If you feel you have a stressful job you’re not alone. 83% of workers in the USA feel stressed out by their jobs (reference here) and in South Africa it’s estimated that 60% of lost working days each year are a result of stress (reference here).

Some working conditions make jobs particularly stressful:

  • dealing with the public (nurses, teachers, call-center staff)
  • dealing with dangerous situations (fire-fighters, police)
  • complex decision-making (executives, airline pilots, project managers, IT)
  • time pressure (medical workers)
  • repetitive work (factory staff)
  • persuading (sales)
What can you do if have a stressful job?

If you can’t change stressful working conditions, then you need to develop mental strength (more here). Here’s four things to do:

1. Find meaning in what you do

The best job is one that is meaningful to you. Meaningful work is engaging which in turn gives you energy and enjoyment. Identify some good that comes from you doing your job and being paid for it.

What to do:

Identify some meaning or purpose in your job. Let’s take a salesperson who is marketing a company’s prescription drugs to doctors. The job goals could be to conduct a number of sales-calls with doctors, and increase sales in the region. The higher purpose for a salesperson, on the other hand, could be to help reduce the suffering of fellow human beings through the use of the company’s prescription drugs.

If it is impossible for you to find any meaning in your job, then identify the benefits of being employed and what that enables you to do.

2. Change your thinking

You can make the stress of your job worse or better by the way you think about it. Choose to view obstacles and heartaches as having a temporary impact and not affecting all of your life, and see good things as happening frequently and with a widespread positive impact on your life.

What to do:

Listen to how you think about explain life events to yourself. For example, have you heard your internal dialogue saying that this is the worst situation you have even encountered? Or, does the internal dialogue say that you got through worse situations and thus can cope with this?

Taking the example of the salesperson again, after a particularly difficult day of sales-calls, they could tell themselves that tomorrow’s sales-calls can only be better, and that what happened today won’t affect their mood when they are home.

On the other hand, after a particularly good day of sales-calls, the salesperson could tell themselves that this was another of the many good experiences in their job, and that the experiences today will positively impact on many areas of their life.

3. Change your story of your life

You tell yourself stories about what has happened in your life, to make sense of the various good and bad events that occur. Some peoples’ life stories follow an optimistic narrative of “when one door closes, another door opens”. Other peoples’ life stories follow a more pessimistic narrative, with their life being “one wretched thing after another”.

What to do:

Listen to the story you tell yourself about the life you’re living, and ensure it is positive and optimistic. Using the example of the salesperson, they could tell themselves optimistic stories about the events in their life, interpreting the obstacles they have encountered as stepping stones to something better.

4. Choose how you react

You can make the stress of your job worse by both over reacting or reacting in a defeated way. The saddest words are “I had no choice, I had to …” Or even worse, “I had no choice, you made me …” No one makes or forces us to react in a particular way. Your behaviour is a result of how you choose to react, not other people or events. You can’t change what has happened, but you can choose how you react to it.

What to do:

Pause – don’t react immediately. A quick reaction is inevitably a wrong reaction. Ask yourself what you really, really want from the situation. For example, do you want to express your frustration and anger, or do you want to deepen your relationship?

For the salesperson that waited an hour for the doctor only to be told that the doctor is too busy to see them, they could choose to react in a way that enhances the chances the doctor will see them next time. Also, they could choose to react in a way that they feel proud of because their response is in line with their value of treating others with respect.


Life is difficult and no doubt your job is stressful. Using these four actions to help you develop the mental strength necessary to cope with the stress of your job and also live a joyful life.