How to kick workplace stress in the butt: part one

10 coaching questions to help you take back the power


This is the first of a special three-part series on tackling stress at work.

Stress at work is big news. Figures from the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, reported in the Evening Standard last week, indicate that intolerable office hours and excessive work demands triggered 96,800 cases of anxiety or depression-related illnesses last year in London alone.

The Standard goes on to relate how bosses are being ordered by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to get touchy-feely with their employees to remedy this problem. But whilst a few more people-friendly bosses wouldn’t go amiss, I don’t believe this kind of mandate helps you in the short-term.

Let me tell you why: because work does not of itself cause stress.

Stress is an experience you create for yourself in response to what’s happening outside of you. It’s the result of some hard-wired, faulty beliefs about yourself having a field day at your expense.

“Stress comes from giving externals power over our life, which comes from the position of victim, of putting the source of happiness outside our life and denying the power of our own mind.”

Healing and Recovery, David R Hawkins, 2009

Most people imagine they have no choice but to suffer. In fact, you have more choice than you think. And exercising it positively, in your favour, can make a world of difference.

Here are 10 coaching questions to start making stress a thing of the past:

  1. What is making you stressed?

    After a while, feeling stressed can pervade your whole life. Rather than trying to deal with the stress elephant, break it down into specific things that are stressing you. They might include: a bullying boss, conflicting work priorities, a highly pressurised workload, other people’s behaviour towards you, your partner or family’s attitude to your career choice, or the threat of job change or redundancy.

  2. How are you experiencing stress?

    Instead of using the blanket term “stress”, identify exactly how it’s affecting you. What specifically are you feeling? Worried? Frightened? Angry? Frustrated? Depressed? Despairing? Over-excited? The more you can unearth and name your feelings, the better you can deal with them.

  3. Are these feelings familiar to you?

    There’s a branch of psychology called Transactional Analysis. In it they talk about each of us having our “favourite rotten feeling”. These are feelings that are uncomfortable, but they’re also ones we’ve gotten well acquainted with over the years. Their purpose is to confirm things we believe about ourselves.

    I wonder where you might have experienced these feelings before?

  4. When you feel these things, what are you believing about yourself?

    What goes on in your head when you’re feeling this way? Say you’re frustrated and angry, thinking you can never get to the bottom of your work pile, you might be saying to yourself:

    • “No matter how hard I try, I can never achieve what I want.” OR
    • “My life is a constant struggle.”
  5. Where do these beliefs about yourself come from?

    When did you first learn that that is how things have to be? The chances are that it’ll have been at some point in your childhood. Take, for example, the belief, “my life is a constant struggle.” It’s often learned from parents who are experiencing life as tough, and have chosen to respond to it by believing that you have to struggle to get on in life. In the process they either implicitly, or explicitly teach you that this is how life is. So your stress default position develops.

  6. How might the scenario you’re currently in at work reflect your early experiences?

    Sticking with our example, it’s possible that you’ve unconsciously chosen a company and organisational culture that piles on problems for itself; that believes you’ve got to battle to beat the competition.

    Give it some thought: how does your current work environment parallel your younger experiences?

  7. How does hanging on to your current beliefs and feelings serve you?

    If you believe that “my life is a struggle”, in a strange way it gives you the impetus to exert yourself and get the job done. But the more you focus on the struggle and not what you’re achieving, the more you reinforce how useless you think you are. The worse you feel about yourself, the more “stressed” you’re going to feel.

  8. How would you rather feel?

    Maybe it’s things like confident, calm, on top of my workload, achieving what I need to, at peace with myself. Whatever they are, allow yourself to name them.

  9. What would you rather believe?

    From conceiving that “my life is always difficult”, you could choose instead to believe “my life allows me to effortlessly achieve what I need to.”

  10. What must you do differently as a result of shifting your belief?

    Shifting your beliefs will challenge you to do things in a different way. Fundamentally, you’re beginning to accept that you’re okay as you are and that it’s fine to expect life to go your way.

    You may have to be more assertive in your own or other people’s regard, this might look like challenging conflicting work priorities, or choosing to take care of yourself by paying attention to working hours.

    Thinking this way is tough. It goes against the grain of all we’ve been taught in our early lives. But it is not impossible to feel okay about oneself and live in the corporate world.

  11. In the next article, we’re going to be looking in more detail at what it means to be okay at work. If you don’t want to miss it, subscribe here!

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  1. Christine,
    Nice post about stress! When we are aware that we are making decisions about our life every single minute , then we realize that stress is not necessary anymore. People feel stressed when they can not control their life. But always we can do something about anything that we don’t like. When people realize that every day they are deciding to work for the same company, to stay married to the same spouse, to keep the same habits, etc., they will be able to get rid of stress!
    All the best.

    • Well said, Boris. So long as people keep putting the power for change outside of themselves, things stay the same. When you realise that you have power and choice, things can be very different!

  2. Bob Bessette says:

    Hi Christine,
    I guess what you are saying here is that it is all up to us to shift our beliefs. I really like the quote at the beginning. And I think we all tend to cultivate at times our “favourite rotten feeling”. It is the challenge to combat these feelings which at times is easier said than done. I look forward to your upcoming post.

    • Thanks, Bob. Good to hear from you.

      The challenge to overcome our “favourite rotten feelings” is indeed tough – especially when we’re in them! And indeed we do have choice.

      Hope you’re doing well!



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