Stress: Different for Professionals?


The cost of stress in the workplace is estimated to be over $300 billion per year, and we know there is a systemic (organizational) dimension to it that is very important to address.[1] But for those in the professional segment of the workforce, there are vital personal factors that require individual attention.

Why is it Different for Professionals?

Most of what makes stress different for professionals is that we're more likely to hold self-limiting, even irrational, beliefs about what (and how much) is at stake.

And we identify so much with our intellectual mind and our active, competitive energies, that we can dull our senses to the felt levels of stress and strain in our bodies, and to the onset of burnout.

Here's some of how it manifests:

  1. Vulnerabilities to Perfectionism - Achievement is great, and without drive and high aspirations we would achieve much less. But this drive energy can take on a life of its own, and the feared consequences of failure can feel like life-or-death stakes.
  2. Role-based Identity - The first question we hear when meeting others may be, "What do you do?" Title, status, and career advancement goals claim a major part of our sense of identity, esteem, and self-worth. Balancing this with other roles in life is not easy.
  3. Autonomy Needs - Our needs for control over the work we do is often higher as a professional. It comes with an increased feeling of responsibility - "What happens is on me!" Learning to trust others with goal attainment and vital tasks can be a struggle.
  4. Saying No - Taking on more and increasingly challenging tasks and roles is the ticket for advancement. Being asked is recognition and affirmation. Saying yes is expected by us and by others. Saying no (sometimes prudent) is something we must learn to do.

Skills and personal practices that give you greater ease and access to self-awareness and self-understanding can position you to pause, reflect, make better decisions. Playing through pain and being known as the "low-maintenance," go-to person can feel awfully good until it doesn't! Noticing and self-regulating your achievement drive is ultimately a win-win.

How can we be a good coach for those we lead if we cannot cultivate sustainable patterns of thinking, feeling, and action in ourselves? One of the biggest mistakes is missing signs of an approaching inflection point. Bodily sensations of stress and strain, and emotional signs of frustration, fatigue, fear, anger, and cynicism are there for a reason. Listen to them!

[1] See Levenson, Alec (2017). Workplace Fatigue is a Systems Problem. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, Vol. 69, No. 2, 130-142.