
“Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness.” ― Richard Carlson

Its Human Nature

It is human nature to worry. You are barely paying attention right now, because you are worried about something you have to do tomorrow. If you weren't thinking about it before, you are now. Well, you need to stop. Face it! You can cross that bridge when you get there. There is nothing you can do about it right now. So pay attention.

Of all the stress you put yourself through each day, the most rigorous bit of freaking out, is work related. Whether you are running late, having trouble finding a parking space, or you just want to shove a pack of envelopes into Hilda's mouth to shut her up, you will be stressed.

No worries. I got you covered. I have seven practices, that once they become habit, will have you and Hilda humming Garth Brooks tunes over the water cooler at lunch. Now, don't get me wrong, there is absolutely no way to completely eliminate all the stress in your work day. What you can do is accept that most, if not all your stress, is your fault. And by changing just a few habits each day, you can decrease the stress you bring home with you from work. Which should, in turn, relieve some stress on the other people in your household.

Can we just get rid of it?

What stresses you out most at work?

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Hilda likes paper airplanes

#1. Get Up Early

Notice the title reads get up, not wake up. If your like me, you wake up multiple times each morning, smack the snooze button and drift back off to sleep, only to be awoken again way too soon. Unfortunately, you will have to put effort into getting your butt out of bed 30 minutes earlier than usual.

This may be the most important step, simply because running late can create so many other stressful obstacles. The bad hair day, and toothpaste on your chin are common symptoms of the late riser. The kids also seem to get yelled at a bit more when mom is running late. Which, I'm sure affects mom's psyche once the kids have been dropped off. She will now worry all day about how the kids felt at school after she shamefully hollered at them because she woke up late.

Can you remember the last time you heard an entire song, beginning to end during your morning commute? If so, you probably woke up early. If not, its because the Sasquatch in front of you wont get his foot off the brake! Or maybe its the Bon Jovi wanna-be in the car next to you. You know, the one singing at the top of his lungs, with a finger in his nose, who won't speed up or slow down to let you switch lanes and pass bigfoot. Right, where were we? Had you woke up early, you would have realized "Living on a Prayer was playing," and you love singing that song as loud as you can.

Once getting out of bed early becomes a habit, the usual stress that follows instantly begins to dwindle. Just be sure to leave the house early as well.

#2. Say something nice...

In the book, How Full is Your Bucket? Tom Rath writes that everyone carries an invisible bucket. When that bucket is full, you feel great. When it is empty, well, you don't. According to Rath, when you say something nice to someone, you begin to fill both their bucket and your own. When you say something negative you begin to empty both buckets.

Now that we got you out of bed a little earlier, you actually have time to make use of the next step. Compliment that significant other, and anyone else you happen to share your home with. Make it genuine. Do not compliment his or her eyes when he or she is wearing sunglasses.

Mean it. You will instantly feel better. Once this becomes a habit, you will become addicted to it. It can be contagious.

Don't forget the kids. I really noticed a difference when i put this to work on my boys. I began by letting my son know when I was impressed with a graded paper he brought home or how polite and respectful he had become. It brightened my own day. And later, when my son got home from school, I realized the effect the compliment's had on his day. Those always seemed to be his best days at school.

Clear Your Mind

#3. Avoid Working in your Mind

A few years ago I managed a pizza restaurant. My wife would tell stories of me slapping ingredients onto a pizza in my sleep. I would come home smelling like tomato sauce and pepperoni, only to take work to bed with me. I'm sure most of us have gone to work in our dreams. Can't really do anything about that. The problem is going to work in your mind while awake.

The mornings of my boss' scheduled visits I would decide before hand what would go wrong. I knew exactly what I would say when it happened.This would lead to a discussion in my mind. We would go back and forth, and of course, it never went well in my mind. Fortunately for me, the actual visit never went the way I had predetermined it would.

We do this to ourselves every day. We know Hilda is going to want to borrow the stapler, and won't want to go back to her desk. We know there will be an irate customer, and you will have to apologize for an issue you had no part in creating. We create these horrible scenarios in our mind, when the fact is, they almost never come to fruition. So why worry about them?

Its not easy. You will have to train that voice in your head to let it go. You will have to deal with it when and if it happens. Then you will have to tell yourself again and again, to stop yourself from arguing with yourself in your head. Just remember, whomever you felt you were going to have to deal with, probably had the same sort of arguments in his or her head that same morning.

