When I found that my work life was a huge drain on my energy level, that I had an increasingly negative attitude, and that I wasn’t happy about my career progression, I decided that I would try to change myself to make things better.
Why change yourself when something else is the problem?
The least costly thing to change is your attitude. I’m not talking about power poses or positive reinforcement self-talk in the mirror. This requires self-awareness, introspection, and the help of friends and peers.
This is a bit of a buzzword these days so I will forgive you for rolling your eyes. This is important because of the way it draws frequent attention to your physical and emotional state. You will not be able to control your reactions or to calm yourself if you are not aware of your emotions.
How it works
- Whenever you can remember or set a reminder on your phone, take a few seconds to examine yourself: how are you feeling physically? Try to relax all your muscles – did anything feel particularly tense? Where are your thoughts drifting to? Can you tell what your dominant emotion is?
- Once you get into this habit intentionally, you’ll start doing this unintentionally.
- Use the knowledge of how you are feeling to start working backwards and figure out how you got there. Was it a frustrating meeting? A particular coworker?
- Finally, you have an idea of what triggers stressful or negative feelings in you at work. Now we’ve got something to improve!
What to do with it
Now that you know what is making you feel negatively, you can use the tried and true options to handle this problem:
- Accept: just deal with it
- Mitigate: if you know certain meetings make you stressed out, ask your team to share the work. Find a peer to help you out in the meeting. Mentally prepare yourself. Bring a physical object to the meeting to focus on so you can remind yourself to relax.
- Eliminate: If it’s a meeting or a particular task that’s causing you stress or negativity, get rid of it. Ask your manager to put you on another project. Ask a coworker to take over your meeting.
Peers and Mentors
One of the basic human needs is belonging. We want to know that we belong and are part of something bigger. Knowing that a problem is not just your problem but everyone’s problem can help a lot in coping with difficulties. Again, as with the mindfulness, this doesn’t need to be gooey hand-holding. This can be directed and scientific.
How does it work
- Identify 2 or 3 people you’d be comfortable asking questions about your work and workplace to. These would be generic questions like “how do you think this code review went?” and “what did you think of the team meeting yesterday?”
- Come up with a list of questions that are specific and neutral that relate to the challenges you face at work. Examples:
- [Problem: meetings are stressful] I like to spend more time coding and I’ve noticed we spend a lot of times in meetings lately. Do you have any thoughts on how we can shorten meetings or have fewer? I think we should use chat more instead. What do you think?
- [Problem: a particularly challenging task] I’m working on this task and it’s got a lot of moving parts. Have you worked in this area before? Do you know anyone that has?
- Collect whatever impressions you can from these conversations and, if you feel it’s appropriate, be a little more open about your difficulties.
What do you do with it
If you’re in a workplace with non-sociopaths, you should have some supportive data that you’re not the only one with the problems. Maybe you even have someone you can ask for advice or trade some of the more challenging tasks with. Building a community over shared problems will create a more friendly and supportive environment that will reduce stress and negativity. Oops, that got a little gooey.
Professional help comes in many different forms from mild to extreme. Here are some examples with brief descriptions that you can consider:
- Midday massages: treating yourself and relaxing even with a hand or head massage can make you more positive and able to tolerate stress throughout the day.
- Routine massage, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, etc.: regular practices that focus on guided relaxation and reduction of stress can work to build up your ability to tolerate stress.
- Psychotherapy: Having a professional help you understand your blind spots or if there are larger problems can be invaluable when trying to adjust your view on life. Further, this person can often recommend books, activities, or other practices like those I suggested above that are more catered to you.
- Medical professional: For those who’ve tried all the meditation, exercise, aromatherapy, psychotherapy, afternoon massages, and minor diet changes, unfortunately we have to go to the doctor. You may have depression, anxiety, or a stress disorder. Your doctor will be able to assess and recommend practices such as psychotherapy, medications, or practices as above.
How did this work out for me?
I tried everything listed above and continue to use some of these practices today. They have greatly improved my quality of life and how I respond to challenges I encounter. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to make me like my job.