3 Ways To Handle Job Stress

This post builds on one from a few weeks ago about stress management.  There’s no doubt that many people have a lot of job stress.  (Me included!)  Unless you start your own business, win the lottery, or come into a large inheritance, though, your job (or your spouse’s job) is a necessity.

How to keep your job from making you stressed out?  Well you start by implementing the suggestions in the Stress Management post above.  After that, here are 3 more ideas to reduce stress.

1. DON’T COMPLAIN

As tempting as it might be to spend lunch hour listing the 1001 faults of your evil boss, RESIST the temptation.  Complaining does NOT help.  It only gets everybody around you riled up and creates dissatisfaction and unhappiness.  And even worse than complaining about your boss is complaining about your coworkers!  You know that your comments WILL get back to the person about whom you were complaining.

Instead of complaining, make it a point to be the positive person in the office.  Thank others when they do a good job or help you out.  Compliment at least one person every day.  And try to spread it out – don’t compliment the SAME person every day, LOL!

Even better is to mention to the boss from time to time when you caught your coworker doing something right.  Everybody likes to hear about things going well.  The whole thing about squeaky wheels getting extra grease is NOT accurate.  If you’ve got an organization full of squeaky wheels the whole lot of you are going nowhere fast, and making each other miserable the whole way.

If you happen to BE the boss, remember to praise in public and correct in private.  Give criticism gently.  Use the “I liked how you…, I would really like to see you…” formula, giving praise followed by a constructive comment.  Replace “Don’t do this” criticisms with “Please do this” suggestions.  Those who are employees like to know what they are expected to do and usually will adjust behavior if you tell them what you’d like to see them do.

2.  BE CONSTRUCTIVE

This follows from #1.  If there is something you can’t stand about your office and you’re not supposed to complain about it, what do you do?  Come up with a suggestion about how it could be done better, whatever it is.  For instance, if your cubicle is always cold, don’t complain to your coworkers about it!  Call Plant Services (or whoever handles HVAC) and ask them to come check the system.  Maybe the vent above your office was closed by mistake the last time the ducts were cleaned.

That seems simple but there are more difficult problems to tackle.  Suppose two female staff have small children and want to work part time, but the office policy is that these positions are only full time.  They might go together to the HR department and make a proposal for a job-sharing arrangement.  This might allow the company to let them work part-time while only having to hire one new staff member.  The company then has THREE happy, productive staff instead of two unhappy employees spreading the misery to the rest of their coworkers.

3.  HAVE FUN

Lighten up!  Our office does a serious business.  We see people when they are not at their best.  People are sick or hurt or scared, confused, angry, all sorts of negative emotions sometimes.  They leak those emotions all over us too!  It would be really easy for us to let the stress of it get us down.

We try very hard to keep things reasonably light around the office.  We have dress-down days for sporting events, Valentine’s Day and other holidays, and we dress up for Halloween.  You should have seen Amanda, Stephanie and Michael last Halloween, their coordinated costumes were awesome, LOL!

If your office doesn’t celebrate birthdays and other milestones, do a Secret Santa gift swap, or do other fun holiday theme stuff, you might want to initiate it.  Office morale is like a garden, a little fertilizer goes a long way.  Silly contests like an ugly sweater contest or who can decorate their cubicle in the most creative way are great ways to get everyone laughing.

Everybody has job stress.  When it crosses into wondering if you can stand to go to work one more day, it’s time to take a look at whether you’re part of the problem.  Stop complaining, develop a more positive attitude, and create some fun!

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3 Ways To Fight Fatigue

“Doctor I’m so tired all the time…”

chronic fatigue

Boy do I hear that a lot.  At least 3 times a week, I have a patient who comes in specifically because she (and it’s almost always a woman) is chronically fatigued.  They also have all visited my good friend Dr. Google and know everything there is to know about Epstein-Barr Virus and leukemia.

The brutal truth is, however, that the vast majority of cases of chronic fatigue are due to lifestyle choices, not due to infection or medical problems.

