Coping With Job Stress
How we can keep from dreading the workday.
by Harold "Doc" Arnett
Have you heard that novelty song from the early sixties about the reluctant cavalry member who begged to be excused from the Battle of Little Big Horn? As the troops mounted and headed to battle, he kept lamenting, “Please, Mr. Custer, I don’t wanna go.”
Ever feel that way about your job? If your answer is “Only on days that end with the letter y,” you may be experiencing job stress. The following are suggestions to help you get through your days and daze.
In one of the Dirty Harry movies, Clint Eastwood quips, “A man has got to know his limitations.”
Since stress is the distance between what we think we have and what we think we want, unrealistic expectations of ourselves or of life compound the amount of stress in our lives. People with any sort of insight and sensitivity can easily see the need to do more than time and capacity allow. This is true of work and family, career and community. “Never say die” may be a great motto for movies and missionaries, but it should not make us live on the threshold of a heart attack. Solomon acknowledged that there is a time to search for a thing but also a time to “give up as lost.”
Rodney Mason learned this the hard way. He has worked at Scott County Alternative School since 1997. A primary source of frustration for him is students who don’t want to learn. He sensed that God was telling him to concentrate on teaching the ones who want to learn. Many times we need to focus our efforts where we are most likely to get results.
Such focus sometimes means we need to consider a different job or career change. Teaching at one school may be three times as stressful as teaching at another school. Being a machinist in one shop may be three times as pleasant or rewarding as another. Consider also that a 10 (or 50) percent cut in pay may be a good trade if it means not wanting to shoot the alarm clock every morning.
If you depend totally on your job for your satisfaction and reward, you’d better be single and have an excellent job. If your job tends to be draining, you have an extra need for diversity in your emotional portfolio. Maintaining family interests and attention opens up other avenues for reward. Everyone needs relationships from which they can draw positive exchanges.
Another aspect of stress management is finding physical and mental relief. Hobbies can be terrific stress-relievers by letting us focus our thoughts on something different, giving us a break. On my best days I’m a mediocre golfer, but golf does divert my mind from the usual clutter. Physical activity is especially good because of the mental and physical benefits. If it’s an enjoyable activity, that’s even better.
The hobby should be a stress-reliever, not an additional source of it. If you end up breaking clubs or throwing them into the water hazard, golf is not a stress-reliever for you. Carpentry work is good for me because it provides tangible evidence of progress and accomplishment — two elements often lacking in school administration.
While physical work and exercise benefit both body and mind, we need emotional and spiritual sustenance as well. Bible reading and prayer help us maintain focus and balance. Psalms brings me comfort and advice; the Gospels provide images of Christ healing the sick and afflicted and stressed-out; Revelation promises deliverance from this hectic life.
Prayer isn’t only about tender moments of supplication and adoration; it can also be a time of confronting God about our frustrations. In the movie The Apostle, the preacher’s mother explains to a complaining neighbor about the noise coming from her son’s upstairs room late one night: “Sometimes Sonny talks to the Lord. Sometimes he yells. Tonight he’s yelling.”
It’s OK to vent frustrations in prayer; God is big enough to handle our anger.
There is a time to bite your tongue; that time is far more frequent than many people realize. But perpetually harboring negative emotions without venting is destructive. Some of the most helpful letters I’ve ever written were ones I tossed into the waste basket. Writing helped me verbalize my feelings about the situation, and I felt better afterward. Sometimes I wrote second and third versions of the letter and then mailed it, after a time to cool off and say things more deliberately.
Sometimes, however, we must confront the situation directly. A secretary I know was having conflict with her boss. Their meeting gave both opportunity to explain and resolve things. The boss was unaware of certain factors in the secretary’s personal life that explained some of the problems at work. On the other hand, the secretary didn’t know that some of her actions came across as insubordinate. Their communication improved the work atmosphere for themselves and their co-workers.
An often over-looked means of reducing stress is to grow thick skin. Even the most wonderful people I know do or say things that can hurt others. Imagine the opportunities the rest of us provide!
Being offended is a choice we make, though. Learning to laugh off or overlook incidents that could give offense is a tremendous self-defense technique.
For years visualization techniques have been recommended for a person to realize his or her goals. One of the most interesting aspects of these techniques is that the person emotionally “experiences” the visualized incident. This is a double-edged sword: If we visualize negative experiences, the toll on the body and mind resemble that of the actual event. If we visualize or relive an unpleasant confrontation or incident, our stomach knots, muscles tense, sweat glands contract, etc. But if we visualize a pleasant event, both body and mind enjoy positive sensations.
By visualizing job situations being successfully handled and resolved, we prepare ourselves for them and reap physical and emotional benefits. Conversely, we should carefully avoid reliving or visualizing unpleasant events. Once is more than enough for the evil in our lives!
Jesus told His followers, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11, NIV). The same goes for stress, I guess. But if we take care of ourselves by providing physical and emotional diversion, properly vent our frustrations, maintain realistic expectations of ourselves and of others, we go a long way toward alleviating that stress.
We can go further by keeping true priorities in mind, practicing forbearance toward others, and using prayer for strengthening and positive visualization. Then we’ll not just deal with the stress; we’ll live the abundant lives God intended for us.