Don’t Stress It! Tips for Dealing with Workplace Stress

Published: Jun 14, 2012

Topics: Workplace Issues       

In a recent study by the American Psychological Association, more than one third of workers said they typically felt stressed during their workday. Twenty percent said that their average daily level of stress from work would score an 8 or higher on a 10-point scale.

Why is work so stressful? Is there anything we can do to mitigate workplace stress? spoke with Nina Godiwalla, the founder of MindWorks—an Austin-based company that trains professionals in mind-based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques—to get some tips for handling on-the-job stress.

Examine your own reactions to challenges at work.

Interestingly, says Godiwalla, a lot of stress is created internally. “A lot of times we are hard on ourselves and very self-critical, especially when we work in high performance environments with very high expectations.” Be kind to yourself: set realistic goals and celebrate your accomplishments.

Don’t give in to a culture of fear.

According to Godiwalla, “high performance work environments” are often characterized by fear. In environments where long hours and tight deadlines are par for the course, Godiwalla says, “part of proving yourself initially is this idea that you’re going to be a part of something bigger—something prestigious. You’ve arrived at a place that was hard to get into, and people buy in to the idea that in order to be successful, there is a certain cost involved. ” Unfortunately, Godiwalla notes, “fear of failure can cause stress levels to be much higher” than they should be.

Being indispensable isn’t always a good thing.

While working hard and taking on new projects is certainly important, Godiwalla argues that employees should not make themselves completely indispensable. “What happens then is that the people above you see you as someone that they can take advantage of to some extent. Make it known that you will work hard and do some of the more difficult assignments, but also create boundaries that allow you to make it more of a sustainable environment.” And, according to Godiwalla, insisting on personal boundaries at work can actually garner an employee more respect. “You have to check in with the norms of your company, but people respect when you create some sort of boundaries. If you can do it skillfully, it can be a big benefit and people will even look at you as a leader.”

Create your own definition of success.

Some level of stress at work can be normal, but if anxiety is taking over, it’s possible you are in the wrong environment. As Godiwalla points out, “There’s a balance between figuring out what you’re interested in and looking around you and seeing what everyone else is interested in. Being able to step back and ask yourself what you really want to do is different than asking what everyone else is doing.” In other words, just because high-stress roles are often seen as “prestigious” doesn’t mean they are the right fit for you. “When everyone’s trying to be a lawyer or banker, you go along the path without really ever asking yourself what it is that you enjoy and want to do,” says Godiwalla.

Nina Godiwalla is the founder of MindWorks ( She is a trained mind-based stress reduction (MBSR) instructor by University of Massachusetts Medical School, a leadership instructor at the University of Texas MBA Program and has directed leadership programs at Wharton School of Business. Godiwalla is also the bestselling author of Suits: A Woman on Wall Street, which the New York Times describes as ‘The Devil Wears Prada of investment banking.’