Choices make stress-free career possible

Nina Anderson
Nina Anderson

If you had to describe your life with just one word, chances are good you’d be tempted to say “stressful.”

A July survey conducted by National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health found that more than 60 percent of Americans feel stressed and more than 25 percent  say they experience a “great deal” of stress.

Forbes magazine cites the American Psychiatric Association as indicating that more than 75 percent of Americans deal with stress-related conditions. That amounts to millions and millions of stressed-out people in the United States alone.

Most individuals believe and act like stress is an unavoidable, uncontrollable part of life, especially in their professional life. But science could prove them wrong. “New research in neuroscience and psychology shows that we may be more in control of our emotions and anxiety levels than we think,” Forbes reported. This is because “stress comes from the way we think and react to outside stimulus,” not from the outside stimulus itself.

The word “stress” is part of our daily vocabulary, but you have to wonder if we really know what it means.

The Mayo Clinic medically defines stress as “a physical, mental and emotional response to a challenging event — not the event itself. Often referred to as the fight-or-flight response, the stress response occurs automatically when you feel threatened.”

The Centers for Disease Control narrows it down even more to define job stress: “The harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources or needs of the worker.”

Now, take another look back at those two definitions of stress. There is one word that appears four times: response. That one word offers both the scientific and practical key to managing and ending stress. We’ve all heard, and probably even shared, the wise saying: “You can’t control others, you can only control yourself.” That applies to work stress, too.

Maybe you have employees call in sick, leaving you shorthanded for the day, or issues with a computer cause you to lose a day’s worth of progress on a big assignment. From your own professional life, you could probably list hundreds more potentially stressful situations you’ve experienced first-hand. Just thinking about them can trigger your heart to pound and palms to sweat. But that response doesn’t have to define how you respond to the challenges.

The moment one of these, or any other, upsetting or unexpected situation occurs, you have a choice: Will you panic or accept the challenge?

The CDC explains that a challenge “energizes us psychologically and physically, and it motivates us to learn new skills and master our jobs.” This is ultimately where the idea of “good stress” comes from. A challenge makes you feel empowered, energized and motivated and afterwards leaves you feeling satisfied.

Life will never be perfect, and there will always be unfortunate, upsetting and unexpected events to deal with throughout your career. But think about what kind of boss, leader, co-worker or client you’d want to have: one that stresses out or one that tackles a challenge. Then decide what kind of person you’ll be.

You can experience a stress-free career. The choice is yours to make.