Being your best at work means more than getting the job done—it means growing and developing as a person; it means seeking out new challenges and rising to meet them; and it also means simply feeling good while you’re at the office.
Stress is a given on the job. There will always be deadlines, challenges, and unexpected changes, no matter what your role. But having a bad day or a rough week shouldn’t knock you off your game. The goal isn’t to get “rid” of stress at work, but to gain the tools to manage it—and your response to it—and even thrive despite it. This is what it means to be resilient.
In fact, a recent study by meQuilibrium published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine shows that resilience makes a positive impact—such as lower levels of stress and burnout and better job satisfaction and sleep—even in the toughest work settings. Most of us spend a huge part of our lives at work, so learning how to feel cool, calm, and confident while we’re there is essential. Here is our ultimate guide to strengthening resilience at work:
1. Know your “why”
You might think that stress is caused by what happens to you (bad traffic, a difficult team member, an overstuffed email inbox). And yet, as meQuilibrium’s Chief Science Officer Andrew Shatté, Ph.D., says, stress is actually a result of how we interpret and react to situations, rather the situations themselves. This comes down to your Why Style—the way you explain “why” things happen to you. For example, when a problem arises, you might tend to immediately think, “This is awful and we’ll never get through it!” Many of us do. However, research shows that when we view problems as more permanent or pervasive, we have lower resilience and will give up on problem solving.
At work, where we confront problems big and small every day, your Why Style may be causing you to see things as unchangeable—which makes us want to give up and disengage. And when our frustration goes up, so does our stress. For example, imagine that a coworker has not returned your call. Your Why Style may lead to you think, “No one ever respects my time!” This makes the issue both personal and pervasive—and much harder to solve. You can review more about Why Style here.
TRY THIS: Take a neutral stance. Imagine how differently you would react to this issue—an unreturned call—if you changed your interpretation of it and simply said, “She must be busy. She’ll get back to me when she can.” This removes your frustration, strips away the fear and self-blame, and restores the situation to what it is: not a crisis, but simply an unreturned phone call.
2. Challenge your outdated beliefs
We can’t help but be influenced to some degree by our Iceberg Beliefs—those deeply held (and often unarticulated) beliefs about how the world works. They took shape before we were 10 years old and are largely unconscious, which means often “we have no idea that they’re calling the shots,” says Dr. Shatté.
We call them “Icebergs” because they loom large and undetected below the level of consciousness—and they can become roadblocks to success, particularly at work.
Here are some examples:
Belief: “Everything I do must be perfect.”
Consequence: Holding yourself to unrealistic standards is a huge source of unnecessary stress and anxiety—when perfection is expected, it’s nearly impossible not to fall short of your goal.
Belief: “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”
Consequence: If you believe you shouldn’t accept help, you will likely find yourself overwhelmed, burned out, and disconnected from your coworkers.
Belief: “If I can’t get it right the first time, there’s no point in trying again.”
Consequence: If you take a risk at work and it fails, an outdated Iceberg Belief may prohibit you from trying again—even if trying again would be the best way for you to succeed.
Letting your unchecked Iceberg Beliefs rule your reactions at work could cost you time, energy, and connections—not to mention make you more stressed.
TRY THIS: Look below the surface. You know you’ve hit on an Iceberg Belief when a relatively minor event generates a major emotional reaction. The next time you feel triggered, hit pause on your reaction and try to trace your thoughts back to the source. Once you’ve identified the Iceberg, you can question it (“Is this really true? How is this belief serving me?”) and challenge it with a better belief (“I may not be perfect, but I always do my best.”) The more conscious you can make this process, the more capable you’ll be of navigating around your Icebergs.
3. Recalibrate your radar
We’ve been through the ways our habits can dictate our stress response: The way you tend to interpret events, the beliefs you’re barely aware of—all of them play a role. But did you know that emotions can be habitual, too? Our emotions are caused by thoughts—and as humans, we’re biologically wired to think about and spot potential threats. That’s great if you’re in survival mode in the wild, but in a modern office it’s not as helpful.
Research shows that anxiety and frustration are the two most prevalent emotions that come up at work. (Surprised? Neither are we.) Anxiety is triggered by the thought, “Something bad is going to happen,” and frustration is triggered by the thought, “I don’t have the resources I need.” When these thoughts and feelings dominate our day, our focus, productivity, and happiness at work take a nosedive. Over time, that can leave you feeling burned out.
TRY THIS: Pay attention to the emotional ping. The next time you find yourself caught in the throes of a negative emotion at work—be it anxiety, frustration, or another familiar emotion like anger or sadness—catch it before it catches you in three easy steps: Trap it, Map it, and Zap it. Here’s an example:
Let’s say that a big deadline is rapidly approaching, and your anxiety radar is pinging.
1. Trap it: Trap the feeling.
I am so jittery and tense—this deadline is definitely making me anxious.
2. Map it: Map it to the negative thought.
I am worried that despite all of my hard work, I won’t be able to make the deadline.
3. Zap it: Check the accuracy of the thought and reframe.
How likely is it, really, that I won’t make this deadline? Not very likely. I have hit every milestone along the way and am still on track to finish on time. There’s still work be done, and I will be in a better mindset to get it done if I can stay calm and focused.
The best part about resilience is that it can be learned. When you become aware of unhelpful thinking patterns that keep you from thriving on the job, you’re able to change them, which empowers you to be—and feel—your best at work.
Terri Trespicio is a New York–based lifestyle writer. For nearly a decade, she served as a senior editor and radio host at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Her work has appeared in Jezebel, XOJane, Marie Claire, Prevention, MindBodyGreen, and DailyWorth. Find her on Twitter @TerriT