We have all been there. That day at work when we tell ourselves, “I should have stayed home,” or “Are you kidding me?” No matter the job assignment, you will inevitably encounter a tough day at work. So what do you do when you get home after one of those days? Maybe you vent to a friend or family member, exercise or have a drink (or a few) to relax. So, what happens when the usual way you cope is not working as well as it did before? What if you notice work stress spilling into your personal life and causing problems? This article will provide an overview of common symptoms of stress, typical coping skills for work-related stress, when to recognize that coping skills may be ineffective, and ways to adapt your coping skills to better manage stress.
Stress is defined as an experience of strain or tension as the result of an adverse or particularly demanding event. Although each person experiences stress differently across varying situations, common symptoms include:
• Body: Increased heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate and perspiration. Increased production of stress hormones. You may even experience headaches, muscle tension, appetite and/or sleep changes, nausea and dry mouth.
• Mind: Memory impairment, decreased concentration, decision-making difficulty and increased alertness.
• Emotion: Anxiety, anger, frustration, irritability, nervousness or sadness.
What do you do after a tough day at work? Many of you have already developed ways to relax after a tough day at work. Some common ways to manage stress include physical activity/exercise, talking to others, drinking alcohol, enjoying a hobby, taking a vacation and listening to music.
Square peg, round hole. Not all coping skills work in every situation. It is not uncommon for people to get stuck in a stressful state and become frustrated when their usual way of coping is no longer effective in that situation. Here are some warning signs to recognize when your coping skills may be ineffective:
• Activity level changes: Significant sleep disturbance lasting more than one week. This could be sleeping too much or not enough. If this occurs, you may feel overly tired, unable to concentrate and irritable toward others. Also look at your daily activity level. Social isolation or disinhibited behavior can also be a warning sign.
• Interpersonal difficulties: This includes your interactions with members of the public, acquaintances, co-workers, friends and romantic relationships. Pay attention if you notice that you are short in conversation or find yourself experiencing more verbal arguments. You may have someone comment that you seem grumpy, angry or not your usual self. Alternatively, you may shut down and avoid human interaction.
• Alcohol use: Having a couple drinks after work to relax is not necessarily a bad thing. However, if you find that your drinking is frequently motivated by wanting to “drink until it feels better” or drinking to get drunk, this may signal a potential problem. Driving under the influence or carrying your firearm when drinking are also problematic behaviors.
Adapting coping skills. You will inevitably encounter a stressful situation when you feel that your usual way of coping is not working. If you do not manage your stress well and another stressful event occurs, you may be at risk for making bad decisions or handling a situation poorly, both on and off the job. Pay attention to the warning signs and adapt your coping skills ASAP. If you usually drink, try exercising instead. If you usually keep to yourself, try talking to a friend or family member. Some additional coping skills include breathing exercises, meditation, visualization and positive self-talk. You can also seek additional support from a member of the Peer Support Program, a chaplain or counselor.
Remember that it is normal to experience a tough day at work, and you need to have a plan to cope with the stress. Keep in mind that the same coping skill may not work in every situation. Learn to recognize when you are beginning to cope ineffectively and know how to adapt. The goal is to reduce stress so that you are focused and functioning well at both work and at home. Take care of yourself!
If you are experiencing difficulty coping with stress or would like to learn additional coping skills that could help you, please contact Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500 to schedule an appointment. Your appointment is confidential. To obtain additional information, visit our intranet site at http://intranet/intranet/ESS/Index.htm.