Coping with New Job Stress

It’s normal to have nerves about starting a new job. Every new chapter of your career comes with the pressure to succeed, fit in with your new colleagues, and prove your worth. But remember: You’re not the first to face job anxiety. There are reliable strategies to manage new job stress that can help you adjust to your situation.

Coping with new job stress requires self-awareness, patience and mindfulness. The challenges of a new position won’t go away immediately, but with time and effort you can set yourself up for success. If you’re feeling overwhelmed after starting a job, here is what you should do.

Why Starting a New Job is Stressful

Workplace stress doesn’t just affect new employees. A study by the American Institute of Stress found that these workers overall identified the following as their biggest stressors:

  • Workload: 46%
  • People issues: 28%
  • Juggling work and personal life: 20%
  • Lack of job security: 6%

When you’re just starting out in a position, all of these pressures loom even larger. You haven’t yet had the chance to set your expectations, and as a result, the stressors might feel bigger than they actually are.

New employees feel stress because they’ve been forced out of their comfort zone in multiple ways at once. You have new responsibilities, new people to interact with, a new environment to navigate, and new terms and language to speak. We feel relaxed when we’ve settled into usual routines; starting a new job is the opposite of routine.

The Best Ways to Handle New Job Stress

The anxiety of a new job might seem unavoidable, but there are ways you can keep it in check.

The stress of a new job comes from facing the unknown. Rarely are you faced with so many unknowns as when starting a new job. It’s possible to accelerate your acclimation to the situation. The key to coping with new job stress is to accomplish the following:

  • Build good habits
  • Maintain perspective
  • Stay organized and focused
  • Find balance
  • Keep up communication

But how do you achieve these goals? Use these strategies to move toward making the anxiety of starting a job more manageable.

If You Feel Overwhelmed, Establish Routines

Most people feel at ease when they understand the expectations on them and can fall back on ingrained habits to tackle tasks. A new job throws that system out of whack. You’re forced to constantly think actively about how to approach your new responsibilities and demands.

Regain your composure by making a point of establishing routines. As soon as possible, new employees should set patterns that create a sense of normalcy about the job.

Of course, this is easier said than done, especially in demanding jobs that require working on multiple projects at once and minding tight deadlines. The key is to find areas where consistency is possible to offer grounding throughout the hectic workday.

Maybe you have a straightforward recurring task that you can plan to do at the same time every week. Perhaps you can arrange to take a coffee break at a regular hour. Or you can have regular check-ins with your supervisor or manager. Routines like these will help you coordinate your duties and be ready to take on whatever you have in front of you.

This doesn’t need to stop when you clock out. Having consistent off-hours habits can help you feel more energized for a less predictable work day. Some degree of constancy is better than none at all.

When Work is Daunting, Set Benchmarks for Yourself

Setting clear goals for yourself is an effective way to manage a new workload. Goals help employees focus and prioritize their work, remembering that their actions should all move them toward achieving these objectives. Simply gaining the confidence that you’re on the right path can go a long way toward relieving the stress of a new job.

Within your long-term overall goals, identify smaller, short-term benchmarks if it helps you ration your time effectively. By breaking down your workload into smaller tasks, you can avoid becoming overwhelmed by the enormity of high-level objectives.

When starting a new job, the expectations aren’t always crystal clear. Don’t assume that you need to deduce your goals for yourself. If you’re feeling rudderless, don’t hesitate to talk with your manager about the aim of your work. Every workplace has different priorities, and your bosses want you to be effective.

Feeling Discouraged at Work? Track Your Progress

In the early days of a new job, it can be tough to feel productive. You’re likely still learning the ropes, so your productivity likely won’t be as high as you’re used to. Mistakes or miscommunications are common as find your footing -- which takes time. That’s why it’s crucial to make note of your accomplishments, minor though they may be, from the very beginning.

Marking down your achievements, even small ones, will help reassure you that you’re making progress toward reaching a comfort level in your position, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Maybe you completed a mandatory company training, learned how to use an essential software program, or simply completed your benefits enrolled. Getting going in a new job comes with a million little tasks, and it’s important to remember that working through them is all part of your future success.

When you start to feel anxious about whether you’re on the right track, look back on your list of accomplishments for encouragement. As you move forward in your role, keep the practice up -- the achievements will get more and more significant, and you’ll have concrete evidence of your professional growth.

To Learn the Ropes at a New Job Pay AttentionTo Learn the Ropes at a New Job, Pay Attention

When you start a job, you’ll likely be bombarded with training and onboarding in your first few days to get you up to speed on company systems and policies. But for all the formal instruction you’ll receive, there are plenty of important lessons to learn that you won’t be taught explicitly. Instead, you’ll be on your own to pick up on the modus operandi in your new workplace.

New employees will get a head start if they stay observant in their first week on the job. Notice how the chain of command operates, see who colleagues ask for certain types of information, and make note of how people communicate with managers, directors and executives. You want to make it easier on yourself to work effectively in this new environment, and that will hinge on your ability to talk the talk and walk the walk.

Every office is different. Gaining familiarity with the way things work will help alleviate your new job stress since you’ll be plagued with fewer questions about the best way to conduct yourself.

Be Enthusiastic About Your Job Responsibilities

Your dry, detached sense of humor might be a hit with your friends and family. But an aloof attitude doesn’t always come off well in a working environment -- especially if you haven’t yet demonstrated your commitment to your role through your actions. Your new colleagues probably don’t know you well, and they might take your blasé attitude as a sign that you’re not a team player.

You’re better off coming in with sincere enthusiasm for the opportunity. Plus, going in with a positive mindset can trick your brain into replacing your nerves and stress with motivation and vigor. In other words, fake it until you make it.

