Stressed at Work? Try Keeping a Journal

Create a job-related stress log, which consists of journal-like entries, tracking the precise moments of when your body or mind reacts negatively to pressure at work.

Instead of saying, "It's the whole job that's causing me extraordinary stress," it's important to pinpoint the origin (time, place, people, circumstance and triggers) of job stressors.

For example, is it an insane workload that's bothering you because layoffs have meant that fewer people are now responsible for more work? Have you been repeatedly promised a raise or promotion, only to be routinely overlooked? Do you have a rude, belligerent boss or absolutely intolerable colleagues who undermine you at every turn? Is there an overall climate of fear that has everyone biting their nails as you all await the possibility of pink slips?

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You want to determine what exactly it is that's causing you -- your mind and body -- to react so negatively at work.

Every day for two weeks, keep a small pad in your purse or pocket. (Don't do this on your work computer, nor should you wait until you're back home at the end of the day.) In the moment when you feel like you're tensing up or getting that headache or feeling sick -- whatever your specific symptoms, which can vary in each person -- write down what specifically is causing it.

For example, did someone say something specific to you? Who was it, what was said, and why? Where were you? What were you doing in that moment? How did you react outwardly and how did you react inwardly -- verbally, physically, mentally or emotionally?

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Over the course of two weeks, create this type of entry every time you aren't feeling like your normal, healthy self.

Then try rating the specific stressors. For example, there are typically some things that make us more upset than others. Different things cause a different reaction. Maybe you get a stomach ache when you're told to work with a specific person, but you're perfectly fine doing the same assignment with someone else. Or maybe you feel fine until you have to call a particular contact.

There are different degrees of how those things make us feel. (For example, when my husband broke his foot recently, the doctor asked, on a scale of 1 to 10 -- with 10 being the most excruciating pain you've ever experienced -- how would you rate the pain? That answer enabled the doctor to understand the severity of the injury.) Do the same when you're stressed at work. Rate the intensity of how you're feeling each time you create an entry.

This will help you to identify patterns. Are there one or two things that really rile you up? Are you more apt to be stressed at different times of day? Are there specific people who are causing the majority of your pains -- some worse than others?

Now look for solutions. If you were advising a good friend or family member who created and shared with you the same stress journal, what kind of advice would you offer short of quitting the job, which, without another paycheck lined up, may not be realistic for most people? How would you help your friend cope?

While potential solutions will be different for everyone, some options to consider: Can you talk to your boss about moving your desk, switching assignments, altering your hours or tweaking a process?

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