After a grueling job search, you finally aced the interview and signed that shiny new contract. You’re about to start the first job of your career – the hard part’s over, right?
Sorry to break it to you, but work stress is about to become a major factor in your day-to-day life. Studies show that a whopping 76% of young millennial professionals list work as their number one cause of stress, as they struggle to unplug, and neglect their work-life balance in the face of the pressure to perform. This is a recipe for disaster, with many young workers burning out early in their careers.
There is hope though, as the world wakes up to the importance of managing work stress and its effects. These expert tips will help you navigate the “first job blues” and stay mentally and physically healthy, despite the demands of the modern work environment.
Put Gary & Michelle’s BE GREAT Principles to Work
Let’s start by taking a deep breath… which brings us to the first of our BE GREAT Principles:
Deep breathing is an immediate physical response that lowers stress in the body and transmits a message to your brain to calm down and relax. If you’re feeling anxious, try breathing in to the count of four, hold for four and breathe out for four. Repeat until you feel calm again.
Keep your expectations about your job positive, and realistic. Expectation is the mental approach to avoid increasing stress and pressure unnecessarily. If we EXPECT the world to work in a certain way which is not based on reality, then we will create failure and stress. Take stock of what your expectations are, and make sure you’re not setting yourself up for disappointment.
Focusing on what you are grateful for throughout your work day will release regular amounts of dopamine, a “happy hormone” and the enemy of stress.
Looking at a difficult situation from a positive perspective releases serotonin, a hormone that calms and balances your mood. This helps you to deal with challenges more effectively.
Stress reduces your energy levels and increases cortisol. Exercising daily helps build up your energy levels through the release of endorphins, and making the right food choices increases your vitality and productivity.
Words have immense power. The careful and considered use of positive and appropriate words helps to produce oxytocin, the “feel-good” hormone that enhances social bonding while improving optimism and self esteem.
Increase your support. Observe how your colleagues, friends and family behave when they’re under pressure, so that you can help them if needed. In return, they’ll help you cope with stress.
Here are Five more Smart Ways to Manage Workplace Stress
- Recognise that (Some) Work Stress is Normal
As humans, we’re hardwired to feel threatened by new, unfamiliar situations and surroundings – it’s one of those deep-down instincts that have helped us survive for millennia.
So if you’ve got a bad case of the first day jitters, don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s a completely normal response for anyone dealing with the discomfort of an unfamiliar environment.
In fact, regular stress will be an everyday occurrence in the workplace; the key is to expect a reasonable level of stress and not be shocked when it happens. Then you can focus on managing any stress above the expected level.
Feel a little better?
- Cultivate Good Sleeping & Eating Habits
It might seem like common sense, but a good night’s sleep (an average of seven to eight hours) can make all the difference to your work day.
Your brain actually perceives your lack of sleep as a threat, and will start scanning the world for more threats, as you get more tired. A late or restless night will affect your mood, your memory and your productivity at work – leaving you feeling mentally stressed and physically drained.
Skipping breakfast or lunch is just as bad. We joke about getting “hangry”, but lack of nutrition really does have a big impact on our mood and stress levels.
When you go too long without eating, your blood sugar levels will dip, and you’ll experience “anxiety-like sensations, including shakiness, dizziness, confusion, and difficulty speaking” (Body and Health). Dehydration will also make you feel light-headed, dizzy and anxious.
Eating regular, healthy meals and snacks regulates your metabolism and insulin levels, and also protects your mental stability.
So make sure you eat regularly, and eat well. Coffee and a slice of office birthday cake are not the solution! Keep granola bars, dried fruits or nuts at your desk or in your work bag. Bring your own water bottle to work and keep hydrated throughout the day.
Remember the ENERGY Principle – eating properly and getting good quality sleep will ensure that you operate with maximum energy.
- Use the “Add Vantage Points” Technique
Adjusting to the workload required by your new job will probably feel pretty overwhelming at first. This technique comes in handy when you’re faced with what feels like a mountain of unpleasant tasks.
Shawn Achor, positive psychology advocate and author of Before Happiness, breaks the technique down as follows:
- Think about a daily work task, like answering the e-mails in your inbox. How would you describe your inbox? Most people would start by saying “overflowing” or “overwhelming”, and these descriptors make them dread the task.
- Try to think of as many descriptors as possible for the e-mail task. Score yourself one point for each negative descriptor, and three points for each positive one.
- You’ll probably start off with “stressful”, “never-ending”, and “intimidating”; but then you’ll hit a turning point and start finding positive descriptors like “feeling productive”, “helping people” or “connecting with others”.
- Both the positive and negative descriptors are true; but when you switch your focus from the negative to the positive stuff, you’ll start to find more meaning in your daily tasks, and your productivity will rise.
- Giving your brain this “feel-good focus” is a small mental victory that boosts positive hormones, reduces stress and leads to greater happiness in your daily work. This is actually a good way of using our REFRAMING Principle; whenever you create a positive perspective, your body releases serotonin which improves your mood.
- Manage Your Time
Don’t add the panic of arriving late or missing a deadline to the pressures that already exist in your new job. Make sure you have a good time management strategy in place – whether it’s a morning wake-up call, a daily planner app or just a trusty to-do list.
Time management and a healthy routine will help you get into the flow of your new job. Soon you’ll master the basics of your daily tasks, and the things that seemed so daunting at first will be second nature. Managing your time will also help you to keep a good work-life balance.
Every time you achieve a task, or tick off an item off your list, your body rewards you with a small burst of dopamine, the hormone that makes you feel happy and content (see our GRATITUDE Principle).
- Remember to “HALT”
Shawn Achor has another easy and effective way to check in with your stress levels. The four major barriers to a healthy state of mind are feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired (which you can remember with the acronym HALT).
If you’re feeling especially stressed out, you either need to eat something healthy, release your anger through exercise or meditation, talk to and connect with another person, or get some sleep.
Stress is Inevitable, Burnout is Preventable!
One final piece of advice: All stress and anxiety, no matter how bad, is temporary. Look at your first job as an exciting opportunity to learn and grow, before moving onto the next step. Look after yourself, do your best and keep looking forward. Work stress is unavoidable, but the way you handle it is up to you.