EVEN GOOD JOBS can be hard. Just because you landed your dream job out of school doesn’t mean that your boss won’t be a monster and your coworkers won’t be annoying. Maybe the commute is too long or always congested, or maybe your workload is borderline inhumane. Either way, if you want to be happy, you should work to live, not live to work. Here’s how.
Studies have shown that a large number of workers carry a significant amount of stress on account of their jobs. Of those numbers, half have said that they would like help learning to manage their stress. While a little stress on the job is typical (it’s not vacation, after all), outlying factors such as the economy (personal finance, real estate, gas prices, etc.), changes in the global marketplace, the government, war, and cultural evolution in the United States is also taking a toll on the average American employee. Aside from worrying about doing their job well for the sake of performance, American employees are now stressed with the threat of losing their jobs to more qualified Americans because of economic-related downsizing, overseas counterparts because of global comparative advantage, or as a result of failure or inability to adapt to technological advances in the workplace.
The bad news: these things won’t change; in fact, they’ll probably just continue to worsen. The good news: stress is a personal emotion and, thus, completely controllable. All it takes is a little practice and, often, a bit of positive perspective. Below are some things that have helped millions of stressed-out American employees mitigate their stress.
Probably the best place to start is what NOT to do when faced with a stressful situation. Smoking, excessive drinking, over-eating or under-eating, watching TV or playing video games for hours, using drugs (yes, even the “relaxing” ones), excessive sleeping, procrastinating, withdrawing from friends and family, etc. These coping strategies might temporarily relieve stress, but over time, these destructive actions will only dig your stress-hole deeper.
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While not all stress is avoidable, making habit of avoiding unnecessary stress will, over time, alleviate a lot of stressors in your life. While procrastinating or avoiding issues that you know need to be addressed is never a good idea, drifting apart from that destructive friend or coworker, or avoiding volunteering for projects or tasks at the office that you know you hate will pay off dividends for you in the long run. Remember, your life is a marathon, not a sprint.
While you may not be able to control the tasks placed on you by your boss or supervisor, if you can, try to let whoever assigns tasks or duties know when you’ve truly had enough. This takes a lot of self-analysis on your part, and the part of your boss, but by refusing, or at least respectfully resisting, added responsibilities, you will keep your stress level down. Your boss should know that overworked employees seldom deliver quality products. If you’re the work-a-holic type, resist volunteering for more than you can handle for your own good.
If you can’t stand one of your coworkers or someone you know personally, do your best to avoid that person. If the news on TV drives you crazy, stop watching it. They deliberately report the most horrific and dramatic stories in an attempt to get ratings, so if the way the world looks through the eyes of the evening news makes you want to jump off a cliff, watch a sitcom or a funny movie instead. If traffic stresses you out, take a less congested route, even if it’s a slightly further distance. If you’re one of those people who can’t control your temper when religion, politics, social issues, etc., comes up in conversation, exercise active restraint and just keep your mouth shut, or find some way to step away entirely.
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The first logical step, when faced with a stressor at work, is to try to alter it yourself. Ask yourself: what can I do to change the situation so this won’t be a problem for me anymore? If someone or something bothers you, it’s best not to bottle it up. If you have a concern, voice it. Ensure, however, that you do it respectfully so that you don’t make the problem worse for yourself or create a problem for someone else. Also, be willing to compromise. If you ask someone to change, you should be willing to change as well. If both parties are willing to make, at least, a minor adjustment, the situation should greatly improve.
Another way to alleviate the amount of stress in your life is to adapt to the stressors. In short, if you can’t adjust the stressor, adjust yourself. Clearly, there is a large gray area here, depending on the situation, but if you can change your expectations and attitude about certain things, you’ll find it much easier to regain your sense of control and limit stressful situations’ effect on you. While everyone in the world has problems, it is a true statement that if your feet are currently standing on American soil, there are literally over a million people in the world that have it exponentially worse than you in every single way. It’s hard to imagine, having never been there or experienced it yourself, but taking a moment to think about other people and their situations will probably make you feel better. Need some motivation? Turn that evening news back on and watch the world report.
If that doesn’t work for you, try adjusting just your attitude. Tell yourself: I’m going to have a nice, stress-free day today. How you think has an incredible effect on your physical and emotional well-being. If you’re a perfectionist—be a perfectionist—just don’t let the fact that other people who aren’t perfectionists (and show it) ruin your day. This is another opportunity for you to be happy and content with what you do have. Your attitude is your state of mind. If you have a bad attitude, chances are, there isn’t a whole lot that can happen to you on an average day that will turn that around—and who wants to live that way? 
If you haven’t already, you should probably just accept that there are some things you can’t control. You can’t control traffic, the weather, most other people, the news, the economy, religion, politics, celebrities, your boss, or the variety of other things that increase your stress level while at work, so don’t even bother stressing about it; all you’re doing is hurting yourself. Instead, focus on what you can control—your own work, efficiency, performance, and the way you react to stressors and problems. When faced with challenges, try to see the upside by looking at them as opportunities for personal growth. If the current challenges you face are a result of your poor decisions, reflect on them, learn from them, and be grateful for the opportunity to remedy the issue sooner than later. Finally, learn to forgive. Anger and resentment are like stones that will hold you down. Until time machines are invented and you can take your anger back in time and aggressively fix the problem before it happens, all you’re doing is keeping yourself from moving on.
If you live a lifestyle or hold a position of employment that, for some reason, makes you more likely to suffer from stress, take a commensurate amount of time for fun and relaxation when you’re not at work. If you regularly allow yourself the time to decompress and rest your mind and body, you will be more able to react and adjust to the stressors that may await you back at the office. If you are really hard-pressed for free time and feel like you’re always on the go, this can be as easy as closing your eyes, taking a couple deep breaths, and enjoying the silence for a minute; or listening to your favorite album, savoring a cappuccino, or reading something you actually want to read. Furthermore, the adoption of a healthy lifestyle will benefit you more than I can possibly explain. If you’re out of shape, start slow; go for a brisk walk or do a quick circuit on some light weights. A healthy diet will positively adjust your body’s ability to deal with stress as well. Finally, ensure you get enough sleep. If you feel like you don’t get the sleep you need during the week, treat yourself to a catnap on Sunday afternoon. The point here is that you have to make time for yourself. Remember, your life and career aren’t sprints, they’re marathons.