Is the stress getting to you?

Kirsten Barron has managed to find a way to balance her three kids, her marriage and a demanding career as an attorney — but her stress levels can still be through the roof at times. She’s had to learn strong coping skills to stay ahead of the game.


Kirsten Barron’s law professor once said, “Everybody needs a good wife.”

Despite being a wife herself and having a loving husband, Barron, who is also a partner at Barron Smith Daugert law firm and mother of three children, can understand the sentiment.

“I have a great husband, but sometimes I feel like I really need a wife,” Barron joked.

Having three kids and a fast-paced career as an attorney can be stressful for Barron. She rates her general stress level at an eight on a scale of one to 10. Finding the balance to juggle her family and professional life is one of her main stressors, and the increasing pace of her job also adds to the stress.

Barron is not alone — she has millions of American workers pulling their hair out right along side her. An AP-Ipsos poll conducted last November found that three-fourths of United States adults feel stress on a daily basis in their lives.

Despite its reputation for having exceptional quality of life, Bellingham is not without its share of stressed-out, overworked businesspeople. Are you one of them?



Karen Aronoff, a psychologist who owns Thunderbolt Coaching and Consulting and also has a clinical practice, said work stressors are as diverse as the people experiencing them. But she hears a few universal ones routinely, and those can be divided into two categories — task-oriented stress and interpersonal stress:

• Time demands are common task-oriented stressors, specifically when you feel like you have more to do than time to do it in, she said. People who are particularly concerned with the quality of their work can be especially susceptible to this kind of stress, and sometimes people try to deal with it by multitasking, which can in turn lead to more stress.

• Not having the appropriate tools or skills to do your job is another task-oriented stressor. This can include not having the proper equipment, knowledge, training or supervision to do what you are tasked to do, she said.

• Conflict in the work place is an example of a major source of interpersonal stress, and can include either conflict you have with a coworker or being in the presence of others’ conflict, she said.

• Some people are “stress carriers,” those who give you verbal or nonverbal putdowns or hold back social cues like greetings, and can be a component of interpersonal stress at work.

• Feeling that your efforts are not valued can be stressful as well. In studies where test subjects are given either positive feedback, negative feedback or no feedback at all, the subjects feel most stressed out with no feedback at all. Feedback is important because it allows you to know where you stand at work, but a lack of feedback on performance creates anxiety or stress, she said.


Impacts of stress

Stress can affect both job performance and personal well being.

One irony associated with stress that occurs when you have too much to do in a limited amount of time is it can sometimes lead to procrastination.

“Because you’re so overwhelmed, you come to a flying stop,” Aronoff said.
If you attempt to deal with this type of stress by multitasking, studies show people decrease focus on their work and increase errors, she said.

Aronoff said it is important to remember that stress can be a good thing and can help work performance up to a certain point, called a “stress point,” which is different for everyone. Beyond that point, stress decreases your effectiveness and leads to burnout, she said.

Physically, long-term stress is associated with a multitude of physical conditions, including increased risk for heart disease, type two diabetes, increased pulse, chronic fatigue, muscle tightness, and susceptibility to allergies, colds and flu.

For Lynn Berman, the stress of managing three restaurants — Pastazza, Pizzazza and Book Fare — after her husband and co-owner found a new job, led her to act in ways she felt uncomfortable with.

She became increasingly short-tempered, intolerant and worried, she said.
“And that’s not me,” she said. “It didn’t feel good at all.”

That was when she and her husband, Fred, decided to sell Pizzazza and Book Fare. Since the two businesses sold in the last six months, Berman said her stress level is much lower, but not entirely absent.


How to avoid and deal with stress

Berman deals with stress now by creating order in her life. She makes lists, keeps her physical surroundings as organized as possible, and tries to set aside time for things she enjoys, such as knitting, reading and writing letters.

Margaret Curtis, managing member of Wilson Engineering, said she has learned from past experiences how to reduce stress by realistically examining potentially stressful issues.

“I usually look at the very worst thing that could happen from a situation, I think about it, and realize it’s not so terrible or unmanageable,” she said.

Curtis learned this technique back in the late ‘90s while working on large projects as an engineer for her firm before she became a managing member. She realized her fear surrounding those projects was irrational and was holding her back from success.

At the office now, Curtis encourages her employees not to stress out if they make a mistake, and if they do, they should let her know immediately and they will work together on the problem. This way, employees are not afraid to make mistakes or own up to them.

Curtis also finds that if she ever experiences conflict with someone, she tries to put herself in the other person’s shoes and imagine what they are thinking and feeling.
“It diffuses an enormous number of situations if you are able to do that,” she said.
Others have different tactics. Barron tends to go on long runs when she feels stressed, and makes sure she exercises four to six times a week. She eats well and gets eight hours of sleep.

“I need to have reserves built up,” she said.

She also finds that entwining her work and home life actually helps reduce stress because it gives her greater flexibility, she said. It used to be that attorneys would work from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., she said, but more often these days Barron leaves work at 3 p.m. to pick up her kids, then works from home in the evening.
She has a few other techniques to deal with stress, as well.

“I don’t cook, I very carefully choose things I say yes to, and I only have a few very good friends. I don’t make time for book club anymore,” she said.

Aronoff said this type of adherence to not over committing one’s self is one of the best ways to avoid stress altogether.

At work, you can do this by talking with your boss or business partners and creating priorities, and in general use and stick to a schedule and work on effective time management.

Also, if there is office conflict that doesn’t involve you, try going to a workshop or therapist to learn how to let go of other people’s issues and not let them affect you.
For many of us, stress to a certain degree is unavoidable. The following are some of Aronoff’s recommended ways to deal with stress:

• Don’t self medicate by drinking, eating or zoning out in front of the TV

• Exercise regularly with an aerobic, non-competitive activity

• Take care of your diet, cut down on sugar and caffeine and eat balanced meals

• Stop or reduce smoking

• Reduce procrastination by breaking large projects down and setting realistic deadlines and goals

• Compartmentalize: focus on one thing at a time instead of multitasking

• Meditate and/or do yoga

• Talk out your concerns with another person

• Learn a relaxation strategy such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization or stretching

• Avoid negative thinking


Are you a stress carrier or a stress reducer?


Checklist for the stress carrier:

You can earn a reputation as a “stress carrier” in your organization if you use the following “punishing” behaviors

• Interrupt people

• Keep a sour facial expression

• Use nonverbal putdowns

• Insult and verbally abuse others

• Monopolize conversations

• Show obvious disinterest in people’s work

• Hold back nice social cues, like greetings

• Complain excessively

• Demand your own way and refuse to compromise

• Patronize or talk down to others

• Criticize excessively

• Lose your temper easily and frequently

• Embarrass, ridicule or belittle others

• Tell lies, evade questions, don’t level with others

• Display frustration easily

• Disagree routinely

• Break confidences, fail to keep promises

• Brag, show off

• Ask loaded or accusing questions


Checklist for the stress reducer:

You can earn the reputation for minimizing stress in your organization if you use these rewarding behaviors

• Listen attentively

• Give positive nonverbal signs of respect for others

• Give suggestions constructively

• Smile and greet others

• Sincerely praise and compliment others

• Compromise and negotiate

• Treat others as equals

• Affirm the feelings and needs of others

• State your needs and desires honestly

• Delay automatic reaction to stressful situations

• Level with others: share opinions honestly

• Promote calmness instead of urgency

• State your agreement with others when possible

• Question others in an open, straightforward manner

• Keep the confidences of others

• Give your word sparingly, keep it when you do

• Clarify roles and responsibilities

• Always work by priorities


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