If it feels like you're carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, you're not alone. New research from the "2019 Cigna 360 Well-Being — Well and Beyond" survey suggests that workplace stress is on the rise all across the globe. In fact, 13 percent of women report that their stress levels are “unmanageable."
There are times when I, too, would consider my stress unmanageable. And I'm not talking about the times when I wake up and have an endless to-do list. No, those are the times when I thrive, oddly enough. You know what Benjamin Franklin once famously said: "If you want something done, ask a busy person."
Rather, I'm referring to the mornings that I wake up and actually have a pretty quiet start to my day. The afternoons when I finish up work early. The evenings when I have a few hours to — wait for it — relax. Because that whole relaxing thing... I haven't quite figured it out.
It's taken some time for me to realize that I'm so used to having a laundry list of things to do that, when I'm not stressed out over a seemingly endless agenda, I'm stressed out over the fact that I don't have a seemingly endless agenda and feel like I should. I create stress by getting stressed out that I'm not stressed out. Yikes.
I know I can't be the only person who feels this way. Here are six signs that you, too, are pulling stressors out of thin air.
1. You do all of your work (and, often, then some) — but you still doubt that you're doing enough.
If you've finished all of your work (and have, perhaps, even gotten a head start on other work), you'd think you'd feel at ease. It's a feeling of relief to check off your whole to-do list, isn't it? Not for me (and maybe not for you, either). When I cross off every last item on my laundry list, I often find myself thinking, "There's more I should be doing."
Perhaps it's a product of my environment. In the freelancing world in which I work, there's no "leave your work at the office when the clock ticks 5." It never ends, and there's always more I could, in theory, be doing. Setting boundaries to achieve a reasonable work-life balance is something I think I'll always be working on.
2. You finish up work early, which makes you think you probably should have taken a bit longer... so you probably could have done better.
Some people finish up work early and think, "I crushed it." Others finish up work early and think, "Oh boy, that was too quick — what'd I do wrong?" I often assume that work should take a certain number of hours (even when it very well could take half the amount of time). This may be because work used to take me much longer but, as I've grown in my career and have honed my skills, jobs that once took two hours only take one.
3. Your work feels easy, so you assume you must be doing something wrong.
If something comes too easy, it's too good to be true, right? Wrong. Sometimes, some jobs just come easier to certain people — especially people who've been at it a while. But, in my head (and perhaps in yours), when work feels too easy, I assume it's because I did it wrong. I find myself second-guessing my own work and double- and triple-checking everything to confirm that I did, in fact, do what was asked of me. Perhaps it's a confidence issue — imposter syndrome, anyone?
4. You have time to relax but, instead of enjoying it, you fill it with creating more things to do out of thin air.
Whenever I have more than a few minutes to relax — like, say, a whole hour or two — I actually lose my mind. I'm at a loss as to what to do with myself and, instead of reading a book, going for a jog or turning on Netflix, as I assume most people do, I find myself incessantly checking my email or doing something else work-related that isn't really necessary or, truthfully, all that productive. I'll even find myself on the computer applying for more gigs, working on some side hustle, taking up totally new passion projects or jotting down random business ideas. This is because the thought of relaxing gives me too much anxiety when, really, there's more I could be doing. Some people might call me a workaholic for that reason...
5. You find yourself focusing on all of the longterm goals you haven't yet achieved, and never celebrating your successes.
Instead of celebrating my successes thus far, it's not a total rarity that I find myself, instead, dwelling on my longterm goals that still feel so elusive. If you do this to yourself, too, you're certainly creating unnecessary stress.
6. You compare yourself to others in your field with years more experience than you, and feel like a failure.
I'm a writer, and I have my favorite writers. I look up to these writers. I envy these writers. And I aspire to achieve successes on par with these writers. What I often forget, however, is that many of my career idols have tens of years on me. They've been writing for decades longer than me, and have many more years of life experience. Still, instead of focusing on what I've achieved thus far in my own career, I sometimes find myself looking at their careers and think: I'm totally sucking at this, aren't I? Sure, I know it's not true, and I can rationalize that I'm being ridiculous, but I'd be lying if I said that the thought doesn't cross my mind from time to time.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.