How You Make Your Stress Worse

Sometimes our well-meaning efforts to cope during times of stress actually aggravate the situation. Be aware of these three coping mechanisms that are more harmful than helpful in the long term.

Not only is stress bad for our health, it's bad for every aspect of life. We can try to avoid it, but unfortunately, some situations, such as a major work deadline or starting a new job, come with heightened stress. At such times, there's little value in wishing for different circumstances. It's best to rather face the additional strain head on and figure out how to manage it. What you definitely don't want to do, is heighten the tension. However, according to executive coach Annie McKee, this is what many of us do unwittingly. She highlights three habits that can make a bad situation worse:

Stress Knock

Going Beyond the Call of Duty

"When stressed and miserable, we often log more hours, skip vacations and put our jobs before everything, including health and family. Even when we know overworking is hurting us, we keep doing it. We tell ourselves everyone works too much in our “always on” world. We’re scared, maybe, of looking bad or falling behind. Or we constantly focus on that magical time – the end of the project, the weekend, summer vacation – when balance will return. But it never does. Instead, we burn out."

Choosing Isolation

"When the heat’s turned up, we metaphorically (and sometimes literally) shut the office door to keep demands – and people – at bay. This is a recipe for loneliness and a loss of a sense of belonging, something every human being wants and needs. And, if we happen to manage others, isolating ourselves leads to speculation ('What’s she doing in there?') and gossip. ('There must be a layoff coming; he won’t even look at us'). Before long, the team culture is toxic and everyone experiences even more stress."

Falling into Happiness Traps

"When stress takes its toll, some of us fall back on old patterns and habits of mind that may have served us well in the past, but don’t anymore. One of these is what I call the 'ambition trap'. This is when our achievement drive overheats, winning at all costs becomes a way of life and we’re always reaching for yet another brass ring. This trap is very common at work, in part because we’ve been rewarded for short-term goal achievement from our school days onwards. The problem, of course, is that life begins to feel empty and meaningless when all we do is chase victories that, in the end, feel hollow."