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Stress in the work place

beautifully flawed

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Hi I have posted in the community before but not in this category. I am having problems with anxiety involving my job. I am currently employed at my first professional job working with people with developmental disabilities. I am a supervisor responsible for the at home care of 35 clients. I am terrified of making mistakes. Even the smallest mistake makes me feel terrified that I will attract negative attention from my superiors. I even have stressful dreams about my job most nights. Next fall my immediate supervisor MAY be leaving the company to pursue a political career. When she told me this she said that she wanted to recommend me for her job. In theory, this would be a great opportunity for my career but I am already stressed out thinking about the amount of responsibility that would come with the job. It may not even happen but I am experiencing extreme bouts of anxiety and fear. Sometimes causing my heart to race and the urge to cry (this happens about 1x per week with my normal case load) I realize I am probably having anxiety attacks. I guess I am worried that if I cannot even handle the amount of responsibility I have now then I will definitely not be able to handle more. Does anyone have any suggestions about how to improve my confidence in my abilities and better handle work related stress? Thanks for the consideration. BF

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It does sound very much like you are shouldering a lot of responsibility. Have you attempted to identify exactly what it is you're fearing in this? I know sometimes with me my anxiety would spiral out of control and become completely irrational. Some worrying isn't all bad, though, I wouldn't think. Concern for the safety of your clients would certainly be a rational thing to be considering. But if you are feeling too much pressure and it is adversely affecting your health as you have described then you would definitely want to take steps to ease the fears. My heart races sometimes and it can be quite stressful and even more anxiety-provoking. Not sure I am offering much here... David O. is very good with direct and effective plans of action in situations like yours. Hopefully he has some words of wisdom for you.

I love your screen name, by the way.

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I know exactly what you are talking about because I've done that job. It was my first professional job as well when I was in my early 20's and it is a HARD one. You are right, it is a big responsibility with a lot of pressure to always get things right. Here's the reality though, you are human. Human's make mistakes. We also try to learn from them as to not repeat them.

But....here's another perspective.... I've also been in the position of your supervisors and I've been in the position of THEIR supervisors. Now....I don't know your supervisor and what he/she is like but I can tell you that when I held that position I never looked negatively on mistakes. When my employees were doing the best job that they could with a heart wanting the very best for the clients they served, I was happy. I'll repeat myself here....humans make mistakes. That's a given. We all do. Even your supervisor. We then acknowledge them, do what we can to address them and then let them go. I know that's easier said than done.....trust me!!!!!

Does your employer have an EAP program? If they do.....that's the kind of thing they are there for and I would encourage you to use their services.

Also, it sounds like your supervisor has great faith in you if he/she's already talking about you as a replacement!! That tells me that you are good at what you do and you need to trust yourself that you are as well.

Maybe spend some time listing all the things you do right in a day rather than the mistakes you feel you may have made. (sometimes things we think are mistakes.....aren't) :D)

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Hi beautifully flawed,

I know this has to feel like a daunting task, especially when you feel overwhelmed as it is. I used to be a CEO in a previous career and also had oversight of 3 psychiatric hospitals in a heavily populated state along with a managing a huge multi-million dollar budget to operate a large statewide system of mental health services-- so I was very busy and it felt overwhelming at first. When that aspect of my career ended (in the early 1990’s—yes, I’m fairly ancient) I went into management and organizational development consulting (which I still do a little bit of).

Over time I developed some expertise in time and resource management that allowed me to work 40-45 hours per week w/o feeling overwhelmed and thus over-stimulated. What I did was create a formula for how I was going to manage all of my responsibilities.

  • Work with my boss closely for a few days to see what the expectations were for her job and how she managed the position. Look for unsolvable concerns (which can haunt you at times) and for how she has managed specific situations that repeatedly crop up.

  • As I was with my boss, I conducted a mental task analysis of the specific things she did when on a daily basis. This is an activity log where you keep track of the issue or specific area of focus, how long it took to resolve/manage and how it was resolved.

  • Maintain a personal stress diary so you can see what types of situations stress you out and what time of the day your stress levels seem to increase. The diary should also tell you when you’re most alert productive and efficient.

  • Eliminated jobs that I shouldn’t be doing, this included tasks that could be done by someone I could delegate to or someone else in the organization that should’ve been doing.

  • Scheduled my most challenging tasks for the times of day when my energy was highest. That way my work would be better and it should take me less time to do.

  • Tried to minimize the number of times a day I switched between types of task. For example, I read and replied to e-mails in blocks once in the morning and once in the afternoon only.

