Stress on the Job? Here Are 5 Ways to Neutralize It

As a long-time psychotherapist, I’ve found that whatever attitude causes the most trouble in one’s life can be boiled down to one of three core emotions: sadness, anger, or fear. Or put another way, these three emotions are the drivers of our most problematic behaviors and attitudes.

I designed an online survey to help me find out which of these three emotions causes people the most trouble. Can you guess? Based on answers from 1,000 participants, I discovered that the most dominant emotion people are experiencing these days is fear.

This doesn’t mean they’re walking around with their teeth chattering, looking behind them to see if they’re being followed. Fear has a more insidious way of manifesting: as stress and anxiety.

My Attitude Reconstruction Survey shows that many of us spend a lot of time worrying about the past (I shouldn’t have done that; I wish that hadn’t happened) or the future (I don’t know how I’ll get it all done; I wish I knew how this will turn out). Being preoccupied with the past or future is a behavior that’s driven by fear. More than 7 out of 10 (71.4%) participants in my survey reported that they’re worried about the past or the future half or more of the time.

Fear and the stress it causes are common in today’s workplace. We’re trying to do too much in too little time. We’re working overtime and sacrificing our health and well-being in the process. Our workplace anxiety is compromising our productivity and job satisfaction as well.

The good news is that there are simple techniques that quickly neutralize fear-based stress. Here are five of them.

Worry through one problem at a time. We get overwhelmed when we allow worries to pile up. Try this. Take one concern–say, the presentation that’s due by the end of the week–and mentally plot your steps all the way from now to its completion. This mental exercise will instantly make you feel calmer as you slow down your thoughts and organize them in a linear fashion.

Break each task into tiny parts. For every looming problem that you’re fretting over, write down a detailed list of to-dos. By breaking a problem down into smaller, easier tasks that are easily accomplished when tackled individually, you are reinforcing the idea that “I can do this.” Attend to a single small task at a time.

Release the fear from your body. When we allow ourselves to release the fear energy by expressing it physically, the feeling of stress melts away. Do this by shivering–physically shaking as though you’re outside in winter without a coat. It really works! As you shiver, try not to think about your worries and stressors. Instead, repeat these two statements over and over: “It’s okay,” and “Everything will be all right.”

Get into the present. The next time you feel that knot in your stomach because of a looming deadline or an assignment that’s really difficult, try one of these techniques for “being in the now.” Close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Throw water on your face. Run up and down a flight of stairs. Or take a 15-minute nap. When you’re 100% in the present, you can’t feel stressed out, anxious, or worried.

Ask someone for help. If a task really does require your specific brain and your special skills, you can still make it easier by asking a friend or colleague to help you with a less demanding aspect of your work–one that’s taking your precious time and energy away from the more burdensome problem that needs your full-on attention. Any overwhelming situation becomes less so when we ask for help.

Want to find out more about the attitudes and emotions that dominate your character? Take a quick self-quiz here, and then try the coping strategies designed to address them.