Here are 3 areas to focus on in your OWN life if you suffer from fatigue.  Everyone has times where they feel run-down and, if you look, I bet you can see where one or more of these 3 factors is playing a role.

1.  SLEEP

There is no substitute for sleep.  Period.

Our brains need to have enough sleep.  You can’t store it ahead of time.  If you get behind, the only way to catch up is to, well, catch up.  Neurologists and sleep researchers talk about the concept of “sleep debt,” which means that you’re not getting enough and you need to let yourself sleep until the sleep debt is erased.

Most adults need 7 1/2 to 8 hours of sleep every night.  Small children need upwards of 12 hours of sleep per day, and teens need 9 to 10 hours.  Be honest with yourself and think about your own sleep habits.  Do you sleep enough?

Teens in particular are peculiar.  At the adolescent stage of brain development, sleep onset tends to be later, and therefore wake-up times tend to be later too.  High-school administrators who insist on starting class in the 7 o’clock hour are fighting the biology of their students.  (My personal opinion is that high school should begin at 10 and last until 5 PM.  They haven’t asked me, though.)

So if you’re feeling tired the very first thing to do is to look at your sleep pattern and make sure you’re getting enough hours of sleep.  Then check sleep quality:  Do you wake rested?  Are you getting up overnight to visit the bathroom or having a pet or small child (or snoring spouse) wake you up?  If so, try to get those problems fixed.

2.  EXERCISE

It seems counterintuitive but exercise actually IMPROVES your energy level.  Physical activity relieves stress, releases endorphins, improves circulation, and improves sleep quality.

If you don’t exercise regularly, see if you can choose a form of exercise that sounds fun.  Dance, Zumba, martial arts, yoga, basketball, you name it!  Pick something new that you’ve never tried, and take a class.  I guarantee it, you will feel better!

3.  NUTRITION

How is your diet?  Do you eat a lot of junk food and processed food?  Do you drink soda?

Taking a long hard look at your diet and making improvements will fight fatigue as well.  Sugars, artificial sweeteners, refined flours, and other highly processed ingredients decrease energy levels.  Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and healthy fats improve energy immensely.

Supplements can definitely help with chronic fatigue and the dreaded I-Don’t-Feel-Good disease.  A high-quality multivitamin is the first thing to try, and B complex also helps with energy metabolism.  Hands down, though, my best track record for treating chronic fatigue with supplements involves this one product:  Vitalizer.  I’ve taken it daily for the last 5 years and I don’t think I’ll ever stop!  Check this page for age- and gender-specific supplement suggestions.

So if you’re struggling with fatigue please take a look at these three areas:  sleep, exercise and nutrition.  I bet you’ll find some easy-to-implement steps that will see quick improvements in your energy levels.

QUESTION:  What one area above do you struggle with most?

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Professional Distance Is A Lie

Professional distance in medicine is a rotten, malignant lie.  At least in MY professional career, it is.

Professional distance is the quality my teachers in medical school promoted as a way to keep a doctor from carrying the stress of the office home with them.  They told us we have to learn to keep space between ourselves and our patients.  Many students interpreted that as “Don’t care too much, because that makes you hurt too much.”

I tried for a little while.  I tried to leave it at the office, to separate my career from my private life.  Then I realized something that has changed my career forever.

If I try to maintain distance from my patients, I lose so much of the satisfaction I take in practicing medicine.  The bottom line is that if I don’t hurt with my patients, I can’t rejoice with my patients.  The intense emotion of medicine is a package deal for me.

Here’s an example of how this works for me.  A longterm patient came in yesterday struggling with a very traumatic event.  It was a type of trauma that is very personal for me and struck very close to home.  She is dealing with pain and loss, guilt and grief and we had a very long intense talk.  When she saw me wipe my cheeks, she apologized for making me cry.  I told her never to apologize for sharing her pain with me.

I cry with my patients.  I also laugh with them and jump up and down and do happy dances in the hallway when they are happy.  I cheer for them when things are going well and encourage them when they’re down.  Every emotion I feel in my career is a precious gift, even the painful ones.

