As an online support professional, your stress levels probably range from, “There’s nothing in my support queue. Time to eat chips and browse YouTube,” to “Where did all of these support tickets come from? I’ll be 80 before I close them all!” Contrary to what the rest of the world thinks about it, working from home as an online support representative is just as stressful (if not more so) than working in an employer’s office or at a call center.
Aside from the cranky customers, the demanding employers, the technical malfunctions, and the neighbors making noise outside, there’s a lot to take into account when you work from home. There are the obvious work tasks you’re expected to do, but then there’s also the expectation that you can do things around the house to keep things running smoothly once you’re done working. Add kids or a crazy schedule on top of the knowledge that you never really escape the office, and your life is a recipe for disaster.
Naturally, there are going to be days where you throw your hands up in frustration and consider taking up professional day-drinking as your next career. While stress is a natural part of life, it’s important that we establish healthy levels of stress where we can and that we find tools and processes that help us create a less stressful work and home environment.
How? First of all, it’s time to redefine your idea of stress.
Two Types of Stress
Just like cholesterol levels, there is good stress and there is bad stress. Good stress is the voice in your head that says, “Get up, you bum! We have things to do.” Good stress is made up of:
- People who count on you to do your job
- Mouths that need feeding
Bad stress is the kind that makes your stomach hurt when you think about all the things you’ve got to get done, and is the kind of stress that makes you less effective. Bad stress looks like:
- Crying every morning when you look at your support ticket queue
- Missed deadlines or goals
- Angry bosses or clients
- Giving up entirely
In essence, what you want to do is cultivate the good stress – those things that motivate you, and do away with bad stress – the things that make you shut down. As an online support rep, you know there will be things that pop up from time-to-time that trigger your “bad stress” levels. But there are ways to decrease those incidents, as well as ways to reduce stress all around. The first step in doing so is to evaluate what’s really going on.
Get to the Nitty-Gritty
Maybe you’re reading this because you’ve recently crawled out of a Stress Pit, or maybe because you’re currently face down in one. Either way, the first thing you’ll want to do is write down (or just think about, if you’re being contrarian) what exactly triggered your stress reaction. Try to pinpoint one thing if you can, but leave it at 3 if you can’t limit it down that far.
For example, let’s say you’ve had a really stressful day because:
- You overslept and were late to login
- Your kid is sick and you can’t make phone calls with him crying in the background
- One of your support ticket customers got nasty
- ___________ (you fill in the blank)
Once you’ve pinpointed 1 to 3 things that triggered your “bad stress,” let’s evaluate your reactions to each event. Did you:
- Shut down your computer and storm off?
- Keep working, but at a slower pace?
- Get nasty in return?
- ___________ (you fill in the blank)
Be honest here because this is going to be one of the biggest steps towards fixing the problem and preventing your reaction in the future. Now that you have your trigger and your reaction, think about other events that have caused the same reaction from you. Write those down, too.
Now, ask yourself:
Are these events/triggers something I can prevent?
If you overslept or if you’ve got a sick kiddo home from school, you can plan for contingencies, like a second alarm clock or an emergency babysitter. If you’re stressed over a nasty customer, though, odds are you can’t control that much. Be honest here again, and make sure you know your limits and what can and cannot be fixed.
Is there a way to limit my exposure to things I can’t always prevent?
This means getting down and dirty, planning backups for childcare or in case of a power outage. It also means maybe investing in more training to deal with rude customers, or possibly asking your boss for help. This is highly specific to your triggers!
Are my reactions necessary or healthy?
Put yourself on the hot seat and see what you can work on in yourself to make these situations more tolerable. If you have deep-seated anger issues, a mouthy support client is probably going to be a problem for you. If you’re highly sensitive, a very critical boss is going to make you cry a lot. It may be time to develop personal skills that help you handle your stress reactions.
How can I make this “bad” trigger into a “good” one?
Aside from pinpointing your stress triggers, the next best thing you can do is learn how to stop them from pushing you into the Stress Pit. This takes a little effort, and won’t happen overnight, but it’s powerful all the same. It all starts with a little mantra:
Instead of saying, “I can’t do this,” think: “Challenge accepted.”
