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Calm Down!

Dealing with the stress of an IT career.

Heavy workloads…long work hours….too many hats to wear. Does any of this sound familiar? No? Let’s go another route. Training vs. experience. How much training and experience? What skills are hot? Are my skills adequate? Round and round we go where the pink slip stops nobody knows. Many IT professionals feel like they are drowning in an alphabet soup of certifications; trying to grab on to the letters J-A-V-A or M-C-S-E to stay afloat.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health defines job stress as “the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker.” The volatility of a career in IT can be a recipe for major stress related health problems. A study by the Marlin Co. showed that 80 percent feel stress on the job, and nearly half said they needed help with stress management.

Instead of staying in IT, some have opted to enter other industries. Carpentry, anyone? If there are parts of IT that still appeals to your career senses, and you are not ready to pick up that power tool; read further.

Stressbusters

I’ve come up with five key ways to keep the stress of your job at bay. Not all are specific to IT, but all can come in handy when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

* Find a good IT mentor

A mentor is someone who is either assigned through a formal program at work or an informal network of contacts. A mentor can serve as a sounding board or source of creative solutions. Mentors can be found through your own networking contacts or joining a professional association.

* Develop time management skills

When you are feeling pressure to get the latest certifications, or the end-users are up in arms about the network being down, you are probably stressed. The key is to work with the time you have and to Prioritize, Plan, and Project. Prioritize what needs to be done in order of importance.

Plan your duties, in advance, according to the resources you have available. Ask for help if needed, and project what must be done in the future, to decrease feeling overwhelmed. A career coach can assist you with these efforts.

* Maintain your wellness

Maintaining good physical and mental health will help to alleviate stress. Research has shown 3 hours or more of exercise per week, eating a healthy diet, and finding quiet time to meditate can help in maintaining a sense of emotional and physical balance.

So go for a bike ride with the kids this evening, substitute a piece of fruit for that candy bar you had with your lunch today, and listen to music that lifts your spirits on your ride to work.

* Stay connected to family and friends

Having a support network of friends and family can keep you grounded. Travel and busy job schedules have been known to keep families separated. Find creative ways to stay connected to people who mean the most to you. Make sure your career and personal goals are aligned. If you are experiencing stress, it could be that your personal values, and the responsibilities of your career, do not allow you to live in balance.

For example, if you value your family, but your job requires you to be away from home often, then a reassessment of your career values and personal values may be necessary.

* Find time for fun

If you enjoy going to the movies, hiking, going on vacations, then make time for those things that allow you to relax. You know what they say about all work and know play, right? Play is not just for children.

When you forget how to have fun, you are in danger of boredom and stress setting in. Why? You have forgotten other parts of yourself that must be nourished. Get that favorite novel out, plan your next vacation, or go to the movies–but find time for the things you enjoy.

Technology changes as fast as the speed of light, and a career in the IT field is challenging. Start exercising wisdom in dealing with stress, because downloading a program for a quick fix is not a viable solution. Take the next steps to move towards a more balanced career–and a more balanced life.

Felicia H. Vaughn, M.Ed., is a certified career management coach. E-mail her at [email protected]

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