Stress and burnout are common these days especially since we are in an era of constant change and increasing pressure to perform. According to the American Psychological Association, 65% of Americans cite work as their top source of stress with 37% of that population citing they are doing well managing stress. Sources of stress from work include excessive workloads, lack of resources, an overbearing boss, lack of opportunities for growth, and lack of control over work related decisions. It is inevitable that you will bump up against one of these sources of stress and when you do it is important to be equipped to survive.
Living with this stress causes all sorts of issues both physically and mentally. This includes sleep deprivation, headaches, stomach aches, and other physical ailments. From a psychological standpoint, you become at risk of developing depression and anxiety. The most interesting thing about all this stress is that it makes you less productive because you are unable to focus. This creates more stress because you are not able to get your work done and more work keeps piling on.
I had the misfortune of developing anxiety because of one of the former positions I held nearly 10 years ago. The environment was toxic, and my boss was a bully and a micromanager. At the time, I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I remember at that time I couldn’t sleep or eat, and every Sunday I was on the brink of vomiting at the thought facing my boss’s abuse the following day.
After having that experience and a host of other line-crossing experiences with my colleagues and bosses, I have found ways to manage the stress and prevent burnout by creating boundaries and having better communication.
Through this experience, I embraced the adage ‘What you allow will continue’. After returning to work from cancer treatment it was clear to me that I had to put something in place to prevent me from having any future health issues, especially since my immune system is now compromised because of chemotherapy. I added the following tools to my tool box to create boundaries at work thus reducing the amount of stress and bringing peace of mind into my life.
Find out the cause of your stress
For you to establish the appropriate boundaries, you need to determine the cause of your stress. As I mentioned earlier, I worked in a toxic environment, however, when I dig into the root cause of my stress it was because my boss was a micromanager and didn’t give me any autonomy over my work. She was very critical of my work and pointed out minor mistakes which pushed me into an anxious state when it became time for me to provide finished products for her review. This was not helpful because my anxiety caused me to make more mistakes which caused her to be more overbearing and it became a continuous cycle. In this situation, a great boundary would have been to tell her I am most productive when given autonomy.
Never be afraid to tell someone what you have going on in your life. If they don’t know they will assume and will continue to infringe upon your time until you say ‘stop’. For example, as result of my cancer remission maintenance, I am required to go to the doctor monthly. When I work with new people I always inform them of this so that it doesn’t leave any room for assumptions as it relates to my attendance at work. Also, this puts people on notice of what my time constraints are when they are considering last minute work they want to assign to me.
Be comfortable with saying ‘no’
Now before you freak out, and conclude that saying ‘no’ is insubordination, hear me out. There is a way to say ‘no’ without being insubordinate. The problem with our culture is that ‘no’ has become a bad word. However, what has happened is that people’s reluctance to saying ‘no’ has put them in positions to over promise and under deliver which makes things much worse.
Here is how to say ‘no’. First make sure you are not saying no just for the sake of saying ‘no’. It may be helpful to provide them with a valid reason as to why you’re unable to take on the task. Second, communicate with the person requesting your time your current priorities on your plate. Lastly, offer up another solution, such as asking another person who may have the skill set to get it done. Whatever you do, don’t commit to adding more to your plate because all that will do is cause more stress and resentment toward your boss, your job, and yourself for not saying ‘no’. If you are short of resources, communicate what you need to get the work done.
Unplug from email after-hours
Try to avoid setting a precedent that you are available to do work after business hours. As great as technology is, it has aided to the habitual line-crossing by our colleagues. There seems to be an unspoken expectation that since we have laptops and smartphones we are always available to do work. If you never turn off from work, you will inevitably remain stressed. I understand that there are times when you will need to be responsive after hours, however that should not be the norm. The point of this boundary is to limit the access that your colleagues have to your personal time. When you do this, your colleagues will become more aware of when your time is available to them and when it is not.
Block your calendar
If you work in an environment where there are a substantial number of meetings, it would be prudent for you to be proactive about blocking your calendar specifically for focused time. You can use this time, to strategize, review work from your subordinates, create presentations, or perform research.
The point of this is to have uninterrupted time for productivity which is more efficient than the short slots of time available to you between meetings. My philosophy is that for every hour I am sitting in a meeting is an hour that I am working late because I need to do actual work. To manage this, place time on your calendar called ‘focus time’. When you do this, you must remain disciplined and only allow meetings that absolutely require your attendance to infringe upon this time.
Making these changes to your interactions with your colleagues will be helpful. Additionally, to manage burnout you should also consider keeping open lines of communications about how you are feeling. If you work in a company where well-being is important, your leadership will make sure they implement a solution to mitigate the stress you are feeling.
Also, as personal practice, try not to take everything so seriously and practice the reflection process of whether the issue that is occurring will matter in the next week, month, or year. When you go through this process, you will more than likely let go of your anxiety and move on to being present in your current work.
If you find implementing these boundaries are not working for you, it may be a sign for you to look for a new team or place to work that will value your work and respect your boundaries.
Christmas is a cancer surviving divorcee who has an uncanny ability to overcome adversity with grace and has a passion for serving and sharing her life experiences to inspire others. Christmas is a lifestyle coach, who speaks and writes about being resilient in life and at work. She is also the author of upcoming title The Resilient Mind: A Field Guide to a Healthier Way of Life. You can follow her on Instagram @simply_resilient.