I’m not the first to get up from my desk at work, growl under my breath (quite often loud enough for the IT guy on the other side of the building to hear), and go for a walk around the block…or city boundary.
I certainly won’t be the last.
From what I can tell after nearly 25 years of working for a living: There isn’t one person in the universe who hasn’t felt a little professional stress now and then. If you never get stressed during work, I’m not buying it. Or, you’re just not human; you’re a cyborg. You need to go work for the government. They really need you right now.
If you’re human, I know what you sometimes think: Why are we going through this craziness? How do they expect me to finish this project so quickly? Why don't they listen to me?
We all have these thoughts, or something like them. They’re normal. It’s what you do to keep stress from running your life that may make the difference between having a stroke at 40 and enjoying your great-grandchildren at 90.
Here are some suggestions I’ve collected, from personal experience and from coworkers, for coping with everyday work stress, with a little humility and humor.
Walk around the block (property line, building, or any other potential path). It’s good for your heart, your weight, and your career. At least you’ll be taking your stress out on your body instead of your boss or coworkers. You could try kicking all the trash cans along the way, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Kicking metal trash cans may leave dents or break your foot, and, anyway, you may ultimately have to deal with security.
Sit in your car for a few minutes. After a stressful situation, when you feel like your head will explode and you want to pull your boss aside and scream "WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?" -- Don’t. Get away for a minute or two. Go out to the parking lot, sit in your car, and turn on the radio. Find the music or talk show you like, and lean back, closing your eyes. Think of that family vacation to the beach last year or your neighbor’s birthday party when he fell into the pool. (For me, playing Metallica on my iPod and remembering when my son, then 3, came up with and recited the "Pledge to the Fire Truck" brings me back to a productively sane level again. But you get the point.)
Find a quiet room. If you don’t drive to work, find a quiet room. Maybe it’s an empty office, a building stairwell, even a closet at the end of the hall (just make sure you’re alone…two people in a closet can create an instant HR/divorce-court nightmare). Take a book or magazine with you to get your mind off the stressful situation or problem. Read for 5 or 10 minutes. Clear your mind. Then…try to go back to work with a new perspective.
Make your lunch YOUR time. Use that half-hour or hour to your advantage. Don’t sit at your desk and work on through. GET OUT of the office. Even if you bring your lunch to work, find a peaceful place to sit and eat, outside. If the weather’s bad, grab a co-worker and find a place at work to sit, eat, and talk…and here’s the key….about ANYTHING other than work. No-complaint lunches will help you head back refreshed to finish the rest of the day’s work.
Turn a stressful work situation into a joke. Maybe it won’t make your idea gain any more momentum in a meeting (or on the shop floor) than the opposing view, but you’ll set a disarming tone that will clear some of the tension in the room, helping everyone think more clearly. Plus, you’ll show you can be calm under pressure, particularly if the joke is self-deprecating. Just make sure you keep it clean and nice. (You can scream at the bathroom wall later…when no one’s around.)
It’s really very simple. Everybody gets stressed at work, but it’s really not that bad. We’re not solving world hunger, here. Try to have a little humor. Lighten up, let it out (constructively), and chances are you’ll be just fine.