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Control job stress

Chris Posti
| Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

There's something I've noticed lately that concerns me. It's the exceptional level of stress people are experiencing at work. I'm not talking about the usual overload. I'm saying that today's stress levels are reaching beyond people's ability to cope. The outcome is that employees need time off to recover, or they take medications to calm down, or they cannot perform well at work and sometimes even get fired.

If you are in such a situation, you have three choices: work with your boss to restructure your job (which may spawn a demotion); find a similar but less stressful job; or learn to manage the stress. Since it's nearly impossible to find jobs that are not stressful, and who wants to risk a demotion, why not learn how to manage the stress?

Research has consistently shown that people who feel they can control their circumstances feel less stressed compared to those who don't feel in control.

Business Psychologist Sharon Melnick, Ph.D., author of “Success under Stress: Powerful Tools for Staying Calm, Confident, and Productive When the Pressure's On” (AMACOM; January 2013), recommends a way to gain some of that elusive control.

She says, “Think of each moment of your day as an investment of your time, energy and attention.”

With that in mind, you can respond to each situation in a manner that is most relevant to your job and career as well as to your own personal goals. This takes practice. To get in the habit, stick a note on your computer screen or jot a reminder in your calendar several days in a row.

My “to do” list separates and prioritizes according to my work goals and my personal goals, which keeps me focused and less stressed. While we all recognize that our “to do” list never ends, focusing on our goals as we work does alleviate some of the inevitable stress.

Unplugging from technology or letting people know you are simply not available for a specific period of time will help you come up with better ideas and be more productive. According to Melnick, “You need time for counterbalance and reflection,” and she promises, “People will understand and actually respect you for only being available when you can give them your full attention.”

That said, if you are going to go into a black hole for any period of time, you should make others aware of that beforehand. I recently talked with an executive who arbitrarily decided he no longer had time to read his emails. He thought being available on his cell phone “from 6 a.m. until midnight” would suffice. But no one had been informed, and you can imagine people's frustration when their emails were not responded to.

Multi-tasking is often relied on as a way to accomplish more in less time, which seemingly ought to reduce stress. However, Melnick asserts that, “In reality, you lose efficiency and focus each time you have to switch between topics and projects.” She suggests you give your full attention to what you're doing, then shift your attention to the next task.

And let's not overlook a favorite stress-buster, which you can readily find in many an employee's top desk drawer: Chocolate.

Chris Posti, president of Posti & Associates in Pittsburgh, is author of “The Shortest Distance between You and Your New Job.” Email questions to her at

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