If you experience stress in your place of work, you’re not alone.
According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS), workplace stress is by far the leading cause of stress experienced by Americans. A whopping 80% of workers feel stress on the job, 40% describe their jobs as very or extremely stressful and nearly half of them say they need help learning how to manage such stress.
For people with Parkinson’s, that level of stress can be dramatically amplified. While the average employee may experience stress associated with deadlines, workload and increased expectations, workers living with Parkinson’s often feel additional stress due to physical, mental and emotional symptoms.
We asked two of our Parkinson’s advocates to share their experience on how they manage workplace stress. Both Carl Ames and Diane Schuirman-Hagedorn point to the importance of being proactive about identifying workplace stressors and developing open communication with coworkers and clients alike.
18-Wheels of Stress
Carl Ames worked in the long-haul transportation industry for 28 years. Carl describes his management career as a fast-paced, stressful environment in which he was constantly making decisions and interacting with a wide array of people. Prior to being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2008, he felt confident in his ability to manage the daily stress. After the diagnosis, however, Carl began experiencing additional stress factors.
“Having Parkinson’s and being involved in stressful situations don’t go well together,” Carl said. “The Parkinson’s symptoms made it difficult to move quickly and keep up. Lack of ability to sleep well at night caused tiredness throughout the day, as well as not being able to concentrate on the task at hand.”
Carl was able to facilitate a work environment that reduced his daily stress and provided more manageable expectations. “Fortunately, the company I work for has been very understanding and helpful. They have allowed me to change positions to minimize stress and workload responsibilities and have accommodated my inability to move at times with a variety of devices such as a Segway and a three-wheel bicycle,” Carl said.
Carl is quick to acknowledge that not everyone may feel that they have such an understanding employer. “You may want to withhold your condition from your employer. However, the sooner you deal with it and make others aware it will become easier for you to deal with it too,” he offers.
Carl agrees that a healthy perspective towards inevitable workplace stress can go a long way. His best advice? “Face it with good humor and allow others to know what is wrong so they can help as needed.”
Diane Schuirman-Hagedorn has young-onset Parkinson’s and works full-time in the deadline-driven world of public relations. Stress for her arises from the constant challenge of quick turn-arounds, client expectations and non-stop problem solving. For Diane, the stress often takes its toll on her energy level.
“I get fatigued more easily. I might meet a deadline on Tuesday and be tired for the rest of the week. I notice it’s harder for me to prioritize tasks than it used to be, and I need visual reminders,” she said.
Diane echoes the benefit that can come from open workplace communication. “My advice is to know what you need and ask for it. I have ergonomic office furniture, a somewhat flexible schedule, paid time off, colleagues who don’t hesitate to help with projects and an ongoing conversation with my boss about my health and my workload.” Diane adds, “I told my boss about my diagnosis right after I told my immediate family.”
Diane has also developed a practice of spending extra time prioritizing tasks and creating visual clues, like to-do lists and save-the-date reminders on her desk. She has even taken a proactive approach to reducing the stress associated with client meetings.
“Because of my tremor, I’m more self-conscious about in-person client meetings. Some clients know my diagnosis and some don’t. If they don’t and my tremor is especially obvious I may say, ‘You’ll notice I have a tremor. Please don’t be concerned about that,’ and move on,” Diane said.
Diane emphasizes that her stress management practices are not unique to people with Parkinson’s. Her top stress management tools include exercise, meditation and keeping perspective.
Are you interested in more ways to manage your stress at work and beyond? Take the stress/anxiety inventory and learn new ways to monitor and manage stress. Then, kick up your energy with the Parkinson’s Exercise Essentials video.
Whatever you choose to do, continue to explore ways that help you manage workplace stress so you can live well today.