Write it down

“Life is a process--just one thing after another. When you lose it, just start again.”  ― Richard Carlson, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff ... and it's all small stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Taking Over Your Life
“Life is a process--just one thing after another. When you lose it, just start again.” ― Richard Carlson, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff ... and it's all small stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Taking Over Your Life

#4 Make a to-do-list

It is important to ensure you don't start the next step until you are actually at work. The first thing you should do when you get to work each day is make a list of all your tasks. At the beginning write everything down, and after a few days you can begin removing the daily redundancies, like turn on computer and restroom break, from the list.

Once you get this down, you will realize how much time you sat around trying to remember what you needed to do. It will also help you focus on one task at a time. Once you complete one, you get to cross it off the list. This is by far my favorite step. A check mark hear, a dash on that one, or a slash through that one. Sure, judge me now, but you will find that crossing off completed tasks may end up being the highlight of your day. A real stress reliever.

Sure, you might also get some satisfaction out of being able to prioritize your day, eliminating dead time, and reducing the possibility of forgetting an important task, only to find yourself rushing to get it done at the end of the day.

Who cant keep their mouth shut?

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#5 Do it! don't talk about it.

You have to get the signs done by noon, and its already 10 am. Its going to take almost 2 hours to complete. So stop talking about it and get to work.

Hopefully by now we have gotten to work on time with a clear mind, and in a good mood, so we wont really feel the need to complain. Not likely. We don't enjoy complaining, we enjoy getting someone else to listen to us talk about how busy we are and how much work we have. Then we want them to feel sorry for us because we will never finish.

What we need is someone to actually tell us what they are thinking. "The more time you spend whining, the less time you have to get the work done." But, since most of us don't have that special someone willing to alienate a colleague, we must teach ourselves to avoid the water cooler conversation, and work on checking checking something off the list instead.

#6 Take a Break

This may seem obvious, but more than 28% of US workers fail to take a lunch break, and 20% of those that do, eat at their desks while they work. You may feel you wont be able to complete all necessary tasks if you take your lunch break, but the opposite is true.

Failing to take at least one half-hour break for every 8 hours of work increases your stress level, which in turn negatively impacts your efficiency. The labor force is cut so thin in most jobs, the workload is usually extensive. You need that time to re-charge your batteries.

You can use that half hour to listen to music, close your eyes or take a walk (just not too far). All of witch are proven stress relievers.

#7 Learn to Say No

If you're like me, this will be the toughest step of them all. I have an inert need to satisfy everyone. Need a day off. Of course. Want some help doing inventory. Sure. Whose birthday is it? OK. I had a real issue saying no, to just about anything. My to-do list would grow throughout the day because I kept adding other people's tasks to my list.

I am not suggesting you never help anyone. I only recommend you do so once your list is complete should you still have time. I learned to say no sincerely, and without hesitation. I still say yes a lot, but I now know what the limit is. You know your limit, you just have to set it. Tell them to get their own darn donuts. You got work to do.

Its up to YOU

You will never completely eliminate stress in your workplace, much less your life. These steps can help you reduce the amount of stress you face daily, and they may actually improve your personal life as well.

  • Be sure to get up 30 minutes earlier than you normally would. Once it becomes a habit, your body will wake you up whether you want it to or not. Good bye Sunday sleep-ins. No worries, now you have more time to enjoy that day off.
  • Make it a point to compliment those around you. This alone will improve your quality of life, while setting you up for an almost stress free day at work. Fill someone's' bucket right now, just don't wake them up if its like 1:34 in the morning. Which it is now. But I guess it wont be when you read this.
  • Don't fall into the trap of stressing yourself out with your own thoughts, because that's all they are; your own thoughts. Things never really go the way you think they will when you play them out in your head. Why spend all that time stressing over something that probably won't happen?
  • Create a to-do list. I have gotten into the habit of writing my tasks down on a couple post-its first, That way I can prioritize them onto a note pad, or if you want to look important, you can use a planner.
  • Avoid the water cooler conversations. Nobody really cares how much work you have, because they have just as much. So, by going to work instead of complaining about it, you may just get two projects done in the process.
  • When you take a break, make it a break. Eat lunch, take a walk, listen to some music, and still avoid the water cooler.
  • Don't be afraid to say no. You know your limits, express them. It may well be the one thing that ensures you get to slash off the items on your to-do list

These steps will work, but only if you commit to following them. Take these steps and make them habits, then you can let me know if Hilda knows how to hum "Friends in Low Places."

Don't do it

"The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes."  Tony Blair
"The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes." Tony Blair

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2014 Raul Sierra Jr


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