If the New Job Is Too Challenging, Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Settling into a new job requires humility. If you’re starting a new job and struggling, it’s important to be comfortable asking for help. While there is value in confronting challenges and figuring them out for yourself, don’t let your sense of autonomy get in the way of using the resources available to you.

Don’t assume that your colleagues are too busy to help you. They want you to succeed -- one person’s success is good for the whole team. You can’t expect them to come to you - they do have their own work to worry about, after all. But most will be eager to lend a hand, or at least point you in the direction of someone who can.

The early days of a job are the perfect time to be open about the areas you need to brush up. It’s best not to let your problems or questions simmer. While you might feel pressure to prove your expertise, it’s better for everyone in the long run if you’re honest about when you need assistance.

Find Balance with Your Personal LifeFind Balance with Your Personal Life

You will be better equipped to handle new job stress if your off-hours offer a chance for you to unwind. You should find healthy and rewarding ways to relieve stress in your life such as:

  • Exercise
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Spending quality time with loved ones
  • Reading books
  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Getting sufficient sleep
  • Creative hobbies

Some amount of job stress is inevitable. Building positive habits in your personal life will prepare you to tackle the challenges that come your way.

Know Your Limits to Avoid Becoming Overwhelmed

If there’s one way not to handle work stress, it’s by overloading yourself with duties and responsibilities. When you’re anxious about proving yourself at work, it can be tempting to try to take on as much as possible to demonstrate your abilities. New employees are often eager to please and want to show that they are go-getters.

While demonstrating ambition and initiative are important, taking on too much will only work to a new worker’s disadvantage. You should seize opportunities that arise while also being mindful of your limits. Especially in the early going of a job, set yourself up for success. Once you know what you can handle, you can start gradually taking on more responsibilities.

Personalize Your Workspace

This might seem minor, but adding personal effects to your desk, cubicle or office is an easy way to add built-in stress relief to your day. When the job gets overwhelming, being able to look at a picture of a loved one, a totem from a favorite vacation or a piece of art that resonates with you can be a comfort. Surround yourself with things that make you feel at home.

Maintaining Perspective on New Job Stress

An important element of coping with the stress of a new position is maintaining perspective.

When you get nervous about how you’re doing, remember these truths about your situation: It’s normal to be stressed in a new job, it takes time to get the hang of responsibilities, and early struggles won’t last forever.

This Too Shall Pass

If you’re not overwhelmed in the early going of a job, you’re probably not putting yourself in a position to push yourself. Taking on new challenges is a vital part of your professional growth, and some discomfort is necessary to get to the next level. Put simply: No pain, no gain.

Think back on past times where you were stressed in a work or school situation. You probably came out the other end with more experience and knowledge, better equipped to conquer the next mountain.

Be Patient

Very few people walk in the door of a new workplace knowing exactly how to succeed. For the vast majority, it takes time, experience and some trial and error to figure out what works and what doesn’t. For all the tactics we’ve listed here, mastering them won’t give instant results. Time will always be a factor.

This isn’t only about your work itself -- it holds true when it comes to getting along and working effectively with your team members. Just as you’re adjusting to a new environment, your colleagues are learning what you bring to the table. They will need to take the time to figure out your personality and working style.

Recognize Negative Thoughts

In stressful situations, it’s common to spiral into negative thinking. These wormholes of self-pity tend not to motivate, but instead stifle your ability to be effective. The first step toward stopping this pattern is to identify when it starts.

Throughout the day, when you start to beat yourself up, trace back what the initial thought was that sent you down a bad path. Once you pinpoint the source, you can start to nip it in the bud when negative thoughts arise in the future.

Create an Open DialogueCreate an Open Dialogue

When starting a new job, new employees should establish an open line of communication with their manager or supervisor early on. Ideally, good managers will take the initiative themselves to set up opportunities for you to share your feelings or concerns. But you can’t always count on this being the case.

This may be another case where your instinct might be to show you have the wherewithal to handle situations on your own. And it’s true that you should make a sincere attempt to face challenges using your own expertise first. But creating an open dialogue can only benefit you long-term when you encounter hurdles or major questions. Your supervisor or manager should be a resource.

Why Some Stress is Good

We tend to think of stress as a negative thing. But research has suggested some degree of stress can have a positive effect. Keep in mind that stress means that you’re facing new, unfamiliar challenges. This is a vital part of your future growth. Working through stressful times can help you to build endurance and grit.

Your new job stress is often the result of high demands. Use this stress as a motivator to reach the next level of your professional development. Stress is part of your body’s fight or flight response -- decide to fight. While no one wants to be overcome with anxiety, stress can push you to dig deep and find new reserves of determination.

Social Networking at a New Job

Building up relationships in a new job can be an effective strategy for coping with stress long-term. A strong support system in the workplace comes in handy when you run into challenges or rough patches on the job. Creating connections within the organization will give you more resources to draw upon when you have questions.

When you first start on the job, take some time to get to know your new colleagues, what their roles are, and how they contribute to the company. This early networking forms a foundation to build upon later. Being a newcomer is a built-in excuse to get to know people.

How Long Does New Job Anxiety Last?

The answer varies for each person and each workplace, but expect to feel some stress about your new job for the first few weeks after you negotiate your salary and benefits. This covers your time to complete new employee training and onboarding, followed by your first few attempts at taking on the work. Once you’ve worked through a few assignments or duties, the stress should start to gradually wane over time as you become more and more comfortable.

If you continue to feel stress at the job, don’t worry. Some jobs are demanding enough that the pressures won’t ever fully go away. Just look at the strategies we’ve outlined to manage the stress to the best of your ability. Stress is a normal part of a new job; it’s all about how you handle it.

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