How to manage stress when your work is an all-of-life thing


I’ve always had some trouble managing stress. A few years ago it ended up leading to a fair bit of time in hospital because of stress. It is certainly something I’m still learning about, but I thought I might share some things that I have found helpful. I think my experience might be particularly helpful for others who have sought to integrate their work with everyday life.

It seems the way our society generally thinks about work is that work is something you don’t want to do and something you wouldn’t do if you weren’t being paid. It’s something that’s very separate from the rest of your life – family, recreation, neighbourhood. I suppose what has been different for some of us is that we’ve sought to integrate all these areas of life by doing things like moving into the neighbourhoods (our houses) where we’re working, so that our work with the community can be embedded in our everyday life. We’ve sought to develop a sense of community and friendship with the people we’re working alongside. What can easily happen though when we choose to live and work in this way is that we never stop working and never have a time when we can relax. (If we were participating in work the way that most of our society does, we’d have an opportunity to leave the work behind when we leave the workplace.) I think that when we work in this way we need to find other rhythms of work and rest that will help us to manage stress, and most of this post is about things I think think can help us do that.

Make a list
At times I’ve found that the tasks I have on my plate just feel like a big blob of stuff that is always growing faster than I can work away at it, and I can feel overwhelmed by the blob of work. The good think about blobs is that they’re easy to split up into smaller, more manageable blobs. If I can split the blob into smaller individual task-blobs (by making a list of tasks I can tick off) I can see how much I’ve gotten done. I find that making a list can make it easier to work out the order things need to be done and to make sure I haven’t forgotten something that I might not remember until the last minute.

Take a walk
Hey isn’t that cheating? Didn’t I say last week that you should take a walk to get to know your neighbourhood better? Some of the time that I was working in the city I found that I could get stuck in an office all day doing admin work – not something I got involved in the neighbourhood to do. It was easy to end up with so many things to do each day (and often into the evening) that it felt like I didn’t have time to go out and walk around in the street, even just around the block. But when I did take time to stop doing admin and walk around the city for a bit I found that I could relax into my work and think more clearly. I also found I had a better perspective of what was going on in the neighbourhood and where my work (even if I was stuck in an office most of the day) fitted in.

Leave a gap
Another effect of feeling like there was so much to each day was not leaving enough time between tasks. The result was often that I’d be beginning tasks and arriving at meetings in a hurry and with a scattered, unfocused mind. I found it was helpful if I took some time to not be busy (even just for a minute) in between tasks and meetings I could let go of the stress that had accumulated from the previous task or meeting. I could do that by taking a walk (as already suggested) or by having a cup of tea (which is also associated with relaxing).

Don’t take it home with you
This is a bit like cheating too, because it’s actually an extension of leaving a gap. After my time in hospital I found that I seriously needed to find a way to stop myself from taking stress from work home with me. I needed to be disciplined about not continuing to work when I got home, but I also needed to be disciplined about making sure I got rid of the stress of the formal work day before I got home because otherwise I’d be narky around others I was living with as well as guests we might be trying to host. I ended up making a practice for a while of meditating on the bus as I headed home, but also checking before I went inside the house where I had calmed my mind and my body. If I was still feeling stressed I’d take half an hour to sit on a couch in the carport or out in the front yard meditating for half an hour, so as not to bring an unhelpful presence into the house.

Tech sabbath
I’ve written before about how I’ve often found it helpful to take a decent break from social media, but I’ve sometimes also found it helpful to have a break from using a computer as well, especially when I’ve felt like I have so much admin work to do that it needs to be continued at home in the evening. When I’ve had an office I’ve sometimes found it a relief to leave the computer in the office when I go home, so that I can’t really continue at home. I’ve heard some households say that at a particular time of the evening all the computers and phones get put away, and I can imagine that being helpful too.

I’m writing this on Sunday night, but the odds are that most people will see this Monday morning. How about trying some of these ways of managing stress this week? If you give some of them a go, please let me know if they’ve been helpful or not.

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