At Work

Three tips to mentally battle your work stress

Close your eyes and think about your journey through 2014. Were there any challenges that you faced throughout the year? What were these challenges, how did they affect you and how did you eventually overcome them? Did they leave you with gifts in the form of white hair and wrinkles too?

According to Regus’s online survey last year, 70% of Malaysian workers are reporting more stress related illnesses, 48% believe that their stress levels had risen and 42% are actually losing sleep worrying about work.

Stress, simply put, is experienced when the perceived demands that you are experiencing exceeds your ability to cope. In other words, it’s when you feel more intense “arghs!” per hour than usual.

Throughout my experience in running stress management programs, some of these perceived demands in the workplace include high levels of workload, unfair workload distribution, poor salary rates, lack of support and recognition from bosses, poor career progression, unproductive colleagues, favouritism, tight deadlines, lack of skills training, politics, constant changes, unclear task instructions, traffic, unfair appraisal systems and inter-departmental conflict.

I believe that all functioning individuals already have somewhat of an idea on how to manage their stress more effectively.

The typical challenge, however, is putting the techniques into practice proactively and also at the point of experiencing stress.

Here are some “mind” techniques on what we need to focus on at the onset of stress in order to ensure our ability to cope exceeds our perceived demands.

1) Be a hero, not a victim

Many of us undergo stress, regularly. Some of us decide we want to conquer it, whilst some of us end up succumbing to these pressures. Those who succumb may not want to do anything about it even though not doing anything about it may lead to many negative consequences for them in their work and lives.

Many have become more comfortable experiencing the new normal of stress than investing energy to do something about it. As some of my participants would say, “Used to the pain already, la!”

Some of us have tried and given up whilst others eventually do not see or feel hope, choice, interest, reason or responsibility. Although these may sound like good reasons, what they actually are, are excuses that eventually make us victims of stress.

The question as Steve Maraboli says, “The victim mindset dilutes the human potential. By not accepting personal responsibility to conquer our circumstances, we greatly reduce our power to change them.”

I’d say, be your own hero, be in a state of wanting to conquer the stress and challenges in your life.

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2) Stress: A threat or an opportunity?

Human beings typically are creatures of habit. We tend to have a typical TFA or thoughts > feelings > actions pattern that lead to our experience of stress.

Say for example when you experience the event of switching on your computer to find 100 unread emails – what would your typical response be?

If our typical thought pattern is as threatening as “I’m going to die!” then our feeling would be stress and our behaviour would exude that feeling of stress.

However, if we can identify this code of “I’m going to die!” in our thought pattern, de-code it and re-code it into something more constructive to function under stress, many of our problems will be solved.

So what would be the best way to interpret 100 unread emails in your inbox first thing in the morning?

One thought pattern to have would be to look as the situation as an opportunity or a friend. You could think, “Ok, let me finish replying in a record time of 20 minutes” or “I’ve done this before, I can do it again.

We need to spend time raising awareness of our typical destructive thought patterns in stressful situations and proactively re-coding a more constructive pattern.

As they say, “Change your thoughts, change your world.”

I’d say, choose to look and be aware of your thought process in stressful and challenging situations and ask yourself, “What is the most constructive way to think about this situation?”

3) Flip your internal control switch

The more you learn to focus and bring control to your experience of stress, the lower your experienced stress.

What does this mean? Mentally, consider all the possible options to focus on that would being you more in control.

In your mind could be all the following options – regain sight of the most important things, prioritising, develop a system to power down unimportant tasks, be more assertive towards those who force you into tight deadlines, clarify the specific outcomes of each tasks to eliminate extra or double work, gain skills in tasks that you feel incompetence or are currently most time consuming, seek support and understanding from relevant parties to redistribute workload, coming into work earlier or observe how others in a similar position are performing more effectively.

As they say, “We cannot control the wind, but we can direct the sail.”

I’d say, put focus on things you can control and be impeccable in your area of control.

All in, stress requires high level of resilient mental muscles that needs to be exercised proactively and applied effectively especially when experienced. With the right mental frame, our emotions will be checked and typically our actions will follow suit!

Hetal Doshi – Suhana Daswani is a professionally qualified organisational psychologist, certified professional coach, and the founder of O Psych Sdn Bhd, with an expertise in work performance, team dynamics and emotional intelligence. To get in touch with her, drop an email to


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