Ten ways to reduce stress on the job
by Robert W. Bly
For many chemists, corporate life can be a pressure cooker. Here are ten simple techniques you can use to reduce stress and tension on the job.
Hobbies. The best way to take your mind off your work is with a hobby that fills your free time. Pick something you can't get on the job. For example, if you sit at a desk all day, try hiking, camping, bicycle riding or some other physical activity. If you feel your job doesn't provide an outlet for your creativity, take up painting, music or another activity that satisfies your creative side. A chemist should not restrict his leisure pursuits solely to scientific and technical activities.
Vacations. Many people boast of going years without a vacation. But it's a mistake never to take one. Sitting on the beach, under the sun. with the waves pounding at your feet is a marvelous way to let off some of the pressure that's been building inside you. How long should your vacation be? It depends on your personality. Some people find they need at least a week or two to unwind fully. Others say taking that much time off creates a backlog of work that just adds to their stress when they return to the lab. Those people may be better with several short vacations throughout the year.
Screening. I feel that working alone, in long stretches, is far more practical and productive than working in the corporate environment, where your open door is an invitation for everyone to interrupt you, at any time, regardless of how busy you are. If you find these constant interruptions stressful, it may pay you to screen calls and visitors. Take calls when you want to; if you're busy, have someone take a message so you can return the call later.
Unlisted phone number. Few things are as intrusive as a work related phone calls received at home. If you are bothered by too many such calls from subordinates or supervisors, consider getting an unlisted number. If company policy dictates that people at work must have access to your home number, you might want to buy a telephone answering machine. The machine lets you monitor incoming calls without picking up the phone.
Privacy. Modular offices and open work spaces are popular with managers who think constant employee interaction is a good thing. But these setups deprive workers of privacy, and lack of privacy in turn adds stress and reduces productivity. You should consider an office setup in which all employees have small, private offices, with doors they can shut, to give them a place to think.
Dual offices. My Uncle Max, a college professor, has two offices: his regular office and a small, "secret" office tucked away in the basement of another department's building. Max goes there to unwind, to work away from the crowds for a few hours, when the pressures of students, faculty meetings and research overwhelm him.
Delegation. Do you have too much work to do? Delegate it. Don't think you're the only one who can do your work. You'd be surprised at what your co-workers can accomplish for you.
Divide and conquer. If you're faced with a big task and a short deadline, break the assignment up into many smaller segments and do a part of the job every day. Having to write only one page a day for ten days seems a lot less formidable a task than having to produce a ten page paper in two weeks.
Deep breathing. Psychologists have developed a number of relaxation techniques that can help reduce stress on the job. All can be performed easily at work. One of the most basic techniques is deep breathing. It relieves tension by increasing your oxygen intake. To practice it, sit in a comfortable position with your hands on your stomach. Inhale deeply and slowly. Let your stomach expand as much as possible. Hold your breath for five seconds. Then exhale slowly through pursed lips, as if whistling. Repeat the cycle three or four times.
Visualizations. To escape from the stress of the "real world," close your door, sit back and spend the next 10 minutes in a pleasant daydream. This short "mental vacation" provides a nice tension reducing break.