My baseline level of anxiety is pretty high. I get stressed out if I forget to pack a fork in my lunch even though there are utensils at the office. If someone is mean to me, I get on edge. If I make a small mistake I’m probably going to carry it with me for a few hours.
Others may not exhibit stress unless they’re up against a tight deadline or coming from a difficult meeting, but it seems like they’re always inclined towards stress regardless of their schedules. While many people exhibit stress in understandable, fleeting situations, for some stress is a default setting. It can be difficult to work with someone who’s always stressed out.
When someone is perpetually stressed, it takes a toll on everyone else too. That energy can be toxic and leave you wondering if you should be helping or if your colleague is intentionally being a Debbie Downer.
For starters, don’t make a judgement call about your coworker. Everyone handles stress at different levels, and for some people that means not really handling stress at all.
You may be able to breeze through your day with minor frustrations while others are thrown off by the smallest thing.
Holly Weeks, author of Failure to Communicate, notes “Don’t think what can I do to change this person?” Instead, she suggests considering how to neutralizes the situation and move forward.
If you want to offer the most basic form of help, acknowledge what’s going on and offer a compliment. Even if it doesn’t seem like much is going on, simply letting your stressed colleague feel heard and appreciated can make an impact.
Author of How to Have a Good Day, Caroline Webb, explains stressed people are “feeling out of control, incompetent, and disrespected. A compliment is your easy way to help them get back to their better self.” Make sure you’re not enabling them by dragging out the situation, though.
Acknowledge, offer some praise, and try to move with the conversation.
Although it’s not necessarily in your job description to fix your coworkers problems, you can still offer support. You may not actually be able to do anything, but offering assistance gives the other person a chance to think through solutions.
Webb also suggests brainstorming way to “reduce their cognitive load,” to ease what’s making your coworker feel overwhelmed.
Some simple solutions include splitting requests into smaller steps, shortening emails, or dividing work into parts.
Ultimately the job needs to get done, but you can provide your coworker with more manageable means of accomplishing tasks by breaking things into chunks.
You can also check in on your coworker to find out if you should be concerned, or if their stress limited to the work environment. If their stress is beyond what you can reasonably handle with these de-escalation tips, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone about further steps to take.
Check out our mental health series for some more insight if you’re concerned your coworker’s problem may be more than regular stress.
Just like some people are easily stressed, some easily pick up on the negative feelings of others. Be aware of how your coworker’s stress is affecting you. If someone is truly draining you, try to get some distance.
While that may be difficult in a small office, Weeks recommends keeping in mind that out of all the “office characters…the stress case’s temperament [is] less of a problem” than others.
Ultimately, it’s not your responsibility to destress your coworker, but you can certainly make your work life a little easier if you take these steps to make for healthier, happier collaboration.