Last week, in a conversation with my sister about work and stress, I realised that the two have become inseparable. That work comes bundled with stress is an accepted norm, a package deal, if you will. These days, if you're not stressed at work, the perception is that you're probably not working hard or may be you're not working sincerely, or worse still, you're not working at all – just whiling away your time.
Psychologists say that stress can be good and bad. At the workplace, good stress is that which is productive because it helps us perform better. Bad stress, on the other hand, is counter-productive because it impedes our performance.
It disturbs me that the latter variety is now accepted as part and parcel of work. In the last two decades, the number of people reporting negative effects of stress at work has gone up more than four times. But, since everyone "suffers" from it, no one seems to be doing anything about it.
We ought to understand the link between stress and our health. Bad stress makes us susceptible to all kinds of illnesses - from the less serious common cold to the more severe heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes. It also leads to alcoholism, over-eating, drug addiction, smoking, depression, and other harmful behaviours.
In spite of these adverse outcomes of stress, most of us accept it as a price we must pay for survival and/or success. Is stress inevitable? Can't we have a stress-free working environment? Can't we enjoy our work, and experience no stress at all – good or bad? I believe we can.
De-linking our work from stress is vital for our health and happiness. For work to be genuinely stress-free, it is first important that we enjoy it. When we spend our time doing what we don't particularly enjoy for most part of day, it's bound to cause stress.
According to Elizabeth Scott, who coaches people on effective stress management, "It's important that you're spending your days doing something where you feel challenged [but not overwhelmed], appreciated [but not desperately needed to the point that you can't take a day off], and where your strengths are being utilised, among other things. Without these and other key factors, you can be at risk for burnout."
So if you feel stressed at work often, it's time to reflect and ask if you're enjoying your work. If the answer is no, acknowledge the need for a change. You may change your working style or manage your days better. Or you may want to switch jobs - or even fields! One way or the other, what's important is that you enjoy your work.
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