How to Deal with Stress in the Workplace
May 14, 2023
Stress is something that everybody experiences at some time or another. It can take many forms and affects everyone differently. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines stress as a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation. Stress is a natural human response that prompts us to address challenges and threats that we face. How we respond to stress can vary depending on the person and situation, but it can make a big difference in our overall well-being.
One major contributor to stress is work. If you’re starting to feel the strain at work, read on for some tips on managing it.
What is work-related stress?
Work can be a significant contributor to your stress levels. Work-related stress can arise if there’s a mismatch between what’s expected from someone at work and what they’re able to do. This can cause people to feel pressure that they aren’t performing at the standard they need to be. Workplace stress can affect people within a business and an individual's family life and relationships outside of work. According to Mercer, it is estimated to cost Canadian companies more than $16.6 billion annually in lost productivity and sick days.
Causes of work-related stress
Stress can take many forms and be caused by various factors in the workplace. The important thing to note is that stress is different for everyone, so everyone needs to be considerate of their colleagues and employees. A few factors that can cause workplace stress are:
- Long hours
- Heavy workload
- Conflict in the workplace
- Negative work environment
- Changes within the organisation
- Tight deadlines
- Job insecurity
- Lack of autonomy
Symptoms of work-related stress
The signs of workplace stress can be physical, psychological and/or behavioural.
Physical symptoms can include:
- Muscular tension
- Trouble sleeping
Psychological symptoms can include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
Behavioural symptoms can include:
- Increase in sick days or absenteeism
- A drop in work performance
- Mood swings
Once again, everyone experiences stress and reacts in different ways. If you see a colleague or employee you think may be struggling, it’s important to check in. If you are struggling, then it’s also very important you talk to someone and begin to take steps to manage your stress.
Taking steps to manage stress
There are many ways that you can begin to manage your stress. The important thing is to find what works for you when you experience these feelings. You must also be mindful that what works for you may differ from what works for others. It may take time to develop a system that works for you but start by trying some of these suggestions.
Track your stressors
Keeping a journal for a week or two to identify which situations create the most stress and how you respond to them can help immensely. Recording your thoughts, feelings and information about the environment will allow you to reflect after the fact and identify the situations that are causing you stress.
Develop healthy responses
Instead of fighting stress with unhealthy responses like fast food, work towards making healthier choices when tension arises. Exercise is a great stress reliever. Although not for everyone, it can be a great way to start getting active. Yoga is an excellent choice, but so is a walk to get some fresh air. Whatever works for you at the time is the best option as long as you’re doing what you can to develop healthy responses. Making time for hobbies and your favourite activities is a great way to support yourself in stressful situations and in times of relaxation. Getting a night of good quality sleep is also important for effective stress management while also minimising stimulating activities at night (being on your phone, watching TV, etc.).
Being connected 24/7 can have its downsides. Ensure you establish your boundaries between your work and home life. As much as clients, your boss or other colleagues may want you always available, we all need to clock off at some point. Start by making rules for your out-of-office or work hours, like no checking emails at night or answering the phone during dinner. Creating clear boundaries can help create a positive and manageable work-life balance.
Take time to recharge
Everyone needs to relax and recharge occasionally. Don’t let your vacation days go to waste, take some time off when it’s possible for you to. “Switching off” from work can seem challenging, but if taking a short vacation can help you stop thinking about work and help you focus on yourself, then it’s a must. If you can’t get time off work, then (if possible) turn your phone off and turn your attention to nonwork activities for a little while to clear your head.
Learn how to relax
Techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, mindfulness and yoga can help relieve stress. Start your day by taking a few minutes to focus on a simple activity like breathing, walking, or making a nice meal. Concentrating on something every morning can help you start the day on a positive note.
Talk to your supervisor
Today, more than ever, employers are aware of work-related stressors and should always be aware if you’re struggling with anything. By talking to a supervisor or manager, you can explain what you’re struggling with or what is causing stress so they can make changes to help you control your stress. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a manager or supervisor at work, talk to family, friends and even colleagues about your stressors. Creating a support system can be crucial in overcoming stressful situations.
Where to get help?
Dealing with stress at work can be challenging for everyone. Talking about it with someone and helping them understand your feelings is important. Talk to family and friends or anyone you are feeling comfortable with. Other alternatives are:
- Your GP (Doctor)
- HR manager
- The World Health Organisation’s stress management guide
There are many support systems out there for times when you feel stressed at work, so ensure you take advantage of them and don’t keep quiet about your struggles.
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