  • I had no chairs in my office except for mine, this prevented people from coming in and sitting down for extended periods (there was a conference room attached to mu office). For some unknown reason, people tended to talk 2-3 times longer when they sat and yet the same information was delivered in 1/3 to ¼ the time (yes I know this sounds insensitive and anti-teamwork, but remember, your initial job will be to get organized, be effective and be efficient— very hard to do when everyone wants talk. You can bring in chairs once you’ve mastered the job)

What I did was to apply Reinhold Niebuhr serenity prayer to my approach, with some backwoods logic. The prayer was:

  • God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (accept that you can’t control everything);

  • Courage to change the things I can (those things you can control are the things to focus on);

  • And wisdom to know the difference (be aware of what you can and can’t accomplish and control and remember that you're only as strong, efficient and effective as your people).

The backwoods logic goes like this:

  • If you gotta swaller a frog, swallow the biggest one first (tackle high impact, high return on your time projects first: waste limited energy and time on low impact projects and tasks)

  • Don’t stare too long at the biggest frog, just swaller it (tackle the big and real issues first, don’t spend excessive time analyzing and fretting about everything)

  • If you gotta swaller several frogs, swaller only as many as you need to (recognize what is your responsibility and what isn’t, don’t assume responsibility for others'' work).

And finally, I took the following reality based steps:

  • I prepared a to-do list and began by writing down every task I needed to complete.

  • I broke down every task into smaller chunks that were more manageable or until I could complete each one in 1-2 hours. This list will be long and look daunting, but there’s ways around this.

  • Then I placed a 1-10 point rating by each task (1=low priority and 10 = extremely critical). Only a few task (3-5 should have a high priority, if you have more than that, go back and re-rate them).

  • Once I completed this step, I rewrote the list and posted it in front of me. This became my action plan based on key result areas and allowed me to separate the important from the time-consuming trivial tasks. I then had a precise plan that I could use. I was able to tackle these in order of importance or urgency. This allowed me to separate important jobs from the many time-consuming trivial ones.

I could give you much more, but this a very good start. Remember that almost all people getting promoted go thru some level of anxiety and intimidation about their capacity and competence. This is normal—use this anxiety to channel your efforts as opposed to allowing it to paralyze you. Muscle thru your anxiety and sense of incompetence (if you should feel this way). After several successful accomplishments, you will begin to develop a success identity, which is powerful for any good leader to have, and gives you great political capital.

Also, pay careful attention to the wisdom from IrmaJean and Danni-- do take care of yourself and your emotional health (a top priority), and learn to see your position from the position of the person above you-- it gives you better perspective most of the time.

Overall, I can't think of a formula for managing stress as you describe it-- my strongest recommendation is that cognitive restructuring exercises and any number of mental gymnastics will be less effective than having reality based successes through accomplishing the tasks of the position well. In teaching my kids to drive, they were overridden with severe anxiety, but it wasn't until we had driven several times that they began to relax: no amount of self talk could replace the actual experience of performing live under pressure. Nothing can replace this experience; thus my response to your question.

Good luck and I hope this helps,


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I had one final thought-- while everything I wrote is more on the techniques of managing, what I didn't touch on was your personal style. When you look at excellent leaders and managers, there are common characteristics shared by most (many of which you can learn).

My best recommendation would be that you read and study on the qualities of exceptional leaders and managers.

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You

Maxwell 3-in-1 Special Edition (The Winning Attitude / Developing the Leaders Around You / Becoming a Person of Influence)

First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently

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Thanks to all of you who replied to my post. After writing that post I went to see a friend who is a step above me in the same field. She basically said it was the same for her when she was facing the prospect of promotion in our very regulated career field. I felt much better after speaking with her and reading these posts. I am amazed by the amount of support the people here have given me. Thank you all.

Post anxiety attack, I can now see that it IS a great sign that I am being considered for a promotion after only being with the company for a year and that most of my fears are irrational. It was reassuring to hear from Danni, (being from the same field) a person who can truly understand the pressure. I do care very much for the people I serve which makes my job even more stressful at times but, in the end, worth it.

The points David O offered make complete sense and seem like they will help quite a bit when I figure out how to apply them. I do tend to take on more than I can handle at times (part of my perfectionist nature) and have been trying to delegate more lately. I completely agree with the last paragraph of David's post, the best way to learn is by experience and that will only come with time. What I am taking away from this is to slow down and take a look at the smaller picture, piece by piece, until I can fit it all together. BF

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