Do you feel knots in your stomach the moment you begin your work day? Does the phone ring and you immediately dread answering it? Or does your workday begin fairly well but become progressively worse, especially as the week continues and the demands never seem to let up?
There are many circumstances on the job that can have an adverse impact on performance, from poor working conditions to numerous responsibilities and an over-extended schedule. But there is one condition that can arise as a result of not responding well to circumstances, which can have a negative effect on a person's well-being, and that is the condition known as stress. While it may seem that there is not much more to be said about this topic, given how extensively the subject of stress management has been written about, there is another perspective to consider and that is viewing it as an internalized process as a means of learning how to address it.
By the time a person acknowledges that they are feeling the effects of stress, they have likely reached an emotionally critical point where the triggers were not acknowledged and the indicators were not addressed or ignored. At this point managing stress will take considerable effort because of the accumulation of negative emotions. A better approach is to become proactive and aware of how you are feeling at all times, along with what you are experiencing, especially when working conditions or circumstances on the job are less than ideal. While every job may potentially lead to feeling stress, it is possible to control how you respond to it and that will determine how effectively you are able to maintain your well-being.
Stress is an Internalized Process
There has been a great deal written about the circumstances that create stress and on the job it may not be possible to change those conditions. A better place to start than focusing on external conditions is to consider the emotional reactions that are felt in response to what happens at any given time – as those emotions can either be addressed or overlooked and internalized. The more often that emotions are allowed to become internalized, the greater the possibility it will create stress – especially when early warning indicators have been ignored. It is natural to have an emotional reaction to conditions at work but hoping for an improvement in circumstances and not addressing those feelings can create internal stress, which can build up over time. Whenever negative emotions are felt it is an indicator and something you should acknowledge and address.
The Influence of Perceptions
What a person experiences on any given day at work is interpreted perceptually and there are many factors that influence those perceptions held, which can range from feelings about the workplace to the relationships established with a manager and co-workers. This means that what actually occurs on the job may be interpreted in many different ways, and that our experiences are subjectively held. There are certainly negative conditions that could include too many demands made, complicated tasks that are not quickly completed, unexpected situations or requests, or challenging circumstances that no one is likely to dispute creates adverse reactions.
Regardless of conditions, how you feel can be controlled and that means you either perceive yourself as being helpless and unable to control it, which will lead to continued frustration, or you acknowledge it and work to prevent stressful feelings. This can be difficult at times when faced with very real challenges; however, you can perceive it as something you can or will not allow to take control of how you feel.
How Stressful Outcomes Develop
When a person experiences negative emotions in response to conditions, and they internalize those feelings, it can lead to stressful outcomes. For example, without realizing it this can show up in your tone of voice at work and ultimately have a negative impact on your job performance. Any time you feel helpless, fearful, or believe you cannot control your job or life, you may end up limiting your ability to perform your best – and the longer those feelings are allowed to build up, the more difficult it can become to resolve.
What sustains those feelings is believing that conditions must change and become better before you are able to feel better. It is possible that you can feel better now before the situation at work changes, and put yourself in better control of your emotional outcomes. When stressful feelings are allowed to continue the impact may also be experienced in your well-being. For example, you may have illnesses, experience depression, have a lack of energy, be unable to sleep, or other possibilities.
Five Strategies to Face Stress Head-On Now
Stress rarely shows up all at once and instead it is usually a product of prolonged negative feelings or built up emotions. The time to address stress is when something occurs or strong emotions are felt, not when it has gone on for so long that your well-being has been adversely affected because by then you will have much more to deal with – including recovery and regaining your balance. The following are questions you can ask that will help you get a hold on stressful situations and responses. With these strategies you can be in control of what you feel and how you react, which will in turn help to reduce the possibility for long term stress.
Strategy #1: Why am I feeling negative emotions? Look for something that may have triggered the emotional response within you. Was this a passing feeling or something you need to pay attention to at this time? Then you can begin to process it in a logical rather than emotional manner. While you may not be able to precisely pinpoint what happened, at the very least you are making an attempt to acknowledge what it is you are feeling.
Strategy #2: What has happened now to cause me to feel this way? As you examine an occurrence or the circumstances that triggered your negative feelings, begin by clearly identifying how you feel. It may be helpful to write it out in some manner, whether by hand or typed into a document. Then determine what your initial reaction would be, without actually taking action at this point. Next, develop a list of the best possible solutions and use as much time as you have available. Finally, decide upon the best response to take and begin to take action.
Strategy #3: What can I control right now? This question will help you tackle the issue of feeling helpless or that you have no control when there are aspects of your job and life that you do have an ability to control. You have absolute control over the mindset you maintain no matter how challenged you may feel at any given time. You also have control over your response to circumstances. For example, you can either act quickly, reactively, or impulsively – or you can take time to weigh your options and develop the best or most appropriate response.
Strategy #4: What can I change to prevent stress? You can change your attitude about difficult conditions or circumstances, which will help reduce the amount of negative internalized feelings. You can also change how much power you allow your feelings to have at any time. It is possible to experience a wide range of emotions on any given workday. If something creates within you an unpleasant feeling, deal with it and take its power away. Your career plan is also something you can change if the job situation becomes intolerable and there is little more you can learn or you need to protect your well-being. But again, it should be as a result of careful planning rather than a reactive response.
Strategy #5: What can I do in response to my present situation? After you have evaluated your feelings, and no longer want to act from an emotional response, you can determine if further action is required. For example, do you want to talk to your manager about a specific incident, your assigned duties, or work conditions? You will want to prepare ahead of time for this conversation so that you are approaching it from a developmental perspective.
You can also assess the current circumstances and determine if it is a permanent or temporary situation so you can better address it. You can also develop coping strategies if it seems this will be an ongoing challenging situation or environment. This includes working on your career goals, scheduling downtime, and leaving work at work – which means resisting the temptation to talk about it after hours.
Your Disposition Matters
Every job will have days that are enjoyable, tolerable, frustrating, challenging, or any combination of these factors. The way you feel will determine to what extent you can enjoy or cope with those conditions. If a person feels burned out because of unending challenges, or they no longer can pretend to be happy because of negative built-up emotions, it will take quite some time to turn around that state of mind. It becomes necessary to develop a determined and focused disposition, maintaining a positive perspective no matter what occurs – and you can do this by addressing emotions head-on and remembering what you do have control over now.
You may discover that once you look past the emotions there is something to be learned, such as flexibility or adaptability to challenging situations. Your disposition will determine whether emotions are temporarily held or internalized and lead to overwhelming feelings of stress. Your feelings and emotions are natural but they do not need to dictate your actions. When you address what you feel and how you are reacting to what occurs around you, you are then able to get a hold of the conditions leading to stress.
About Dr. Johnson
Dr. Johnson has worked in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005. He specializes in distance learning, adult education, faculty development, online teaching, career management, and career development. Dr. J has a Ph.D. in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement, and a Master of Business Administration, MBA. Presently Dr. J is a Core Faculty member for one of the premiere online universities, fulfilling his life's mission to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others.
As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has also published over 200 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and career development.
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