How to Reduce Stress When You Can’t Change Your Coworkers

What, exactly, is stress? As it turns out, stress is a chameleon word that means different things to different people. Not even the American Institute of Stress (AIS)has a carved-in-stone definition.

However, AIS is able to divide stress into four classifications:

  1. Acute: that’s the “fight or flight” situation, such as a co-worker threatening you
  2. Chronic: the difficulties of daily life, which includes ongoing workplace issues
  3. Eustress: the good kind of stress, such as job promotion
  4. Distress: adverse events, such as a demotion

Chronic stress potentially has the worst effect on your mental and physical health, because changing the factors creating it often isn’t an option. And workplace stress can be an unfortunate reality even when you love your job and your coworkers are compatible.

How to Reduce Stress When You Can't Change Your CoworkersYour Stress Isn’t the Same as My Stress

The fact that stress is a “feeling” makes it hard to pin down. What creates a sense of stress in one person isn’t the same as what makes another person feel stressed. Regardless of the cause, stress often has the same result.

You may feel:

  • Angry
  • Apathetic
  • Depressed
  • Helpless
  • Nervous
  • Anxious
  • Overwhelmed

The list goes on. The range of emotions, like the causes of stress, is personal and endless.

Additionally, the emotional reactions that stress arouses in you have the power to affect your health. You might be experiencing physical problems you haven’t necessarily attributed to stress. These can include:

  • Digestive issues
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia

How You Can Reduce Stress

In the words of Epictetus, an ancient Greek philosopher, “People are disturbed not by a thing, but by their perception of a thing.” He was so sure of his observations that he repeated his advice as, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

But Epictetus might not have been so philosophic about stress if he had been subjected to:

  • Conflicting demands or expectations from bosses
  • Downsizing
  • Excessive overtime
  • Interruptions by supervisors or coworkers
  • Low pay
  • Minimal opportunities for advancement
  • Unrealistic or unclear performance standards

All too often, supervisors and coworkers are the source of stress triggers. Interpersonal interactions that you can’t change create stress because you believe you aren’t in control of your time or decisions.

How to Reduce Stress When You Can't Change Your Coworkers

So, what’s the best way to reduce stress? The solution for you is as personal as your stress triggers and your reactions to them. The American Psychological Association (APA) offers suggestions many find helpful. They recommend first determining what your stressors are.

Keeping a journal is one way of identifying stressors. Record information such as:

  •  The situation in which you felt stressed
  • Your thoughts and feelings about the situation
  • Who besides you was involved
  • Where the situation occurred
  • Your reactions during and after the situation

These kinds of details will pin down what is causing your stress, which may not be what you thought it was, and reveal patterns or similarities of which you might not have been aware.

Exercise, Have Fun, Sleep

Once you understand what triggers your stress, the APA suggests changing your response or reactions. Their recommendations focus on developing healthy lifestyle habits that are known to reduce stress, rather than specific solutions to specific stressors. The idea is that if you feel stress-free and confident in general, you will be better able to cope with negative situations.

Exercise is first on the APA’s list, followed by engaging in activities you enjoy. It’s also essential to get adequate sleep.

How to Reduce Stress When You Can't Change Your CoworkersThe APA also strongly suggests you maintain boundaries between work time and other time, disconnect from work with non-work activities, and practice relaxation techniques such as meditation. Depending on the stressor, talking to your supervisor or manager may be an option.

Pay Attention to What Stresses You

The advice from Mayo Clinic is to become more resilient. In common with the APA, Mayo believes awareness is the key to stress management. As well as knowing what your stressors are, awareness can highlight times or events that are not stressful, and that everything is okay. That can help you better cope when things are not okay.

Start with becoming aware of your physical reactions. Create a written list of your emotional and physical responses when you feel stressed. Make time to rationally evaluate what’s going on. Stress can lead your mind to deceive you about the reality of a situation. Use techniques such as meditation and mindfulness to keep yourself focused on the here and now.

The last suggestion from Mayo might be the most difficult to implement: don’t say or do anything about the stressful situation for three minutes.

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Stress Management Is Changing Yourself, Not Them

One Mayo expert keeps stress management advice short and sweet: adapt to a stressful situation by changing your expectations. It’s the official version of finding the silver-lining-in-the-cloud advice. For some situations, it might be all that you can do. That advice is echoed by VeryWellMind, who point out that workplace stress is so common that you must adopt a positive attitude as part of your stress management techniques.

Their techniques include using time management skills to have a relaxed morning before you head for work. If you start the day feeling stressed, you can count on a lot more occurring as the day progresses. As your workday rolls along, avoid conflict. Easier said than done, of course, but they maintain you can reduce conflict by avoiding gossip and keeping your opinions about non-work matters, such as politics, to yourself.

How to Reduce Stress When You Can't Change Your CoworkersGet Yourself Organized and Comfortable

VeryWellMind suggestions additionally include organizing your workspace and your thinking. One of their practical recommendations is to make sure you are physically comfortable. Unless you’re working at home, it can be difficult to get a more comfortable chair or adjust the thermostat. You’ll have to find ways, like a seat cushion or warmer/cooler clothes, to be relaxed rather than stressed. When your personal discomfort is minimal, you won’t respond to the actions of others in a way that escalates tension or stress.

You can also get out of the office at lunchtime. Going for a walk is a big stress reliever, as is listening to music.

The 1 Tip About Which Everyone Is In Agreement

No matter which expert or specialist you prefer, there is one category of stress management in which all advice is consistent. Without exception, alcohol, drugs, and overeating are not acceptable ways to reduce stress.

Note: the professionals add that when your emotions are so intense that your mental or physical health is deteriorating, it’s time to consult a counselor.

You Are the Only One Who Can Reduce Stress

Stress is part of work and life. It’s different for everyone, and the techniques to reduce stress are as varied as the causes. The common element is the fact that stress is an emotional reaction to something you don’t like or can’t control.

But you can control what you think, and exercising that control is how you’ll keep situations and people from creating stress for you. Know yourself, the mantra of the ancients as well as contemporary psychologists, and you’ll know how to use your mind to deal with workplace stress when you can’t change those who cause it.

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Becca Borawski Jenkins
Becca is a bit like a cat — she’s gone through a few “lives” to get to her current one (with which she’s quite pleased). She earned her MFA in Cinema-Television Production at USC’s famed film school, and her first career was as a music editor (if you’ve watched Scrubs, you’ve likely heard her work).

Becca found her way to career number two through martial arts. She began training in BJJ and muay Thai and started working with professional MMA fighters, building websites, working on fight promotions, and producing videos.

As a competitor in BJJ herself, Becca wanted to get stronger and fitter. In 2005, she became a student at CrossFit Los Angeles where she met WLC co-founders Andy Petranek and Michael Stanwyck. In only a couple years, she became CrossFit Level III Certified, left her entertainment career, and dedicated herself full time to coaching, serving as the Program Director of CFLA and founder of the CFLA CrossFit Kids program.

After seven years as a music editor and then eight years as fitness instructor, Becca segued to her current career — full-time editor and writer. She and her husband are full-time RVers and have a first-hand comprehension of the pros and cons of remote work.