Many clients I speak with raise the topic of work-related stress or the stress associated with career transitions. And they often ask for suggestions or strategies to navigate the stress they are experiencing.
I wanted to offer some strategies both for stress and for career transitions with two sample “checklists”. While these checklists complement each other, neither list is definitive. My hope is that the examples will inspire you to reflect on what you may be experiencing. I also invite you to modify any of the suggestions and create personal and enduring strategies that you can rely on when needed.
Stress in varying degrees
We all experience stress in varying degrees. Stress is a natural part of our lives and human functioning. Work related stress or the stress of a career transition can be motivating as well as demanding, stimulating as well as challenging.
Going through a quick checklist can often help us to step back, gain more information and perspective on what we are experiencing and what we are feeling (this is especially important when distinguishing the difference between the stress and burnout).
A Stress Management Checklist – 5 Sample Strategies
- Self-care. This requires continuous practice and modification and includes some of the following:
- Self-compassion and self-acceptance – how compassionate and accepting are you towards yourself?
- Good sleep habits – including getting enough sleep.
- Eating well - taking time for nourishment throughout the day.
- Exercise – finding an activity or activities that you enjoy and ones that you can easily incorporate into your daily life.
- Setting boundaries and demarcating time away from work to allow you to participate in different activities in your life. This allows you to experience different feelings, to be active and engaged in the world outside of work.
- Connecting with your support networks: family, friends, mentors, colleagues, counselors, coaches.
- The practice of staying present. This practice includes assessing situations as you are experiencing them. What is my attitude in this meeting? What am I able to contribute in this moment? How am I feeling emotionally, physically? What am I sensing around me? Am I comfortable? Am I focused and attentive to what is going on? Can I change something, what is possible right now?
- Assessing what can possibly change. When we experience stress related to a particular job or role, we can ask ourselves first, is change possible? What is my attitude towards my work? Can that change? Is there a possibility of reduced or flexible hours? Can I make a change to my actual role or to my responsibilities? Could I take a leave of absence or is it time to consider mapping out a career transition?
- "What if" statements. List 5 – 6 “what if” statements. Examples include: "what if I am unprepared for this meeting?", "what if the client catches a mistake I've made?", "what if I miss the deadline?" For each statement, write out the answer/solution. Taking the time to write out a "what if" list immediately changes the pace of a racing mind. You slow down and focus on the present moment, you take notice of your own feelings and attitudes, you gain clarity and perspective. All of this enables you to assess – realistically - your current situation or environment.
- Stress reducing exercises. These examples also help you with the practice of being present:
- Eyes closed - deep, slow breathing.
- Yoga and meditation.
- Body checks - lie down if possible or sit comfortably at your desk with your eyes closed, arms and hands relaxed at your side. Focus on your toes, feel them relax, then slowly move up the full length your body relaxing your feet, ankles, calves, etc.
- Going for a walk and checking in with your senses: what do I see? what do I hear? what do I smell? what do I feel? What can I touch?
- Alphabet game - this can be done sitting quietly with your eyes closed at your desk or when you are out for a walk. Simply name an object that starts with each letter of the alphabet.
- Engaging in favorite activities that nourish you: music, movies, books, sports, etc.
A Career Transition Checklist
The following is a sample of 6 areas to help you gain and leverage personal information during a career transition.
- Finances. Is a career transition feasible financially for me? Do I need to remain in my current work role/profession while looking for a new career direction? Can I be without work for several months, or even up to a year? Is it possible to go back to school or to re-train?
- Stamina. Do I have the emotional stamina for a transition? Transitions can be exciting, and they can also be demoralizing. They can be quick, or they can drag on much longer than we anticipated. It is helpful to do this particular “check-in” on a regular basis during a transition. How is my energy, motivation, focus and mood today or this week? Am I practicing self-care, including taking time away from the transition process? How organized, or disorganized, do I feel? What do I want to accomplish today or this week? How compassionate am I towards myself when I do not accomplish that “to do list” regarding job searches?
- Support. Support is often a key ingredient in navigating a career transition. Do you have the support of family, friends, colleagues, mentors, career counselors/coaches? Can I reach out for conversation, support, laughter, perspective?
- My capacity or tolerance for change. Some people can clearly envision a different job or career but for a variety of personal reasons, do not feel they could endure the change(s) required. Others have no hesitation in taking a leap of faith. Most of us are a combination of these two in varying degrees. We have all heard the expressions, “think outside the box” or push yourself and “overcome your fears”. We cannot even begin to contemplate either of these until we have a better understanding of our attitudes toward change, until we have some personal information, and we feel personally connected to the change we are embarking on.
Examine your capacity for change. Transitions often include changes to salary, “status”, day to day responsibilities. They include new work environments, new colleagues, and often some form of re-training. How do I feel about a change to my salary, a new professional identity, a new location for work? An honest and compassionate “check-in” gives you information about your capacity or tolerance for change. This information provides perspective, opens possibilities, and creates a greater ability to craft your personal approach to change.
- Defining your expectations of work/career. We all have expectations of what work will look like, feel like, what it will offer us – from financial compensation to fulfillment. Assessing your expectations gives you more of that valuable information. What are your expectations of work and career? Can you identify how these expectations are driving your choices and decisions? What are you open to? What are you closed to? Can these expectations be re-defined, expanded, changed?
- Reassessing skills and capacities. Many clients I work with who are navigating a career transition often view their skills and capacities from the perspective of the last role they had. Most of us, however, come equipped with many transferable skills, along with innate skills and talents, learned skills, and the overarching “experiential expertise” derived from our accumulated and diverse experiences. We have a unique way we approach our work (“how” we work) and equally unique perspectives shaped from our engagements and contributions. All of this can be examined, re-assessed, and articulated in new ways during a transition. This added information opens a wider horizon of potential opportunities or new areas to research and network with.
As you go through the sample strategies I have suggested in these checklists, what kind of information emerges for you?
Britt-Mari Sykes PhD is a Career Counselor, Certified Career Strategist (CCS) and Certified Work/Life Strategist (CWS). She helps clients create personally empowered approaches to career development, career transitions, work-related stress and burnout. For more information on sessions or to book a consultation call contact her at email@example.com