How to Alleviate Job Stress

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Earlier this month, a JetBlue flight attendant named Steven Slater made headlines by his reaction to job stress: he loudly tendered his resignation over the airplane’s public address system, grabbed two beers and exited using the emergency chute. What set him off specifically? Having to deal with yet another rude and unruly passenger.

What was up with that? Couldn’t he have found another way to express his anger? Perhaps, but you have to admit that the way he chose certainly caught the public’s attention (not to mention the attention of his employer).

What is ironic is that the same day he conducted this unusual “exit interview,” The Wall Street Journal featured an article about how employers  are shocked that they can’t find people to work for them, even though unemployment is high. Apparently people won’t just take any old job: they’ve reached their limit in their willingness to take on stressful jobs, whether the stress is from low pay or poor working conditions, or both.

The next day, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that U.S. productivity rates have actually fallen for the first time in over a year, to a 0.9% annual rate. The reasoning behind this statistic is that American workers just can’t work any harder. They’re being asked to do more than is humanly possible.

People lucky enough to keep their jobs are expected to do the work left behind by those who have been fired. Companies don’t care how stressful this is for their workers; all they care about is cutting labor costs. But the end result might be lower productivity, higher absenteeism and more money paid out in sick leave, medical costs and disability payments for workers who have burnt out from job stress.

Women are hit particularly hard by this phenomenon. Many women already work at stressful jobs like nursing, waitressing and teaching and now they’re getting less time to do more work than ever before. Add this to the stress they deal with from juggling jobs and home work (keeping the household running) and it’s no wonder that women report more depression, anxiety and medical problems related to stress than men do (although this is also partly because men are reluctant to admit that they’re having trouble handling stress).

It should be said that work stress doesn’t always cause mental and physical health problems, but it can make pre-existing conditions worse. So much worse that the worker may find that he or she eventually can’t work at all.

Some stress is good for us: it keeps us on our toes and functioning more efficiently. But too much stress makes for a sick and tired work force. Sick and tired of “taking it.” But most people don’t have a choice. They keep on trying to run like a hamster in a hamster wheel. On some occasions, they run themselves to death.

Is it coincidental that many  more women are dying of heart attacks than cancer? That they die of them at a higher rate than men do within one year of having one (for people 40 and older)? [Source here.]

And that’s not even counting the stunted lives that come from having chronic depression or anxiety. We try to keep up, but the harder we try, the more we fall behind.

Because I hate to be given advice, I also hesitate to give it. But I can’t end this post without pointing out a few things a woman can do to decrease her job stress and increase her mental and physical health.

They are:

  1. Learn to stick up for yourself at work and how to do so calmly but firmly. If you have trouble with this, enlist the help of a union, if there is one. That’s what unions are for: to be your advocate.
  2. Know what your rights are. Make sure you’re getting regular pay reviews. Brush up on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
  3. Follow the rules. It’s less stressful to make sure you’re never late or never take of work “just for the heck of it” than it is to have to fight a disciplinary action.
  4. Report harassment. This doesn’t just include sexual harassment. Anything that makes your workplace toxic should be reported to Human Resources or the appropriate manager.
  5. Take advantage of any Employee Assistance Program your company may have. This is a set number of counseling sessions that your employer is obligated to provide you at no cost to you. The programs also offer assessment and referrals to outside counseling and resources.
  6. Find a mentor: a sympathetic person at work (or elsewhere) who is willing to give you good advice and be a source of inspiration and strength.
  7. Look for less-stressful job positions at the company you already work for. A different department or shift can make all the difference.
  8. If there are no better positions or you hate your company, keep job hunting. There are other solutions. You just have to be open to them.
  9. Don’t just look for a higher-paying job; take into account the working conditions and benefits. Studies have shown that people cite “good working conditions” as more important to them than “higher pay.”
  10. Consider self-employment. While this can also be stressful, it may be worth it, if you’re truly unhappy working for someone else.

In addition to these tips, make sure that you:

  1. Get regular check-ups. Tell your doctor if you’re having symptoms of stress. This includes mental as well as physical symptoms. If he or she doesn’t take you seriously, go to another doctor.
  2. Educate yourself on symptoms of heart disease and follow the recommendations for avoiding or alleviating it. This includes signs of strokes as well as heart attacks.
  3. Get regular exercise. Make sure your get your doctor’s okay if you’re thinking of taking up something which is fairly strenuous. Find some kind of guidance program for maximum efficiency and safety.
  4. Modify your diet. Learn to prepare healthy meals. Keep healthy foods on hand for snacks. Eat smaller but more frequent meals. Make sure you have something to go on during your work day.
  5. Stop smoking. Stop drinking excessively. (A glass of red wine a day is recommended if you don’t have a problem with alcohol.)
  6. Drink plenty of water. Carry a water bottle with you at all times, if possible. Make sure your only fluids aren’t pop or coffee. They don’t satisfy your body’s hydration requirements.
  7. Find an absorbing hobby. Take a course in something you’ve always been interested in. Buy season tickets or annual memberships for something you enjoy (you’ll be more likely to regularly participate).
  8. Beef up your belief system. Find a group of like-minded individuals and spend time with them. (This doesn’t have to be a religion; it could be a group that is concerned about the environment or social justice, for instance.)
  9. Restrict your access to the news if you find yourself getting agitated or depressed by it. Find sources that propose solutions and cause you to think rather than just react.
  10. Make time for yourself every day, even if it’s just a few minutes to pray or write in a journal. Pamper yourself occasionally. Take mini-vacations. Make memories.

Job and life stress are controllable. First you need to determine the level of stress you’re living with. Then you need to learn to recognize any physical or psychological signs of harmful stress. And finally, you need to do something about it.

Go here for more information about stress: types, causes, symptoms and treatment.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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