3 Workplace Stressors College Didn’t Prepare You For (& How To Handle Them)
The following is an excerpt from What Next? Your Five-Year Plan for Life after College.
Work can be stressful at times. You’ll encounter difficult coworkers, late nights, tight deadlines, confusing and challenging projects, and frustrating emails. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to decrease stress, take care of your health, find work-life integration, and take advantage of your job’s benefits.
No matter the source of your work stress, the key is to figure out how to mitigate it. Here are some common scenarios and potential solutions to lessen your stress:
- If you are overwhelmed by unrealistic deadlines and a to-do list that is a mile long, you can meet with your boss to discuss your workload; see how long your assignments should take, and figure out if there are ways to prioritize, delegate some of your work, or shift deadlines.
- If a coworker constantly takes credit for your work, you can talk to her about it and start speaking up in meetings and sharing your accomplishments more frequently.
- If someone constantly asks for you to take on their work for them, you can set boundaries so you can keep up with your own responsibilities. Explain that you are happy to offer advice and guidance, but that you have a heavy workload.
There is almost always something you can do to decrease your stress. Ask yourself what steps you can take to make things better.
1. Imposter syndrome
“I don’t know how to do this project and everyone else is going to know.” “I don’t deserve this job.” “I would volunteer for that high-profile project, but everyone else on the team has done it before, and I won’t be as good at it.”
Sound familiar? If so, you may be experiencing impostor syndrome, which is another common source of stress in the workplace, especially for new employees. People who are smart and talented, yet feel insecure and incapable, often face this challenge. You don’t think you are as competent as people think you are—and you worry that people are going to realize that and think you are an “impostor” or “fraud.” First studied in the late 1970s by psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance, impostor syndrome usually strikes high achievers who feel inadequate, are hard on themselves, and feel an overwhelming pressure to be perfect. It can sap your self-confidence and lead to the bad habit of ignoring your accomplishments in favor of wallowing over your mistakes. It’s a major source of stress and can keep you from taking on the challenging projects that help you get ahead. The good news is that you can overcome impostor syndrome and start feeling more confident ASAP.
Give yourself a reality check
Remind yourself that your perception is not a fact. When you feel self-conscious, anxious, or inadequate, you’re more likely to continue to see everything at work through that lens. When you’re focusing on these feelings, you’re more likely to make incorrect assumptions and blow things out of proportion. Try these ideas:
- Push away nagging negative thoughts by reminding yourself that you were hired for this job because you are smart, talented, and motivated.
- Acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments and remember that it was your hard work—not luck—that brought them about.
- At the end of every workday or once a week, write down three things you are proud of and a list of the most important things you did that day. Start each sentence with “I did” or “I’m proud that I” so you practice attributing your success to your actions.
- If you feel comfortable, confide in a trusted coworker you’re close with to see if her perception of the situation aligns with your own.
If you’re struggling with these thoughts frequently and you notice that you’re self-sabotaging, make an appointment with a therapist to find out if there is a more serious issue like anxiety or depression and identify coping mechanisms.
2. Dealing With Failure
When you’re already feeling low, every mistake can feel like a bigger deal than it is. You should always strive to be careful, prepared, and organized, but everyone messes up occasionally.
If you beat yourself up over every error, you may actually be more prone to making mistakes. It’s hard to think clearly when you’re preoccupied and anxious. Try to remember that making a mistake, or even totally failing at a task, does not mean you are a failure. Learn from your mistakes and move on. You could say a mantra like “The only mistakes are things you don’t learn from,” “You learn more from failure than success,” or “Everyone makes mistakes. Shake it off.” When you get that sinking feeling in your stomach when you realize you’ve messed up, take a few minutes to calm down. Go for a walk around the block; do a five-minute guided meditation; or try a breathing exercise like closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths, imagining you are breathing in calm and confidence, releasing stress and self-doubt.
Set realistic goals and celebrate when you reach them
Get your journal and note a few things you could do differently next time. If this happens continually, write down how your goal for perfection is holding you back. It might take longer to complete projects, make you hard on yourself and others, and keep you from taking on challenging work because you worry you won’t be able to do it “perfectly.” When you struggle with perfectionism, you often are more critical of yourself and are prone to negative self-talk, like thinking that you aren’t good enough or fixating on your mistakes.
When you have feelings of impostor syndrome, it can be hard to recognize and acknowledge your accomplishments. You tend to downplay your successes by attributing them to “luck” or other external factors. Setting realistic goals and breaking apart big goals into smaller, more immediately attainable ones will give you opportunities to celebrate your achievements and increase your self-esteem.
3. Negative Feedback
No one likes to hear what they’ve done wrong, what they’re not good at, or where they need to improve, but these conversations can lead to positive change. Still, they can be stressful. By listening to the constructive criticism, interpreting it correctly, and acting on the feedback, you can handle a bad review or uncomfortable conversation, implement the advice and, ultimately, improve the quality of your work.
Moderate your initial reaction
The first thing to do is not panic. If your boss is talking to you in person, take a deep breath. If the feedback came in an email, go for a walk to calm down. Getting angry or defensive will make it harder to take in the feedback. It will make it less likely that people will provide constructive criticism in the future. The benefit of getting this type of feedback in an email is that you can take time to collect your thoughts and you don’t have to respond immediately. The tough thing is that it’s harder to interpret someone’s tone and equally tough to convey your own, so what you type can be misinterpreted. You can simply say “Thanks for your feedback. Would
you have a few minutes to talk about this in person? Please let me know a convenient time for you.” That gives you time to compose your thoughts while avoiding any possible misunderstanding.
You don’t have the liberty of a delayed reaction when you’re speaking in person, but you can pause to take a deep breath and think about what you’re going to say before you start talking. Emotions can run high in difficult situations like these, and collecting your thoughts will help you think of what to say. If you still feel very upset, say you’d like to collect your thoughts before continuing the conversation.
Excerpted from What Next? Your Five-Year Plan for Life after College by Elana Lyn Gross. Copyright © 2020 by Elana Lyn Gross. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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