How to Fix Work Stress

work stress

At work, we often face stressful situations, dreaded projects, irritating co-workers, frustrating bosses, an overwhelming number of tasks and messages, and boring work we don’t enjoy.

These problems have one simple cause: we’re holding on.

The work itself isn’t stressful— it’s the action that’s taken or needs to be taken. It’s our reaction to the work that causes stress: our holding on to a wish that things were different.

It’s not the constant stream of interruptions that’s the problem— these are just events that happen around us, like a leaf falling or bird flying. It’s our holding on, in our minds, to the task we were doing before we were interrupted that causes the frustration.

We wish we weren’t interrupted, and come to resent anything that interrupts us. Meaning our minds are still half on the previous task.

Our co-workers and boss aren’t the problem either— they’re just other human beings trying to do the best they can in this world. It’s our holding on to the idea that they should behave a certain way, that they should do their best to make us happy.

It’s not that we have an overwhelming number of tasks and messages— it’s our reaction to that number. It’s only list of things, or a phone ringing, or an inbox with a series of messages. Those things are harmless, really.

But when we hold on to the idea that we can do everything, and that we have to deal with everything once, we become stressed because obviously we cannot do it all.

We can only do one thing.

But our minds are on doing them all.

So what’s the solution? Letting go.

This is the Zen of Work. Learning to Let Go

When you let go of these ideas of how things should be, how other people should behave to make you happy, how you should do everything at once, then the problems go away. They simply don’t exist anymore.

There are other problems, of course; you still need to do the work. But the frustration, stress, anger, irritation, and feelings of overwhelm are caused by that holding on. They’re in our minds.

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We also hold on to things that happened earlier— something someone did that wasn’t nice, a meeting where we said something embarrassing, a mistake we made on our project – and this only compounds the pain, keeps it replaying on an endless loop.

Letting go allows the problems to disappear.

It’s that simple, and yet letting go isn’t always easy. It’s a learning process. First you have to learn mindfulness, which is the key to the whole shebang. Mindfulness allows us to see these thought processes that are causing us pain, and allows us to delve into what we’re holding on to.

Mindfulness also helps us return to the moment, so all the things running in our heads can fade away, and we live in what’s actually happening right now.

We do a task without holding on to other tasks, or offenses made by other people. We do a task, and then let go of it, and move on to the next task.

This takes practice, and so I suggest starting with a simple practice of 5 minutes of meditation and working from there. Once you get good at this simple practice, you can expand mindfulness to other tasks. Eventually you’ll get good at it and the problems will start to dissolve without exploding first.

  • Steve

    This article is so wishy washy and esoteric!! It tells us very little, and provides very little in the way of concrete actions to combat work stress. Limp!!

  • Letting things flow, without attachment is wonderful and you’re correct – while it may be simple, that doesn’t make it easy. I’ve been practicing mindfulness for 20 years and it can still be a struggle at times.

    Dan @ ZenPresence