If I ever let myself grow a callus over my feelings or fear the sad and painful emotions, I’m afraid I’ll lose the joy as well.

If you are my patient and you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, unintended pregnancy, rape, abuse, divorce or the death of a loved one (or any of a hundred other painful things) please don’t hesitate to come in and talk to me about it.  I might cry.  That’s OK.  It won’t be your fault.

It will be my genuine and heartfelt pleasure to help you through it.  Just be sure to let me know when you’re celebrating a marriage, a new baby, an adoption, success with weight loss, a job promotion or lottery win!  Then we’ll do a silly happy dance together 🙂

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Stress Management (For Dummies?)

LOL!  I had a request for a blog post about maintaining mental health while juggling too many responsibilities, and I couldn’t resist!  Thanks for the request, Natalie!

So usually when we’re under stress it’s because we’re trying to manage more responsibilities than we feel comfortable managing.  Being super-busy isn’t a problem if you love what you’re doing and know you’re doing a good job, right?  You get stressed out when you feel like it’s more than you can handle.

Since Natalie already mentioned “too many responsibilities” that’s a given.  When you’re juggling too many responsibilities the obvious solution is to prioritize the responsibilities and see if there’s a way to delegate some to people other than YOU.

As a professional and a small-business entrepreneur, it is easy for me to get overwhelmed with all the things on my to-do list.  Writing blog posts, publishing my newsletter, catching up with my clients, answering phone calls, the list goes on.  Oh, yeah, and there’s my low-stress “day job” too.  (If you’re new to the blog I’m a practicing full-time family doctor.)  I finally wised up and began to find ways to recruit others to do jobs that don’t require my direct effort, so I can focus on the stuff that only I can do.

I used to produce my newsletter completely in-house.  I had them printed at my local print shop, then brought them home and stuffed/sealed/stamped/mailed them myself.  My epiphany came when my wonderful printer Rick at PostNet said “Dr. Jen, you know we can do all that for you.  Your time is more valuable than that.”  He was right!  Since I outsourced to him, my income from my business has actually increased!  I’m supporting a great local business and have more time to focus on creating great content for my clients.

For the tasks that truly require YOUR attention (i.e. no one else has the training or expertise to do them) you have to prioritize them.  Schedule them.  Focus on ONLY that task for a single block of time.  Multitasking is a good way to screw up more than one thing at a time.  Intense focus on ONE task at a time is the best way to get that task done right, the first time, in the minimum amount of time.

I find that one-hour blocks followed by a 10 or 15-minute break is my sweet spot for productivity.  Yours may be different.  Turn OFF the phone, close your door and put out the “Do Not Disturb” sign, close down your email server and Facebook, get rid of distractions and really FOCUS for that hour.  You’ll be shocked how your productivity improves.

There are tons of great productivity books out there, but the ones I’ve read are basically reiterations of the same concepts.  1.  If a task doesn’t absolutely REQUIRE your training and expertise to do it, you SHOULDN’T do it.  2.  If you are going to do a task, you should schedule the time it needs and focus only on that task.  Big projects should be broken down into one- or two-hour tasks that are easier to schedule.

Speaking of scheduling tasks, one major important task to schedule is DOWN TIME!  I am not very good at that.  I usually do at least a little work on SOMETHING every day.  I’m getting better though!  Russ and I are scheduling more date nights, and I’m getting better at enforcing my own bedtime, LOL!  Making sure you’re taking time to recharge and spend time with friends and family is very important.  Letting yourself get overwhelmed and burned out won’t help with stress management!

Keep an eye on your mood and sleep pattern.  Do you find yourself grouchy and snapping at your staff and/or coworkers, or you’re not sleeping well?  It might be time to consider whether the stress is getting to you.  Medication can help you cope, especially if delegation isn’t possible (i.e. the boss won’t let you).  I (and many of my patients) have found that Shaklee’s Stress Relief Complex also helps when the stress starts to climb.

There’s much more information about the physiology and management of stress on this page.

QUESTION:  How is stress affecting your life?

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