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5 Science-Based Tips to Manage Career Stress Dr. Janna Koretz
Azimuth Psychological

In high pressure careers, it’s easy for work to take over our lives. The always-on hours, constant emails, and competitive culture can make it hard to step away. This can lead to issues with relationships, anxiety about performance, stress, exhaustion, and burnout.

Mental health professionals to the rescue! It’s simple, we tell you: just cut your workload to 40 hours a week, maintain an active out-of-the office lifestyle, eat right, work out, and…

Sure, that’s the ideal — but it’s rarely realistic. Sometimes you have little choice but to “play the game” and engage in an intense work environment. If this is you, don’t despair; you can still find ways to slow down and make your work more manageable.

Although they may sound counterintuitive, all of the points below are based on solid psychological science, and will ultimately make you more effective and efficient in your career:

1. Don’t Just Prioritize; Optimize

When faced with a mile-long todo list, most people prioritize by importance and by deadline, but that is rarely optimal. Instead, try to optimize for how effective you will be at the task at a given time.

For example, if you know you write best in the morning, prioritize writing as the first thing you do every day, even if you have a deadline for something else that may be more pressing. In the end, you’ll end up saving time overall because you’ve been more productive on your writing task (just don’t miss the deadline entirely!)

2. Trust in Delegation

If you can delegate a task to someone, do it. Even if you need to spend a little extra time training that person to help you, you’ll almost always come out ahead in the end. If there is nobody to delegate to, ask your company if you can hire a part-time VA (virtual assistant) or a college intern. For a very low cost, you’ll be able to offload some tasks and save your brainpower for where it’s needed most.

And yes, it can be hard when you feel that someone else won’t do quite as good a job at that task as you will. Learn to let go and live with a bit of that imperfection — and who knows, maybe your intern will even teach you a thing or two.

3. Don’t Drink to Relieve Stress

Often, high-pressure workplaces promote a pervasive drinking culture. This is ironic, because the jobs that expect you to perform at your best are often the ones that encourage drinking to excess. While this can be fun at times, chronic drinking is exhausting and damaging to your brain and body. As you enter your 30s and 40s, your ability to bounce back from drinking is weakened even further.

This isn’t to say you have to sit out forever — but if you’re feeling overworked, drinking less or eliminating it for a while can help you get ahead of the game so you can relax for real.

4. Have Some Compassion (For Yourself)

As tough as you are, you aren’t a machine. Even if you can manage a great deal of stress for a while, you will not be immune to its effects forever. At some point, it will catch up with you, and you’ll experience burnout — a state where all your shits have been given, and you have no more shits left to give. This is a deeply unhappy, unpleasant experience, and it can take a long time to recover your old self.

So, if you find yourself wanting to take Saturday afternoon to play catch with your kids, watch a movie, or just stare into space, don’t feel bad for wanting that. Instead, have some compassion for yourself, and simply enjoy the afternoon. You’re a human too, and have permission to do other human activities besides work.

5. Use Hobbies Wisely

What if I told you your golf clubs could save your career? No, not because you’ll close a big deal on the 16th hole (does that really happen?). It turns out that hobbies can engage different parts of the brain from your day-to-day job, and can actually ward off burnout.

While you may not have time to throw yourself back into golf all weekend, you could work on your swing at the indoor range for 30 minutes each week (or even every other week). While this isn’t the fastest way to lower your handicap, it will use your brain in a different way, and give your mind a critical break from work.

Have you tried any of these in your career? Let me know your experiences, and any other approaches that have worked for you. And, if you need someone to talk to about managing the pressures of your high-pressure career, feel free to get in touch with us — we have some of the best psychologists in Boston who are ready to help.