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How to stay sane at work

Keep office politics, annoying co-workers, and infuriating customers from fraying your last nerve.

How to stay sane at work

Ever have one of those days where the biggest challenge at work is keeping your sanity? It might be a broken printer or a co-worker who stole your idea that pushes you to the edge, but it’s important to deal with the annoyances of a bad work environment in a professional way—even when you feel the steam billowing from your ears.

These seven tips will help you keep your cool when office irritants start heating up.

Don’t fly off the handle

Remember that you can’t control what other people do or say that annoys you, but you can control your reaction to those annoyances. And a large part of keeping calm involves maintaining perspective.

“In the moment, the littlest thing seems monumental. It usually isn’t,” says Nate Regier, co-founder and CEO of Wichita, Kansas–based Next Element, a leadership communication training firm.

To help reign in the frazzled feelings, let logic lead the way. “If your anger level is a 10 out of 10, consider if that level of anger is appropriate for the situation,” says Kimber Shelton, a psychologist who owns KLS Counseling & Consulting Services in Duncanville, Texas. “Chances are a maximum anger level is not appropriate for a broken copier. Being aware of your emotional arousal allows you to better control your emotional level.”

Be empathetic

When another person, whether a co-worker or client, is frustrating you, take a minute to put yourself in their shoes. Remember you’re not the only one who could be having a bad day. Just as you wish you could be cut some slack every now and then, be the one to give someone else a break.

“Employees want to be heard, customers want to be heard,” says Billie Sucher, a career coach based in Urbandale, Iowa. “Listen before you launch into resolution mode.” Acknowledge that their frustrations are being taken seriously. You might be surprised at just how effective it is at diffusing the pressure.

Block out petty irritations and chatter

If office stressors are gnawing at your nerves, you’ve only got one option, and that’s to shut them out. Seek solace by closing your door if you have one, going outside for some fresh air, leaving your desk for a break, or plugging in your headphones.

Aside from physically blocking the irritations, practice tuning out. “Make a mental list of the top 10 things you are grateful for,” Regier says. Or you can keep your brain busy by trying to find a solution to a persistent problem in your life. “Focusing on something you want to solve helps the mind tune out distractions.”

Perfect the art of the blowoff

The blowoff technique is similar to what you would use to gracefully exit a conversation, except here, you engage as little as humanly possible. If your workplace feels dysfunctional, with co-workers or clients attempting to drag you into a gossip-fest, give them the slip. A simple, “Oh, you don’t say? Well, I’ve got to get back to my work,” can be plenty effective. This will help to position you as someone who doesn’t want to be bothered with certain discussions or office gossip.

“When gossip gets started and you make your way out of the conversation, eventually co-workers will catch your drift and stop gossiping around you,” Shelton says.

Break the bad-mood cycle

Moods are contagious, whether bad or good, so do your part to halt the spread of infectious negativity.

“Just because someone is in a bad mood doesn’t mean you need to be in a bad mood,” Sucher says. “Do your best to lift up your colleague, customer, or employee from the doldrums. Say something nice or caring to lift people’s spirits. You never know how a handful of kind words might make a positive difference.”

Use humor as a tool

Never underestimate the power of goofy workplace humor. If there’s a chance to lighten the mood, even if it’s privately, grab the moment. Finding the funny in a bad situation can alleviate a lot of tension. Just make sure you don’t lose sight of your professionalism.

“It’s OK to use humor as long as it doesn’t involve sarcasm or personal attacks,” Regier says. If you need to follow up your humor with, “I was only kidding!”, your joke was probably not well received.

End the day with a clean slate

Remember: You work to live, not live to work. Leave work at work and resolve outstanding conflicts before the day’s end whenever possible. This provides a better chance to mentally recharge overnight and start fresh the next day.

“At the end of the workday, make a list of the things you need to accomplish the following day,” Shelton says. “That way you spend less time at home thinking about what is waiting for the next day.”

If you have more sanity-testing days at work than non-sanity-testing days, it’s time to look for a new job. A better opportunity is out there for you.


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