AMA: How Do You De-Stress?

I’ve recently had a few folks ask something along the lines of, “how do you care for yourself, personally, and deal with the stress from work?”

It’s actually kind of a simple answer, but it comes in a few parts.

Part One is that I take great pain to care for my career. My career is the thing I own, and it’s the thing that gets me a job. Having a solid career means I’m not terrified of finding a new job, should the need arise. That means I can take a less-than-existential view about my current job. 

Part Two is that, honestly, in a hundred years it won’t make any difference. What happens at work, I mean. I enjoy my job (and I really, actually do) because I’m contributing to something that I think will have at least a short-term, positive impact in the world. I enjoy my colleagues, and I like what I do. When things go wrong, I want to fix them, because that’s just who I am. But I’m not going to stress about it. I work to catch myself stressing out, and actively tell myself to knock it off.

Case in point: I once wrote a Point of Sale (POS) system for a former employer. Part of the task was taking a download of the store’s item database from the home office mainframe, and parsing that into a local database to perform price lookups and whatnot. I wrote the code, and on the first test, parsing out the 20,000-item master item list took seven hours. Yeah. Seven. I Freaked The F Out. Ask friend and colleague Mark Rouse, if you can find him. I got loud about it. But, I was young. I lacked context. I lacked experience. I’ve since learned that I can probably fix problems like that if I focus on them instead of stressing out about them. So I counsel myself, nowadays.

Part Three is that I’m judicious with my mental health time. I’m not going to take a week of vacation to do something that stresses me out, like visiting family. I’m going to do something that relaxes me, like going to a Disney park or a tropical island. And I plan those trips to avoid stress, making sure that all the things that might go wrong – missed connection, poor weather, whatever – have a matching contingency plan so that I can continue to relax and not worry about it. Stress, for me, comes from something unplanned-for coming up and ruining the day. So I plan a little obsessively and have backup plans, which keeps me from stressing.

That’s kinda it, but I’m curious to see what other people offer in their comments!

One thought on “AMA: How Do You De-Stress?

  1. Hank

    I completely agree with all three parts. The only things I would add that has helped me reduce work stress is:
    1. Learning to use the GTD system ( at work as well as in my personal life and
    2. Studying and applying Stoic philosophy ( which kinds relates back to Don’s quote, “in a hundred years it won’t make any difference”.

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