What does this look like? Let’s say you have 25 open support tickets and a time limit on how long you can work. Apply the mantra, and get to work. Obviously this doesn’t mean work yourself to death. Just focus on keeping your butt in the chair and your mind at work.
Getting into this mindset will help you overcome stress and make you feel like you’re at least accomplishing something. The previous questions will also help you target your stressors and implement a plan of action before they trip you up next time. Now it’s up to you to keep fighting the good fight using habits, routines, and the word “No” as your allies.
Set Yourself Up For Success
After assessing your triggers and reactions, you’re probably (hopefully?) feeling a little motivated to climb out of the Stress Pit. You know what’s wrong, whether it’s something at work, home, or in your own head, and you have a plan for avoiding it in the future. But sadly, that momentary boost is not going to get you through another rough patch, especially if another trigger pops up that you didn’t even know you had. So what’s an online support pro to do?
Create Habits and Routine
If you’re the kind of person who just hates the idea of the same thing, day after day, that’s totally fine. If you’re the kind of person who thrives in a structured environment and who likes knowing what to expect everyday, that’s fine, too. But when someone talks about developing habits or even a schedule, it doesn’t mean that you have to create a rigid, minute-by-minute plan for how your day is going to go. Instead, it means planning space and behaviors that help you function on a daily basis.
Habits are defined as the things you have done so often that they are nearly muscle memory; you don’t think, you do. This is incredibly powerful, especially for an online support representative like yourself who has to sink or swim when things come up at work. A routine or some form of schedule will also help you line up boundaries, giving yourself the space that you so badly need between yourself and your work. When you put it like that, it doesn’t sound so bad, huh?
Habits and routines can help you:
- Start your day off on the right foot
- Help you handle curveballs
- Give you breaks that you’ll desperately need
- Help you separate work from home
If you’re wondering how to create a schedule or daily routine that will help you prevent stress, check out our other blog post, “Staying Sane While Working From Home” for some step-by-step help.
Learn How to Just Say “NO”
“No” is one of the most common first words among babies, and the odds are pretty high that you said it yourself. But as adults, we struggle with the concept of saying “No” where our paychecks (and livelihoods) are concerned. Saying “No” doesn’t have to mean saying “No” to work, though. It means learning to turn down other opportunities that will overload you, refusing to react to a trigger, and even accepting your limits.
As a work-from-home professional, you’ve already said “No” to traditional office hours and dress codes. You’ve said “No” to wearing pants most days, too. Now it’s time to learn to say “No” to working too-long hours, time to turn down more tasks or duties your employer may try to hand off to you, and saying “No” to breaking the habits and routines you’re building for yourself.
Saying “No” can make it easier to:
- Define what is important to you
- Get tasks completed in time
- Manage your workload during your workday
- Show your employer where you shine most
- Give yourself time, breaks, and stress-free living
Don’t use this as an excuse to get yourself fired – we’re not talking about that hard of a “No.” Learning to put space between everything you think you have to do and everything that you are actually responsible for will make your workload and life a little easier to handle. Say “No” to bad stress and keep working.
It’s Gonna Happen to You
If you’ve magically stumbled across this article without ever feeling stressed, or if you’re still riding high from your escape out of your last Stress Pit, you may not internalize everything written here. But you should know that one day, you’re going to get stressed. You’re probably going to feel like just giving up right then and there, whether it’s an open ticket, a rude boss, or a Honey-Do list a mile long. Knowing that stress will eventually come is like armor; it keeps you safe in the event that you encounter unexpected trouble.
By evaluating yourself, your triggers, and your reactions, you’re armoring yourself against future “mishaps.” You strengthen that armor by building plans and habits that help you function day-to-day, and you keep potential problems at bay by learning to say “No.” All of these things make your armor strong, and help you bounce back much better than you would without it.
It’s also important to remember that stress is universal, but how you deal with it is up to you.
Latasha Doyle is a freelance writer living outside of Denver. When she’s not writing or reading, she enjoys crocheting, Netflix marathons, and planning her next trip.