Stress at work is just about unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean it has to be unbearable. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly made certain elements of work-life balance more difficult to maintain. While working from home may have been a welcome change once a week or a few times a month, turning your entire living space into an office comes with its challenges—not only physically and spatially, but mentally as well.
With most employees homebound without the option of an office or even a coffee shop for a change of scenery, it can be easy to turn an 8-hour workday into an 18-hour workday. After all, if your work is your home, you’re effectively always at work. To that end, as we learn how to adjust to the new normal that is life in the time of the coronavirus, it is critical to find ways to deal with the stress that may accompany an always-on workstyle.
Whether you’re working from home for the foreseeable future or soon to head back into the office, the following tips and tricks can help you to reduce or manage the stresses of your job.
Physically separate yourself
When we were in offices, it was easy enough to leave work. At home, this is not the case. As such, find ways to create actual distance between you and your work. This can mean literally rearranging your furniture at 5 pm or on the weekends to create different environments for work and non-work.
Alternatively, physically put your phone away by leaving it in another room or otherwise out of reach during meal times or when your workday ought to end. And on weekends, take a break from technology altogether. Many of my colleagues in consulting completely turn off their work devices from Friday evening until Sunday evening to enforce separation.
Throughout the day, dedicate time to walk around or otherwise disengage from the task at hand. And when we say disengage, we really mean it—don’t just get up from your desk with your phone so that you can walk while responding to an email. Truly stop what you’re doing. Whether it’s five minutes every hour or 15 minutes every two hours, find ways to physically break up your day.
Along the same vein, consider even taking a mini-vacation, even if it’s just a day or two, at regular intervals. And when you commit to taking a vacation, truly take it. Only then can you come back actually refreshed and recharged.
It is in no one’s best interest for you to be stressed or burnt out at work, so if you’re starting to feel this way (or feel that you may be in danger of feeling this way), tell your manager sooner rather than later. Don’t pretend that things are ok longer than they are; it’ll not only negatively affect you, but your entire team as well. Remember that feeling stressed is entirely natural and to be expected. Chances are, if you’re feeling stressed, so are other members of your team. Voice these concerns rather than letting them build in a pressure cooker environment.
Name your emotions (and their triggers) and write them down
It may sound trite, but literally documenting the things that irk you at work may help you cope with them. Rather than just saying that you’re annoyed, figure out what the annoyance was and how it was catalyzed. How did it make you feel? Why did you feel that way? How can you avoid feeling that way (or that situation) in the future?
I’ve found that keeping a bare-bones journal about these instances has helped me identify trends that I can learn from. I now know what specific actions tend to push my buttons, and as a result, have been able to better determine how best to avoid overreacting to them.
Make friends at work -- and make them your real friends
Marissa King notes in her upcoming book, Social Chemistry, that we create delineations between ‘work friends’ and ‘real friends.’ But work can be a lot less stressful if you don’t have these boundaries in terms of friendships. Find an ally at work and create a legitimate connection that isn’t contingent upon you sharing an email address. Having someone at work you can talk to about your stressors is vital; after all, they understand the pressures and the environment in ways that many of your other friends cannot. Invest in these friendships and recognize their value.
Of course, in order to build a real friendship, you’ll need to also be able to talk about elements of your lives outside of work. To that end, when you go out to drinks or dinner with your friends from work, make a conscious effort not to talk about the office, or place a cap on the amount of time you devote to that particular topic. Instead, make the effort to know them as people, not just colleagues.
Plan your day
Stress often happens when you don’t know what’s coming. The night before, have a good sense of what you need to get done and a plan (if possible) for how that’s going to happen. Check your calendar and know what meetings are happening first, and be sure that you’re prepared. That way, you don’t wake up panicked and stressed before you’ve even made it into the office and can go about your morning non-work routine without concern.
Be clear about what’s expected of you (and what you expect)
It would be folly to assume that your colleagues, managers, and reports can read your mind. As such, it’s critical that you tell your teammates what you expect from them and what they can expect from you. Keep your word when it comes to what you can deliver. Be abundantly clear (overcommunicate!) about what you need to achieve in a day; that way, once the task at hand is done, you can feel entirely comfortable removing yourself, recharging, and preparing for the next day.
Do what you need to make your workspace comfortable (whether at home or in the office). Sometimes, this means having three plants on your desk. Sometimes, it means having a desk that is devoid of everything but your computer. Regardless of what it takes, be sure it works for you and that you know where everything goes. Having an uncomfortable or untidy workspace can add to feelings of stress, so be sure to take the extra few minutes every day (or every few days) to organize.
Don’t try to be everyone else
You know you best, which means that you know what you need to be successful. It doesn’t matter if these needs are not congruent with those of your colleagues across the office (or across the Zoom line). Rather than comparing yourself and your work product to everyone else’s, recognize the value you bring and the crucial role you play.
Similarly, don’t assume that you need to work in the same way as your colleagues. If you require six hours of work where others need nine hours, don’t punish yourself by staying an extra three hours. Conversely, if you need more time than your teammates, but honest about this and don’t rush yourself—be honest and open about what you can give and what you can take.
Recognize that it’s just a job
Recognizing that your job is just a job does not mean that you’re at liberty to shirk your responsibilities. It does mean, however, that you must recognize that you are not defined by your role, and your role is not your life. Even if you are literally tasked with saving the world, you also need to save yourself. Don’t be afraid of being selfish when it comes to setting boundaries or saying no. Remember that in the vast majority of cases, the Earth will not stop spinning if you take more time for you.