Chronic stress is the worst. It kills our productivity, limits our ability to think creatively, and wreaks havoc throughout our bodies. To help keep minor stressors - like an "URGENT" email from a supervisor - from turning into chronic stress, I employ a few stretching and breathing techniques throughout my day. These stretches can all be done at your desk, in your work attire, anytime you need to hit the reset button on your stress response.
While reading through some research on workplace stress and its effects on health, I came across an alarming comparison. The effect of workplace stress on health is as large as the effect of secondhand smoke on health. That’s right folks, your workplace could be as toxic for your health as sitting in a bar full of tobacco smoke every night. Scary, right?
Something that's well understood, and frankly easier to do, in large corporations, is the need to reduce your dependencies. Nonprofits and small businesses, while leaner and meaner in my personal (and right) opinion, tend to dive headfirst into dependence on a few key players. This is why transitions, and VACATIONS, are so much harder in the mission-driven universe. No one can do our work for us because we are the only ones with the knowledge and tools to get it done.
So we know it's important to set boundaries when we love our work, but how do we do this? In the same way that it can be tempting to go for a cookie when you're feeling that 4pm energy dip, it can be tempting to log in to your computer to do just one more thing for work at midnight. How do you fight the urge and set up healthy working habits? The same way we make any habit change: reframing our understanding, making small changes, and setting up the conditions for success.
Many of the inconveniences that contribute to chronic stress and frustration are caused by the little, everyday things. Not being able to find your keys/sunglasses/umbrella when you leave the house in the morning. Someone canceling a meeting at the last minute. Lunch spilling in your bag during the morning commute. Missing the bus or train. The "guaranteed by delivery date" comes and goes with no delivery. Little things have the potential to derail our day, throw us off our game, and leave us in a funk, but it doesn't have to be this way.
It sounds so simple, but when you think about it, doesn't it also feel familiar? Most of us spend our work lives in a constant state of overwhelm. There will always be more work to do than there are hours in the week. We are expected (or expect ourselves) to be on and available all the time, reacting to whatever is happening in the moment.
It's 10:30am on a Tuesday, and you're stressed. You've already put out two fires this week, and you haven't even made it to lunch on the second day of the work week. It's going to be "A Day." An email alert pops onto your screen from your boss, the subject: "TIMELY, PLEASE READ." You sigh,…