How to Reduce Stress at Work

Updated Dec 21, 20223 min
How to Reduce Stress at Work

How to Reduce Stress at Work

Caroline BantonUpdated Dec 21, 20223 min
How to Reduce Stress at Work

A certain amount of stress is a good thing. It can keep us focused, alert, and improve our productivity. But being subject to chronic stress, stress that is long-term and does not abate is bad for your mental and physical health. In some cases, chronic stress can cause your life to become unmanageable.

This article explains some of the causes of stress and how to recognize the signs of chronic stress. The article provides tips on how to manage stressors at work and the steps to take if your situation is spiraling out of control.

What Is Stress?

Stress is our body’s response to pressure. A certain amount of stress is beneficial, but too much stress is detrimental to our mental and physical wellbeing. Work stress is caused by deadlines, a difficult boss, annoying co-workers, or a change in jobs, but stress also comes from our personal lives compounding the problem. Divorce, bereavement, financial problems, moving house, are all common sources of stress, and a combination of stress from work and home life can be doubly debilitating.

We all experience stress in different ways. When we do, our bodies assume that we are in danger and assume a fight or flight response. This response produces hormones that affect our immune systems.

If the stress is short-lived, our bodies and minds return to normal without any lasting effects or health problems. However, if stress is continuous or chronic, our immune systems become suppressed, and we get sick. Our mental health is also affected if we are habitually unhappy or depressed.

Recognizing Stress

The signs of workplace stress vary from person to person. One way to measure the effects of stress is to monitor how you feel and how you think. An athlete who is stressed from overtraining might suddenly suffer from night sweats. Someone who experiences excessive stress at work might keep getting colds or flu or feel constantly tired. Another person might feel more anxious, irritable, or depressed than usual.

Here are some of the symptoms of stress provided by the United Kingdom’s Mental Health Foundation.

  • Headaches

  • Nausea

  • Digestive problems such as indigestion, constipation, bloating, or diarrhea

  • Shallow breathing or hyperventilating

  • Sweating

  • Heart palpitations, high heart rate, and high blood pressure

  • Aches and pains

  • Weight gain or loss

  • Behavior changes such as withdrawing from other people or losing your temper them

  • Being indecisive or stubborn

  • Feeling tearful

  • Inability to sleep or stay asleep

  • Sexual problems

  • Abusing substances like alcohol or drugs

All of us can experience an overload of stress at some point in our lives,  but people who are experiencing financial difficulties, health challenges, minorities, and the LGBTIQ+ communities are more likely to feel stress and experience burnout.

Managing Stress at Work

Recognizing the sources of anxiety in your life can help you suffer less stress because you can take steps to manage them. Ideally, incorporate stress management techniques into your life before stress becomes a problem. Some techniques are the following:

1. Get enough sleep

Sleep problems are shockingly common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over one-third of Americans are sleep-deprived, which means they are more likely to suffer car crashes, suffer illnesses, and find it difficult to maintain healthy relationships.

2. Eat a healthy diet

A healthy diet can improve your mood. Eat nutritious food (including essential vitamins and minerals) and drink plenty of water. Cut down on caffeine and alcohol. Both increase feelings of anxiety.

3. Get some exercise

Physical activity produces endorphins that boost your mood. You might not feel like it, but even a little activity can make a difference. For example, you could aim to walk for 15 to 20 minutes three times a week during your workday. Or, try yoga.

4. Take time for yourself

Take time to relax and practice self-care. For instance, allow time to read a book, meet up with friends, take a nap, lie on the sofa, and binge on Netflix once in a while.

5. Be mindful

Mindfulness meditation and deep breathing exercises help manage and reduce the effect of stress and anxiety. They are tools you can use any time, anywhere.

6. Be kind to yourself

Don't be too hard on yourself. Set aside perfectionism and focus on relaxation techniques and enjoying the moment.

To learn more about taking control of your life read, "Work-Life Integration: Gaining Control of Your Life"

What to Do When You Are Overwhelmed at Work

If you are experiencing physical symptoms, notice a change in your behavior, or sense that your relationships are suffering, you need to take immediate action to reduce the negative effects of your stress levels. Immediate action is not fixing everything right away but taking a step-by-step approach toward ameliorating your situation.

1. Write down the causes of your stress

The important thing is to take one step towards reducing the effect of stressful situations. That will lead to the next step and, as you go, you will build confidence and find it easier to cope. First, write down all the causes of your stress. Sort them into problems that you can address immediately, things that will take time, and those you cannot do anything about yet.

2. Make a plan for each problem

For example, if one source of stress is managing the household with a full work schedule, consider hiring help temporarily. Yes, it will cost money, but your health is more important and, if you fall sick, you will not be able to work at all. Alternatively, consider if there are family members who can help you achieve better work-life balance by giving you some time off from chores at home. Make use of home delivery apps for food and groceries once in a while to give yourself a break.

If you decide that excessive expectations at work is the primary cause of your stress, tackle the issue head-on.

  • Set a meeting to discuss the issue with HR, your boss, or your employee assistance program if you have one.

  • Before the meeting, prepare what you will say, and prepare some ideas for a resolution. Simply explain that you are overwhelmed, unhappy, or whatever your situation is, and try not to place blame. Try not to become emotional or to expect a resolution straight away. Just state your case, and offer some suggestions. 

  • Request a follow-up meeting.

  • At the next meeting, listen to what your employer says and what steps they suggest to help you. Take some time to consider the options.

  • If you do not think that you can resolve the cause of your stress with your employer, you should find another job.

3. Tackle each source of stress in your life systematically as time allows

You will not be able to resolve all of the long-term issues in your life quickly, but just deciding to look for a new job or making a few tweaks to your lifestyle can get you back on the road to recovery. If you can offload some of your responsibilities and gain one hour a day to do something for yourself, you might gain energy and insights to tackle other things. You might notice a ripple effect that improves other areas of your life.

4. Ask for help

Many of us are reluctant to ask others for help. In reality, most people are more than willing to help out because they also know how hard life can be. If you feel lost at work, talk to a career counselor to make sure you are in the right job or if you should consider a career change. Seek mental counseling or family counseling if necessary.

To hear about experiences with career change, read, "He Was Forced to Pivot When COVID Hit - Now He's Thriving at a Startup"

5. Learn to say no

Now is not the time to agree to working on the PTA or to take on additional projects at work. Save noble endeavors for when you are more capable of taking them on. Now is the time to practice time management and be a little selfish. Do consider building supportive relationships and expanding your social network. Connecting with others can change your perspective and your negative thoughts. 

The Good News

The bad news is that only you can take responsibility for the job stress in your life and take the steps necessary to manage it. But the good news is that there are plenty of tools you can use in the process, and plenty of people who will be willing to help. Make a plan, take the first step, and you should start to feel better simply because you are taking control of your work environment and your life.

Caroline Banton
Expert on career acceleration and business topics with vast experience writing for globally-recognized publications

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