We all know what “stress” feels like. When your boss tells you, “See me in my office,” your body heats up, your heart starts racing, and your stomach begins to churn. These are just a few of the body’s many possible responses to what we typically call stress, and what scientists call the body’s “fight or flight” response.
While acute, short-term stress may actually improve performance at work, chronic stress – that muted but ever-present anxiety brought on by thinking about a toxic boss or a laundry list of projects – can have damaging effects, including depression, anxiety, insomnia and high blood pressure.
Chronic work stress affects at least 70 percent of Americans.
While we can’t necessarily control our responsibilities, pay, or the people we interact with at work, we can control how we respond to these stressors by cultivating resilience – or the ability to adapt to stress in a healthy way.
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According to teacher and author Sharon Salzberg, author of “Real Happiness at Work,” resilience serves as an alternative to “the illusion of control” – the false belief that we should have more control over co-workers, bosses, clients and work outcomes than we actually do. In reality, we don’t have control over anything but ourselves.
How to adapt to stress
Follow these simple action steps to let go of the illusion of control and instead cultivate resilience on the job.
Meditation allows us to see better into the nature of things, without all the baggage of judgment, insecurity and whatever other self-destructive stories our chattering minds perpetuate.
Committing to a regular meditation practice – even just 10 minutes a day – can go a long way toward helping you feel calm in the face of work stressors. There are a wide variety of practices to choose from, so experiment to find what works best for you.
2 Loosen up.
Emotional stress can manifest as physical tension. To help ease both, practice relaxing your body with this simple exercise:
While sitting at your desk, settle your attention on your hands, and/or on your shoulders.
If you find your grip extremely tight (or your shoulders tense), realize that this will merely exacerbate any tension you feel.
Choose to loosen your grip and/or release the tension in your shoulders as much as you can. (Breathing helps!)
3 Think before you speak.
Stress can often lead to irritability and feelings of guilt and blame. Let go of self-punishing language and develop a more forgiving, more constructive inner dialogue. Constructive language helps keep things in perspective and prevents unbridled deprecation, both of yourself and others.
4 Set intentions.
When we have a lot on our plate, we tend to feel overwhelmed and like the world is spinning out of control. That’s where the practice of setting intentions comes into play.
Set an intention each day before leaving for work. Perhaps you wish to be more open-minded and at ease during meetings and conference calls, or you want to breathe more deeply before beginning a new task. Remind yourself of this intention every time you find yourself getting off track.
5 Reconsider coping mechanisms.
On a piece of paper or on your computer or phone, make a list of everything that contributes to your stress at work.
In another column, list everything you do on a day-to-day basis to relax, lift your spirits, or have fun.
Make a third list in which you describe the effects these activities have on your stressors.
Look at all three lists and determine what you need to cope, and/or if you need to change the ways in which you cope.
6 Practice compassion.
The ability to communicate kindly with coworkers is essential both for getting things done well at work and feeling an overall sense of well-being. This basic meditation offers a starting place to begin cultivating the art of empathy.
Sit with your eyes closed or your gaze lowered.
Silently offer up loving-kindness by directing positive energy and goodwill to all beings everywhere, including yourself. Start by sending love to yourself: “May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease.”
Next, call to mind someone whom you know is having a difficult time or someone you don’t get along with and repeat the mantra: “May they be safe….”
Finally, try offering phrases of loving-kindness to all beings everywhere: “May all beings be safe. May all beings be happy….”