How to Leave Work Stress at Work


I believe professional work should function to enhance our overall sense of vitality, adding to the vibrancy of our lives by giving us another contributor toward our sense of purpose.

Workplace dysfunction, then, is anything that takes away from our work’s capacity to add to the vibrancy of our lives.

Does work make you feel any of the following ways?

  • Stuck

  • Physically and emotionally exhausted

  • Full of dread

  • “Paying your dues”

  • Burnt out

  • Secretly disappointed or unhappy

  • Juggling so many responsibilities

  • Unsure how long you can keep it all going

If so, work is all but certainly taking away from the vibrancy of your life. There are a variety of ways you can change this, which range from simple strategies you can implement every day to fundamentally rethinking your relationship with work. These strategies are described below in the context of six common workplace dysfunction problems.

How to Leave Work Stress at Work

Problem 1: You are Multi-Tasking on the Regular

Do you ever have those moments where you almost literally feel your brain breaking because you catch yourself trying to focus on so many different things at once? Your workday flies by in no time, there’s never enough time to complete your tasks, everything was ALWAYS due yesterday, and it somehow never really feels like you are ever getting anything done. You exist in a frantic state, are totally spent by the end of the day, and have little to show for it.

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For example: It’s 11AM and you’ve already been furiously working away at your desk for 3 hours. Your boss pops by to tell you they need this OTHER assignment to be done, and it’s a priority, so please have it complete by 4PM. You feel panicked and overwhelmed in the moment, and are short and reactive for the rest of the day.

Short-Term Strategies to Manage:

  • Less Direct Response: “I am happy to take this on, though it means I will not get to X, Y, and Z today. Is that okay with you?”

  • More Direct Response: “Is it critical that I am the one to take on this assignment? It means that X, Y, and Z will not be completed on time, and I understand those tasks to also be priorities. Can we sit down for 30 minutes to have a quick discussion about how I can best address these competing priorities?”

  • Manage Up: Set up a 60-minute meeting with your boss for next week. Review your responsibilities to get a clear sense of how to prioritize your work. Bring suggestions (and justification!) for delegating some work to colleagues who are better suited to those tasks.

Long-Term Solutions:

Get clear about the relationship you want to have with your job. What do you want it to engender in you? How do you feel about your current job, and how do you want to feel?

Problem 2: You are Drowning in Responsibility

You have tremendous responsibility. Easily more than one person’s job. You have tons of institutional knowledge and the whole place would probably crumble if you left. You have no room to breathe, and the weight of the responsibility is oppressive and keeps your from thinking about anything BUT work. 

Short-Term Strategies to Manage:

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  • Get up. Right now. Five minutes. Walk around the office, go drink a glass of water. GIVE yourself a few minutes of downtime. Don’t wait for someone to offer it to you.

  • Eat lunch anywhere but your desk. And please eat lunch. And a snack. Preferably somewhere away from your desk and your email, and outside on a nice day.

  • Make a list. Before you leave, create a (reasonable) list of the tasks you will accomplish the following day. Direct your focus to these items. Leave yourself some cushion in time for the inevitable fire.

  • Implement the 52-17 Rule. 52 minutes focused on one task. 17 minutes taking a break. Repeat. Studies show this is THE most efficient and productive way to work.

Long-Term Solutions:

Set firm boundaries with your work relationships, and keep them. Do you need to leave by a certain time every day? Have a break when you need it? Need more clarity on the purpose of your assignments? Demand them. 

Problem 3: You are Set Up to Burn Out

These are the traditionally high stress jobs where you are simply expected to deeply sacrifice for your profession. Burnout is incredibly common, and you are just expected to give and give and give until you break. As a result, you always feel like you’re about to break.

Short-Term Strategies to Manage:

  • Take a deep breath. Then take another. And another. Schedule breaks, and do your best to honor them.

  • Avoid simple carbs and caffeine. Do your best not to “feed” the stress to soothe yourself. If you can, take a walk to get some herbal tea or a healthy snack.

  • Talk to your supervisor. Even when it’s assumed everyone will be stressed out, you need to let your supervisor know if you’re near a breaking point and need a respite.

  • Create a going-home ritual to help you intentionally leave the burdens of work at work, and focus on your personal relationships when you go home.

Long-Term Solutions:

Ask yourself tough questions. Is this the right field for you? Is this particular organization the best place to work in this field, in service to your professional ambitions and your personal health?

Problem 4: You are Stuck in Toxicity

Everyday is a different kind of drama. People are yelled at. Meetings make you incensed. The staff is practically trained to undermine each other as a matter of daily operations. Distrust everywhere. You are left out of conversations and key decisions for no reason. No accountability, no transparency. Your career is plateauing because you’re not using your skills effectively. You are just so over it.

Short-Term Strategies to Manage:

  • Don’t take it personally. We know. Easier said than done. However, in a toxic environment, remember that everyone is generally at their worst, and it’s not about you. Take a breath and a walk.

  • Be selective about your engagement. This may not be a place you can really trust people. Keep is professional, do not engage in drama, and save your energy for deeper relationships that exist outside work. Keep email records of things that make you uncomfortable.

  • Advocate for yourself. Get comfortable saying “I do not respond to being yelled at. Let’s reconvene on this when we’re all more settled.” Get up and walk away.

Long-Term Solutions:

This many not be the best place for you long-term. You cannot single-handedly change a toxic culture.

Problem 5: Your Boss is Terrible

THIS ONE. I feel this one in my bones. Indecisive. Questions everything you do. Constantly meddling. Is always talking, yet cannot manage to give clear direction to save their life. Sometimes an egomaniac. Having to deal with this all day every day leaves you with a groundswell of rage simmering just below the surface. 

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Click here to get the Free Guide!

Short-Term Strategies to Manage:

  • If your boss totally checks out and leaves you to pick up the pieces when things blow up, then start directly asking if you can take the lead on the projects. “Unburden them” and advance your career.

  • If your boss is an unpredictable anger grenade, then learn their triggers. What incites them to anger? How can you proactively avoid those triggers? Start logging every instance of getting yelled at or being at the receiving end of their anger. You’ll need it later.

  • If your boss is an egomaniac, then “invite them” to help you get what you need. Ask “for their guidance.” “I’m struggling with [x], I have a feeling you’ll have some good insight on this. Could you help?” “Could I pick your brain?”

  • If your boss is incapable of communicating, then never stop asking for clarification. “What I am hearing you say is [X]. Is that what you meant?” “How would you recommend I prioritize these tasks?” 

  • If your boss breathes down your neck all day, then talk with them about what issues/aspects of your work are most important to them, and how you can both use a predictable structure for engaging them on your work. 

Long-Term Solutions:

Find a boss who values you, is open to candid conversation, and doesn’t tangle you up in their baggage.

Are you experiencing any of the problems above in your job? Click here to find out more about career coaching services that will help you reduce stress at work or grab your free guide that will teach your successful strategies to feeling less work stress.