5 Tools To Combat Stress, Struggle and Strife – At Work and In Life

by: Fredia Woolf Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

I talk to people about their work all the time.  For one reason, I am curious to hear their stories.  For another, it’s what I do for a living.  I talk to people at the beginning, middle and end of their careers.  I talk to people who are flying high and have been tapped for prestigious and complex leadership roles, and I talk to people who have been knocked low through job loss or terminal frustration.  I talk to people who love their work and to those who wish they could be somewhere else in their lives.  And, through all these conversations, I’ve noticed some common threads that make the difference between affliction and aspiration.

It is true, there are many factors that determine whether your work experience is a good one or one of suffering.  How smart are you?  How well does your education serve you?  How hard do you work?  How well did you judge your workplace when you chose to go there?  How well are you treated?  Do you have a boss who wants to see you advance?  Do you have colleagues who share your work ethic and sense of what matters?  Do you care about what you do?  Do you have other responsibilities or distractions that take your mind off work?  Do you have the support you need to perform at your best? Do you feel valued and recognized?  Have you had your share of plain, dumb luck to be in the right place at the right time?

But, it is also true that when facing stress, struggle and strife, you do not have to succumb or sink into it.  You can look at your situation with fresh eyes, think about it differently and turn around negativity to your benefit.  Here are five tools you can use to combat any work situation that can threaten to drag you down.

They conveniently form the acronym REACH.  Picture yourself as you:

  • Reach out of your current discomfort
  • Reach for the stars
  • Reach your potential
  • Reach out to others

Reason

We all have the capacity to be rational, and there are all sorts of good left-brain tools to help us distance ourselves from our situation, no matter how awful, and analyze it.  You can choose super sophisticated methods or a simple schema.  Below are some examples that have worked well with clients; they help park your emotions and look dispassionately at whatever is troubling you so you can come up with a reasonable way forward:

  • You have a dilemma or a difficult decision to make.  So, write down all the options, and list the pros and cons of each.  Some clarity is bound to emerge.
  • You are in conflict about something.  So, write down all stakeholders who might be affected.  Force yourself to consider the point of view of each.  Suspend your own feelings about the issue for the moment, and consider their perspective as reasonable.  This often defuses the heat and allows you to find a way forward.

Emotional intelligence

You can’t suspend your emotions forever.  Indeed, you have to acknowledge them and understand them.  But, the trick is to recognize them for what they are and to learn how to express them and deal with them – in a non-emotional way.  Suppressing what you feel eventually just exaggerates it, but allowing yourself to emote without restraint can simply escalate your troubles and inflame others.  EQ is a complex topic, but if you become better at identifying your hot buttons and regulating your emotional responses to situations, you will be better at managing yourself and at getting along with others.

Appreciative attitude

Studies have shown that glass-half-full people are much happier than glass-half-empty.  Your disposition may lead you to be hyper-critical or disgruntled, and you may like to pick fault with everything and everybody you come across in your work and personal life.  But, this is not usually a route to effectiveness or success.  By deliberately choosing to focus on what’s right rather than on what’s wrong, on what works well rather than on what’s broken, you shift from a “deficit” or “scarcity” mindset to one of “appreciation” or “abundance”, and that in itself can transform your life.  It can certainly make you more approachable in the workplace and can work wonders for the people who work for and with you.  Consider what would happen if you acknowledged people whenever you noticed they did something well or if you expressed gratitude each day for a few moments.

Communicate and collaborate

You are not alone.  Finding ways to reach out to others and not to constantly be in opposition to them can be rewarding and can open doors to endless opportunities.  Think of ways you can improve your capabilities in this arena.

Hope, happiness and health

The field of positive psychology and happiness studies that emerged in the past decade or so tells us about how we can influence our own health and happiness.  When you find yourself stressed, struggling or in strife, ask yourself how you can shift your mindset so you are not dragged down by your situation.  You may have to accept some unpleasant inevitabilities, but, by doing so, you can then move on and find new energy for something else.  Or, you may be able to have a breakthrough and go on to transform your approach to your work and your life putting stress, struggle and strife well behind you.

Fredia Woolf, Founder of Woolf Consulting, writes about career and workplace issues.  She coaches leaders on how to reach their people, their goals and their potential, and designs programs for organizations to enhance their effectiveness and the quality of their leadership.  She can be contacted at fwoolf@woolfconsulting.com.

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