As we approach the end of the semester, final exams week and concluding class projects, a lot of students (and likely professors) are feeling a high level of stress, which can be defined as difficulty in coping with some aspect of one’s environment. Such timeliness is one of the reasons that I decided to write about stress and balance in this month’s blog.
I myself am feeling quite a bit of stress. In addition to being buried under a pile of 60 or so final papers that I need to grade quickly before I receive 75 final exams in a week, I also overextended myself with a few research deadlines. I’ve committed to having a draft of my solely authored book due to my publisher as well as having comments to my co-editor of the three-book leadership series I am helping to compile by the end of the year.
As an organizational behaviorist, I should know better because researchers in my field have studied the impact that stressful work has on various aspects of life (i.e. if you’re interested in learning more about this, check out research on the topic of work-life balance). As noted in the Rule of St. Benedict, work is important. And, as noted in a 2015 blog entitled “Work According to the Rule of St. Benedict” (https://www.virginiatrappists.org/2015/02/work-according-to-the-rule-of-st-benedict/), though work is necessary and a form of prayer, we also must be careful not to overwork.
Stress can be caused by many things, including overworking. Yet, not all stress is negative. Some stress can lead to meeting tight deadlines, solving a difficult problem and overall self-improvement.
However, people tend to focus on those types of stress that are negative because they get in the way of accomplishing positive outcomes. These are the types of stress that need to be managed. Otherwise, continuing to experience negative stress can be detrimental to one’s health and relationships with others.
There are several ways in which stress can be effectively managed.
- Change your behavior. People might focus on resolving the stressful problem itself. A very minor stressor I used to have at a prior university that I taught at was that the copy machine in my office would often be broken before my class. I used to always wait until right before class to make copies of handouts and, when the copies weren’t ready for class, I was less effective as an instructor and this stressed me out. Soon, though, I realized that stress was related to my own behavior of waiting to make copies right before class. Now I give myself plenty of time to make copies, often doing so days in advance so that, if our copy machine is broken, I have the ability to wait until it is fixed or find a working copier with plenty of time left before class.
- Seek balance. Some people also find other methods of coping if changing their behavior doesn’t work. Negative methods could include behaviors like over-eating because of stress. However, more positive coping mechanisms that encourage seeking balance could include relaxing with friends and family (maybe even seeking their advice or empathy related to your stress) or participating in a hobby. Some others change the way that they think about their stress and try to find a more positive way to reflect on their situation.
- Identify your stressor. In either of the above strategies, those experiencing stress need to be able to identify it. I don’t know about you but sometimes I start experiencing stress and am not always able to adequately express why. However, if I can’t identify the source of stress, I won’t be able to relieve it. Self-reflection, therefore, is important to reveal what specifically is causing stress and even why the stressor has a negative impact.
Regardless of your approach, I hope that you find a positive way to manage your stress.
Has being overworked stressed you out? What have been some causes of stress that you’ve experienced? Was it positive or negative? How did you manage the stress? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, message me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/urickmj/) and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-urick-05b775a3/) or leave me a comment here.
Since I won’t be doing another blog until next month, I want to wish each of you happy holidays, Merry Christmas and a joyful start to the New Year!
Dr. Mike Urick