Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Ten Tips To Reduce Your Work-Related Stress

Ten Tips For Stress Reduction Featured Image

Cold Friendship by Hamed Saber via Flickr CC

 

Today I’m taking a break from Busting Your Corporate Idol to share some stress reduction tips that were inspired by stories I heard while researching the book.

 

Three ways to relieve stress at work by putting yourself first

  1. Put your health first.  Take time during the business day to exercise.  If you are suffering from chronic stress, you are probably working too many hours.  If you take time away from work to exercise, your stress will go down and you will become more productive, which will more than make up for the 90 minutes at the gym.
  2. Put your time first.  There are always people asking you for favors, and to do extra things.  If you are good at what you do, there are an infinite number of things you could be doing.  Make sure that you put your time first by learning to say no.  Having fewer commitments will reduce stress
  3. Become a winner at politics.  Are you the type of person who says “I don’t care about the politics, I just want to get it done.”  This is a recipe for being taken advantage of.  Politics is a fact of life, and no one is above it.  If you aren’t playing at least to defend yourself, you risk being played.

Three ways to relieve stress at home by putting people first

  1. Put your health first by stopping all work by 9 PM to give you an hour or two to decompress before bed time.  Sleep deprivation is a guaranteed way to increase stress.
  2. Put your health and family first by having a Sabbath, least one day a week with no work or email at all.  You will be amazed at how refreshed and more creative you feel.
  3. More sex at home.  The research is pretty consistent – people who have sex more often are happier.  And stress leads people to have sex less often.  Use those goal setting skills to have sex at least once during the workweek and once on the weekend.  This will lead you to stop working earlier, and will directly combat feelings of stress.

A key to preventing stress at work is to reduce your workload.  If your boss asks you to do more, here are four things to help you say no.

  1. Don’t feel guilty. There is only so much time in the day, and your health and family are more important than whatever the boss is asking you to do.
  2. Make the boss decide the business priorities.  Your time is a finite company resource.  Explain the trade off decision, and why you think another use of your time is more important.  If the boss insists, ask for his or her support in explaining the changed deadline to the stakeholder whose deliverable is being pushed back.
  3. Offer an alternative solution.  Sometimes the boss is asking for more than he or she needs.  Offer a quick and easy solution instead.
  4. Suggest someone else to do the job.  Your boss needs a solution, but it doesn’t necessarily need to come from you.

If you find at least one of these suggestions helpful, please share using the buttons below.

[like]

You might also like Discover How I Avoided Burnout 

Did 70-Hour Work Weeks a Decade Ago Lead to Adrenal Gland Fatigue Today?


Rat Race by Ethan Block via Flickr CC

A guest Post by Dawn Pier

In 2002 I quit my job, sold almost everything I owned and moved to the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula to follow a dream to learn to surf.  Eight years later I had undergone a complete transformation from an unhappy, stressed out, overweight research scientist to a woman content, fit and fully ensconced in the Baja life.  My 70 hour work weeks and frequent travel were long behind me. Early in my tenure in Mexico, I founded a community conservation organization to protect the most important coral reef in the Sea of Cortez. Now I surfed almost daily, picked up odd jobs, and maintained a large estate to support myself. For all intents and purposes, I had an ideal and laidback lifestyle.

In 2011, however, I began having difficulty waking up in the morning. My morning tea didn’t seem to be doing the trick any more and gradually I turned to coffee – a beverage I normally avoid due to the severe effects it has on me – to help me get going in the morning. Despite being passionately obsessed with surfing, I found it increasingly difficult to rally the energy to get out the door and to the beach. Gradually, I began to crave salt like it was a drug and responded by eating potato chips by the oversized bag. I craved red meat and converted from a virtual vegan to a steak and hamburger obsessed junky. A year later, I had gained almost 20 pounds. I sought medical help, but the tests all came back normal. Frustratingly normal.

The downward spiral continued almost imperceptibly, but by May of that year, I was dragging my ass in a way I had never experienced before. Despite copious amounts of coffee, it took three hours for me to feel awake each morning and by afternoon my energy level crashed and my head spun. I couldn’t concentrate and my writing began to suffer. One afternoon when, overcome by dizziness, I had to take to my bed, I knew something was seriously wrong.

I happened to be on the island of Maui at the time and was fortunate to find a doctor who took a proper history. He asked me if I was under stress.  At first I laughed at the idea that I could be stressed out. From the outside looking in, I had it made: living surrounded by nature, the ocean at my front door, surfing, eating a diet full of organic whole foods. But when pressed, I had to admit I was still a total stress monkey. “Sounds like adrenal gland fatigue,” he said confidently.

