When office politics, annoying coworkers and rude customers are getting on your nerves, there are healthy and not-so-healthy ways to react. Experts offer seven tips on how to roll with the punches (without throwing any!) when stress at work threatens your mental health.
1. Stay Calm
The average person faces around 30 frustrations (or minicrises) every day, and a high proportion of those frustrations occur at work, says St. Paul-based licensed psychologist Anna Maravelas, founder of Thera Rising, a conflict resolution and organizational development consultancy, and author of How to Reduce Workplace Conflict and Stress. But overreacting to a faulty copy machine or an insulting colleague by going into high-drama mode and losing your temper will end up hurting far more than it helps. The cortisone, adrenaline and other chemicals released when you have a temper tantrum will linger for at least two hours after your outburst, Maravelas says. “You don’t want to bring all that toxic energy home with you,” she says.
2. Have Some Empathy
Remember, those 30 daily frustrations aren’t just happening to you, but to every person you encounter during your workday, from the rude customer (who isn’t always right, by the way) to your flighty boss. “People are worried about their kids, mortgage, job loss and health insurance,” Maravelas says. With so many stressors in the world today, she suggests cutting people some slack and assuming there’s a reason they’re not behaving perfectly. “Be hard on the problem, but soft on the people,” she says. “That creates positive reciprocity. They’ll remember how you gave them the benefit of the doubt and will pay you back someday when you need it.”
3. Tune Out
Another technique for managing stress is to simply limit your exposure to office drama. “Close your door if you have a door, or close your mind if you have a mind,” says Simma Lieberman, an Albany, California-based organizational development consultant. “Unless you find it cathartic to get into arguments, when you feel tempted to get involved in office politics, plug in your iPod or music player, stick your headphones in you ears, and just act oblivious.”
4. Perfect the Art of the Blow Off
Don’t get sucked into conversations with irritating coworkers. If someone walks up to you to purposely get a rise out of you, Lieberman says, a good response is, “Wow, really. I’ve got to get back to work. See you later.” If they’re gossiping, say, “Wow, interesting, but I’ve got to go,” or “Why are you saying that?” If they’re just always in your face, trying to interact socially (like a grandma constantly showing photos of her grandkids or selling their cookies), walk away or -- better yet -- ask them to do a favor for you. “They’ll run away,” Lieberman says.
5. Break the Bad Mood Cycle
Good moods at work are contagious, but so are bad moods, says Long Island-based Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress and a radio host and stress-management expert. “You don’t have to internalize a colleague’s bad mood,” she says. “Either physically move away to break the negative energy, or else get immersed in your work because negativity is contagious.”
6. Look for Humor
Mandel is also a believer in humor as a stress reliever at work. “Don’t take yourself and everyone else so seriously,” she says. “Pretend it’s a sitcom. If it happens to someone else on TV, we’re laughing, but when it happens to us, we take everything so seriously.” So have a little fun at work. People who make others laugh are “positive magnets who are the life of the party,” Mandel says. Even something as simple as putting up a funny screen saver can lighten your mood and others’ moods.
7. Close the Door at the End of the Day
Don’t leave issues unresolved at the end of your workday. “If you’ve made a mistake or gotten into a hassle, take the time to apologize in a nonobsequious way,” Lieberman says. “If you go home with stuff left unresolved, it’s hard to feel sane.” On your way home, visualize the door to your workplace closed, and start thinking about what you’re looking forward to at home,” Lieberman says. Then, start fresh the next morning. Mandel agrees. “Every day is a new chance to shine,” she says. “The slate is clean. It’s a new beginning, a fresh start.”