Month of February MENTAL STRESS AT WORK Part 1

Mental Stress At Work

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I am seeing standards everywhere.

The other day, I saw my friend wearing a nice t-shirt with this word ‘STANDARD’ printed across his chest.  It struck me as it resonated with my recent thinking. My two most recent talks were about standards and excellence, how they are intertwined with each other. Jordan Peterson wrote in his twitter, “You can’t really achieve excellence without standards.”

Where standards are most held up as benchmarks, the more likely you will see excellence at work and also stress at work.  Is it possible to maintain a worklife that is fulfilling and not on the stress overdrive?

Some bosses expect extraordinarily high standards of performance and productivity.  Highly competitive and competent colleagues can also be standards we need to aspire to in order to climb the corporate ladder.  You yourself can also be the one who raise standards for yourself in the name of progress.

The flipside of having many standards that measure performance is that if you can’t keep up, you experience mental stress at work.  You can begin to worry excessively if you are able to keep your job, if you can advance your career in your present company, if you are the right person for this job, if you justify the pay the company gives you, if you are even intelligent as your resume makes you out to be, if you … You can see the relentless trail of worries that can be difficult to control.

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Sometimes it can even affect your health.  Emotionally, you get edgy, irritable or restless; physically, you tire easily than usual and you have difficulty sleeping and have muscle soreness; mentally you can’t concentrate well feeling as  though the mind goes blank.   This is not the way to live your best life! If these signs persist for periods longer than six months and you are getting no calm and comfort at all, it’s advisable to seek out a counsellor who can help you look at what’s triggering the stress and manage it successfully.

For now, I like to share on how you can reduce the stress roundabout you and to relook at the standards set by others or yourself so that they don’t become unrealistic expectations.  Unmet expectations is a great stressor and a demotivator as it can cause great disappointment and the body can retract to a posture that is unable to respond to the needs around optimally. 

Perhaps you can adopt the following stress-reduced lifestyles to have a better worklife:

  1. Responsibilities, not relentlessness

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Responsibilities are part and parcel of worklife.  Put it crudely, you are paid to take up responsibilities.  But you need to manage your approach to responsibilities or they can produce unhealthy stress and can reduce the effectiveness in your work. 

Stress is most felt when the demands constantly exceed your available resources.

I have heard responsibility being explained in this interesting way – responsibility is made up of two words ‘response + ability.’ Seen in this light, responsibility is essentially the ability to respond.  That’s a beautiful perspective of responsibility.  Life is great when you see a need and you can fill it; someone matters and you let them know they matter with your response.

But sometimes this balance can be tipped over.  You can be over-responsible when you over-respond, over-care, overdo.  You are relentless in making sure that everyone is happy and everything is done to perfection.  In your secret desire, you want the most positive outcome by being everything to everybody.  As  a result, you experience stress – the job becomes too big, people’s needs become overwhelming and you just don’t have the energy to do it.

At what expense is your relentlessness costing you?  And at whose expense?  It can cost your health when you are relentless in getting your work done in the most meticulous way, at the highest standard conceived –  constant long hours at work; giving in to every beck and call of people and duty. Yet you are hanging on an ever-active self talk that you have not done enough or that you are not as good as you look. 

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This is not your best worklife!  You suffer and most probably your family suffers along with you.

  1. Rest, not restlessness

Mental rest is a skill to learn if you want a stress-reduced lifestyle.  Taking care of the way you think around our abilities, the expectations of others, the meaning of work is important for your mental health.  You need to watch what you say to yourself and to others.

Words like ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ should and must not be overplayed in your minds and in your conversation.  Shoulds and musts can come across as unrealistic standards to keep up with.

Rather than often saying  to yourself  and beating  yourself down with “I should know better”, commit to a plan to ‘know better’ and improve yourself in those areas, rather than talking yourself down.  If there’s no need for a plan as it is not a priority to grow in this area, then don’t make it a habit to talk this way.  Talking yourself down  has longlasting negative consequences.

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Rather than reinforcing your negative belief about yourself by saying,

 “ I must be a pain to everybody”

or complaining about others and making yourself sick and angry like

“no one in this world is nice”

find ways to rest your mind.  You are creating mental stress for yourself when you have a poor self image.  If you think you are a pain, then you are thinking less of yourself, that your life doesn’t matter as much and therefore it’s hard to sustain yourself in work especially when you are under a heavy load.

Worse still life is even more unpleasant if you feel alone in this world where no one is nice and you can’t meet anyone’s standards.  You need to rest your mind, to recalibrate your feelings about your world, to trust the world again, to learn how to communicate your stress in a healthier way.

Rest is mandatory, be it mental or physical.  You feel better, others feel good around you, your bosses will get a better you when you know how to rest. 

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Really observe your Sabbath.  For most of us, the weekends are set aside by your workplace as rest days.  Don’t overcrowd those days with activities that don’t make you feel rested or with restless and guilty thoughts that you could have done more of something or done less of other things.

It takes discipline to charge up and pare down.  Take time and effort to tailor Sabbath weekends so that your week gets balanced with hardwork in the weekdays and good rest in the weekends.

For me, my Sabbath routine for the last 44 years  is stopping my usual daily grind (including not cooking on weekends 🙂 ) to take care of my spiritual health.   I go to church on Sunday mornings and spend time contemplating on God and interacting with fellow believers on spiritual matters.

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Sabbath rest is also spending time with the family, doing fun things together.  It’s playtime!  Engaging in whatever that charges you up with energy and delight.  Paying attention to your loved ones will yield great rewards in your mental health.

Take the Sabbath to rest from physical exhaustion, urgency and hurriedness, worry and major decision-making, official phone calls and technology, competitiveness and even talking (if you have been using up your quotas of words in the week).

Work needs not be toilsome, burdensome and stressful.  You need to declutter stress in your lives and minds.

Be responsible, not relentless.

Be restful, not restless.

Stress with its power to create imbalance will overwhelm you and make mountains out of molehills.  Therefore get better at occupying your minds and lives  with healthy ways of coping with stress and with good boundaries.  Enjoy your work!

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