Stop Romanticizing Stress: It’s Hurting You & Your Career

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StressMany people don’t feel they are really working hard unless they are stressed out. It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeding off of stress. But it’s not only not a good thing for your health, it is actually destructive to your career as well.

“Stress and that feeling of being stressed out has become a badge of honor in our society. When we can talk to people about how overwhelmed and stressed we are, they perceive that as us being busy and successful. We get a lot of attention for not being able to go to parties or dinner because we have ‘so’ much to do…Eventually, we start to believe our own story and take pride in how busy we think we are,” explains Dr. Kathy Gruver, author of Conquer your Stress with Mind/Body Techniques.

You may feel like being busy and being a workaholic is helping your career, but it is actually doing the opposite. So don’t believe the hype about working nonstop.  “Workaholics tend to talk about how busy and stressed out they are to show how hard they are working. If you’re hard working, you’re a good person; you have a good work ethic. There’s a lot of the ‘bootstrap’ philosophy to this idea that if you work 20 hours of overtime each week it’s a badge of honor,” notes therapist Ruth Spalding of Live Well Counseling LLC. “Workaholism can help short-term, but it will hurt you long-term. Yes, if you work hard and always take on extra projects your bosses will love you. But they’ll also know that you never asked for a raise and are willing to do almost anything for free because you ‘just like to work hard.’ They will take you for granted.”

Stress can be deadly to your health. “Stress is one of the leading causes of illness in our society today accounting for 60 percent to 90 percent of our doctor’s visits. By giving in to that extreme feeling of stress, we are depleting our immune system, damaging our cognitive function, affecting our digestive and sexual system and basically putting ourselves into a state of illness,” says Gruver.

And it’s easy to get caught in the stress-is-good trap. The number one danger of falling into this trap is that it can be habit-forming– in other words, you invite stress because you think it brings out the best in you– and in those around you – and wind up cultivating the negative consequences of stress–hypertension, as well as a number of physical ailments that stress can bring on/exacerbate,” says f Dr. Robert Mines, CEO and founder of Mines and Associates, a business psychology firm.

If you thrive on stress, you need to change the way you work. “Working smarter doesn’t mean you’re lazy, it means you’re efficient about how you use your time and don’t waste precious brain power on menial tasks if you don’t have to,” explains Spalding.

Here’s how to stop romanticizing stress tips:

–Get real. “Be realistic about your work, expectations and achievements,” says Gruver.  

–You are not a superhero.
You cannot do it all. “Keep your ego in check and ask why it’s important to you to be perceived in a way that you aren’t,” says Gruver.

–Stop working. “Take breaks at work,” advises Spalding. “If you look at a computer all day, look away every 50 minutes for 5 minutes or so, organize your desk during that time or return calls. Take a walk after lunch if you can. If you need to, set a timer to remind you to take small breaks throughout the day. This will actually keep you more productive. Rest is important for a sharp mind.”

–Get away from work.
“Take your vacation time,” says Spalding. “There are lots of Americans who never dip into their personal time off, either because there’s a culture of workaholism at their job or they feel guilty leaving coworkers behind on projects. Whatever the reason, it means people aren’t rested enough. A well-rested employee is someone who is fresh and energized, and your employer should value that.”

–Understand the stress. ”Understand the differences between stress and heightened purpose. No other tip will “take root” if this isn’t first understood. Then, it’s more a matter of reducing overall stress. But as is the case with any bad habits, you need to take small steps, isolate those triggers/behaviors that are easily avoided/managed and then build from there,” says Mines.

–Get to the cause of your stress.
“If you start to feel stressed out and overwhelmed, make a plan to address your stress. Make a plan to prioritize urgent and necessary work, seek help from your coworkers and maybe even your manager on how to get it all done. And if you are currently overwhelmed, do not accept additional projects. When they are assigned to you say ‘that deadline will need to be pushed back since Projects A, B and C are due that week as well,’” suggests Spalding.