I’d heard of the adrenal glands and knew that they had something to do with the fight or flight response and the release of adrenaline. Then he pointed out that adrenal gland fatigue often results from the accumulation of stress over years. “Did you have a high stress job or lifestyle before you moved to Mexico?” he asked. I laughed recalling the decade I spent in an unhappy marriage, masochistically chasing after scientific accolades and suffered from severe insomnia. He nodded and asserted that this disease was the overdue payment for my previously unsustainable lifestyle.

A blood test confirmed the doctor’s diagnosis. Fortunately, my adrenal gland activity was depressed, but not stopped and with low level hormone replacement, dietary changes including cutting all caffeine, limiting sugar and alcohol, practicing a simple diet called food combining, I began to feel better. Nevertheless, I still feel wiped out if I do too much, stay up too late or party too much. Like all things in life it’s a balancing act.

Looking back on those years of hard work I wonder if there was anyone who could have convinced me that it wasn’t worth the long-term damage I was doing to my health. In North America we’ve been hoodwinked into believing that this is the normal path of a well-adjusted productive member of society (emphasis on productive). The stigma attached to taking a non-traditional path and doing what we love, instead of what earns us a big paycheck – not that these things are mutually exclusive – is substantial.

I still struggle periodically with my decision to step off the work wheel and wonder if I will regret not dedicating myself to something “more significant.” But then I remember that had I not left the rat race to follow my dream of learning to surf, I never would have had the time and opportunity to start writing. In a classic example of cosmic reinforcement, one passion has led me to another.

But I know one thing for certain.  Be it as scientist or a writer, I will never again be a 70-hour-a-week workaholic. Life’s just too short and the waves too much fun!

Dawn Pier is a formerly landlocked Canadian who is a surfer, writer, environmental biologist, and universal truth seeker (not necessarily in that order). Currently, she divides her time between Baja Mexico and the SF Bay Area, writing her memoir filled with adventures in conservation, love, and life off the grid in a tiny Mexican village. She publishes a personal blog and is the East Cape amiga for a new website Baja.com. 

Your Money or Your Life? Would You Take a 20% Pay Cut For Three Extra Years of Life?

 On this tax day, let me ask you one of my favorite questions.  Would you take a twenty percent pay cut in exchange for three additional years of life?  And I don’t mean three years on a respirator; I mean three additional healthy years.

It’s a question about values and priorities. Which is more important to you, your money or your life?  The comedian Jack Benny, who played a notorious cheapskate on the radio in the 50s, was asked this question by a robber, and there was a long, drawn out silence. “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.”

I asked my version of the question to a number of people making healthy six figure salaries, and the answers varied.  For some people it was a no brainer.  “I’m used to being poor.  We didn’t have much growing up.  Three more years [after the kids are out of the house?]  Sure!”  Others anxiously informed me that they couldn’t possibly take a pay cut.  It’s an unusual question, I’ll grant that.  But I was still surprised how some people shut down when the idea of less money came up.  (For the record, when I asked people not making healthy six figure salaries the question, they thought I had a lot of nerve.  I think it was because they really couldn’t afford to make less money, whereas the people who got anxious probably could survive a pay cut, but didn’t want to think about what that would mean for them.)

The Devil’s Starter Package: Would you take a promotion with a 20% pay raise if it shortened your life by three years?

The true deal with the devil is trading one’s eternal soul for great wealth today.  This is kind of in between – somewhat more wealth, but a shorter life.

What about a promotion, and a 5% pay increase three years in a row, with the expectation that you do what it takes to make aggressive timelines.  After three years, your salary will be about 20% higher.  It’s starting to sound less hypothetical.  Now lets add in this interesting statistic: Health care costs are 50% higher for top executives than middle managers.  Now part of the higher health costs may derive from an age difference (executives tend to be older than middle managers), but in my opinion the higher costs come from a stress difference.It is no secret that stress increases the risk for a raft of serious health problems including heart disease, sleep disruption, depression, obesity.  And,  stress really can cause hair loss.

I have a friend who had a stroke at the age of 47 – he had been working 100 hours per week.  If I had not changed the priorities in my life, that could have been me.  Stop a moment and ask yourself – have you taken the Devil’s Starter Package, more money in return for a shorter life?

Make Health The Highest Priority

Let’s clarify.  I don’t think anyone should make it a goal to make less money.  An alternative is to make personal health a higher priority than making money.  My friend has fully recovered and has changed his life.  He goes to the gym every day, is changing careers, and is moving into a smaller house.  He still makes six figures too.  Just not quite as much.