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Monday, January 22, 2018

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The sky is falling: Five tips for dealing with workplace stress
Joyce Penland, CFRE

April, 2015

You may or may not recall the childhood tale of Chicken Little.

In a nutshell, the story tells us that one day while Chicken Little is walking in the woods an acorn falls from a tree, and hits her on the head. She thinks, “My, oh, my, the sky is falling. I must run and tell the lion about it.” She tells her friend, Henny Penny, that the sky is falling and that she is going to the lion to tell him about it. Henny Penny joins her. Then they run into another friend, Ducky Lucky. All three tell Foxey Loxey the tale and he invites them to come into his den. “Come with me and I can show you the way to the lion.”

The three friends go in, but they never come out again.

During times of transition in our workplaces, we all can become like Chicken Little. We can misinterpret signals, become agitated, get others agitated, and, in the end, become lunch for the next fox that comes along. Yet transitions in the workplace are inevitable. Transitions include times when we inherit new staff or a new boss, when our board members and volunteers become demanding or leave us in the lurch, when our loyal donors are absent or quixotic, and when our trusted colleagues have so much on their shoulders that you can’t lean upon them. So what can we do?

A 2013 survey by the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence found that job-related stress is a serious issue. More than one-third of working Americans reported experiencing chronic work stress. Here are five tips from the APA that can help us deal with challenging work environments

1.  Don’t panic. 

Take time to assess the situation calmly. Jot down your thoughts and feelings about the situation. The APA says, “Taking notes can help you find what exactly is causing you to stress and panic and how you can modify your reactions to the stress points.” In stressful situations, just leaving the environment for brief periods can help calm you. A 10-minute walk or time spent in a quiet outdoor spot can aid you in evaluating your situation and your response.

2.  Take time to recharge.

In order to prevent the negative effects of stress and workplace burnout, we need time to rejuvenate. With the many stressors of the nonprofit workplace, it’s essential that we disconnect from time to time. Use your vacation days and take time off to relax and unwind. Read a good book (not related to work!), see the newest blockbuster movie, or take part in an activity that relaxes and reinvigorates you. No vacation days accumulated? “Get a quick boost by turning off your phone and focusing on non-work activities for a while,” the APA says.

3.  Establish boundaries.

Too many Development professionals feel that they must be available to their organizations 24/7. So we need to establish some work-life boundaries for ourselves. That might mean making a rule not to check email from home in the evening, or not answering the phone during dinner. Maybe this means not taking work home from the office at all. The APA says, “Although people have different preferences when it comes to how much they blend their work and home life, creating some clear boundaries can reduce the potential for work-life conflict and the stress that goes with it.”

4.  Talk to your supervisor.

According to the APA, healthy employees are typically more productive, so an open conversation with your supervisor is a good start. The purpose isn’t to list your complaints, but to come up with an “effective plan for managing the stressors you’ve identified, so you can perform at your best on the job.” Parts of the plan may help improve your time management skills, clarify job expectations, obtain the necessary resources/support from colleagues, and enrich your job with more challenging or meaningful tasks, or make changes to your physical workspace to reduce strain.

5.  Develop healthy responses.

Rather than fighting stress with fast food or alcohol, the APA suggests making healthy choices when you feel the tension rise. These include: Exercising; making time for hobbies and favorite activities; getting good-quality sleep; and accepting help from trusted friends and family members to improve your ability to manage stress.

Although not a recommendation by the APA, I personally find that my spiritual beliefs can bring the most profound sense of peace and well-being. Following these tips can help us react to workplace stress and inevitable transitions with courage, resilience and assurance…and a whole lot less like Chicken Little.

Portions of this article have been extracted or adapted with permission from American Psychological Association (2013). Coping with stress at work. Copyright @2013 American Psychological Association.   Retrieved from No further reproduction or distribution is permitted without written permission from the American Psychological Association.


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