What creates stress at work?
There could be many reasons.
Maybe it’s a heavy workload. Lack of resources. Coworkers. Unrealistic deadlines. Lack of decision making. Changes in the industry. A bad boss.
All of our situations are different. We are different people faced with unique circumstances. Yet many of us feel these same stressors.
Which is interesting. Because, ultimately it all boils down to a very specific person-environment fit.
If the person and environment clash, something’s gotta give. Or the person can get pretty stressed out.
Why is it then, that we tend to focus so much on the environment?
The list above, that you probably nodded your head to, contains some of the most obvious and “top of mind” answers. But they only speak to one half of that person-environment equation.
And there are often a lot of limits to what we can change in the environment.
Sometimes we might be grousing about things beyond our control, which doesn’t really help so much.
The thing is, there is actually a lot we can change in the person side of that equation. Maybe more than you might think. And we have a lot more control in that area.
That’s where we’ll focus today.
A Healthy Sense of Detachment
Probably the most powerful lesson I’ve learned in this area is to maintain a healthy sense of detachment.
My formative years were spent in consulting. That’s a unique way to work in that you are working shoulder to shoulder with people on some of their most important and exciting projects.
You are part of the team, but you are not a permanent member. You are fully embedded, but they are not your employer. You make meaningful contributions, but you had better make those because there is a hefty fee for what you do.
One of the things you learn in an environment like that, particularly over time and across many clients, is that you need to be a little arm’s-length from the work.
You have to have a somewhat dispassionate view. You need to be able to evaluate things objectively.
You can’t get caught up in the politics. You can’t slip into an unprofessional mode. You can’t get too emotionally involved in the situation.
In short, you can’t let it get to you.
Learning to operate with a strong sense of objectivity turned out to be a powerful way for me to operate when I “jumped the fence” and joined organizations more permanently.
The Objective Viewpoint
The thing is, our situations can become much more manageable when we view them more objectively.
This is why discussing your situation with a friend or mentor–particularly one outside of your organization–is often enlightening.
They are viewing the situation more objectively.
Checking in with that viewpoint can be a really helpful touchstone. It can help to remove some of the emotion from the situation.
The emotion often skews things in weird ways. Particularly in terms of stress.
Stress is an emotion, after all. And that can be difficult to control.
But stress management is a skill. And that can be learned. And honed and improved.
A good place to start is to figure out how to gain a more objective viewpoint. To remember that you are not your job.
You are a sort of consultant, here to make a specific contribution for the thing you are working on now. And that the situation will change over time.
This is becoming more and more true in the “gig economy” and in the relationships many organizations have with staff. It’s also a healthy attitude for you as an individual.
Getting caught up in the emotional roller coaster ride isn’t going to help you or the organization in most cases.
This doesn’t mean you should become a robot. It just means taking time to recognize that you are not so embedded in your situation that it needs to be all-consuming.
It means that you probably have more control over your stress than you think.
After all, you get to choose how you respond. And that can be a game-changer. If you take a moment to visit the touchstone of objectivity before you let your emotions rule the day.
Most of the time, when we put things in perspective, we can realize that the emotional investment just isn’t worth it. And that a more objective response will spare us the heartache as well as lead to better results.