[10 Tips] How to handle stress at work

Stress is a given in today’s workplace, especially in churches and other non-profits. Pastor and other ministry leaders deal with hurting people who are looking for answers (and occassionally for scapegoats). Pastors deal with the realities of running a non-profit in a sluggish economy and the uncertainty that accompanies this. Some of us serve congregations that are beginning to ask serious questions about their denominational home and confronting the need for new ministry initiatives to move the congregation into a new season of growth. Add to this the never ending stresses, pressures, and relational tensions that accompany being human and its a recipe for regularly high levels of stress.

All of us need repeated guidance about how best to handle the pressures of our work. Forbes features a great article about how high performers handle workplace stress. You can read it here.

The summary: the more stressed you are, the more bad decisions you will make and the more negative outcomes you’ll experience in your life.

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If you regularly max out on stress, you will eventually lose control and find yourself burned out, unhealthy, and looking for new work–not to mention miserable.

There is a healthy level of stress that’s actually really helpful for us in doing our work well. Below this level, we’ll likely just float along getting to things when “we feel like it.” Learning to manage stress is critical. When we’re in high pressure situations or seasons we have to intentionally manage our stress back down to a healthy range. When we’re in low pressure seasons, enjoy it!

Here are ten ways (from the article linked above) to keep stress in a healthy range:

  1. Say no. If you don’t have the interest or the capacity to add a new project, don’t do it. If it helps soften the blow you can say something like: “I can’t commit to taking this on now. I’d be willing to reconsider again in six months/a year if you’re still looking for someone.”
  2. Appreciate what you have. Gratitude is a powerful tool in reducing stress because it reorients us to the good things that are present in our lives now.
  3. Avoid “what if.” “What ifs” move us in the direction of worst case scenarios–they increase stress without producing any benefit or movement toward resolution. It’s important to plan for worst case scenarios but not that they occupy your mind.
  4. Unplug. Someone, somewhere is probably stressed right now. And that person may feel like it’s important to let you know this via email or voicemail. There have to be intentional down-times in our schedule so that we guard periods of low stress to recover from our output at other times.
  5. Limit caffeine. Caffeine causes stress because it prompts an adrenaline response in our bodies. I try to drink 2 cups of half-caf coffee per day first thing in the morning and then a single soda at lunch. The rest of the time, drink water.
  6. Get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep makes you function more slowly diminishing your performance. Even during high stress periods, getting enough sleep (7-9 hours) is essential.
  7. Get plenty of exercise. Exercise reduces stress levels and also reinvigorates us. The more exercise you do the better you’ll feel.
  8. Don’t hold grudges. Holding a grudge causes us to relive a stress event over and over and over again. It’s depleting and counter-productive. Let it go.
  9. Meditate. Take some time to be silent and to recognize how your mind and your body are responding to the situations you’re experiencing. Try to let go of stress so that you can focus your attention.
  10. Avoid negative self-talk. Don’t tell yourself things like “this is the worst day ever,” or “I never get that right.” Instead be realistic in your appraisal. Try telling yourself, “that went better than I expected” or “I am getting better at that.” You might wish to make a list of some of the phrases you tell yourself so that you can come back to them once you’re out of the situation and evaluate them for accuracy.

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