Ways to help cope with stress at work
Go here, dash there, don’t forget this, pay attention to that, can you just do this..? Go home, go out… and start over again.
We live in a fast-paced world fuelled by stress, so it is almost unsurprisingly that 1 in 4 people across the globe are affected by a mental health disorder. Beginning from small amounts of pressure, building to mountains of emotional strain, the impact of stress on mental well-being can be nothing less than devastating.
The twenty-first century has continued to fuel a work related competition culture that has its roots in the latter part of the twentieth century. This competitive concept focuses on the importance of individual effort as the most important way of achieving success. This can put a huge amount of pressure on individuals to prove their worth and ability, which can turn into unhealthy working behaviours.
The idea of ‘working to live’ has been the basis of life for hundreds of years. It seems simple, exchanging some effort, time and skills to be able to live comfortably, maintaining a certain standard of living. Unfortunately, modern living has etched away at this idea little by little and it seems for many people work has manifested to exactly the opposite, ‘living to work".
Despite increasing evidence that emphasises the importance of taking breaks and having ‘free time’ during the working day, overworking and work-related stress remains some of society’s biggest problems.
Stress is the body’s reaction to the threat of danger or being put under pressure. Stress can alter both a person’s thoughts and actions. In response to acute stress, the body's sympathetic nervous system is activated due to the sudden release of hormones. The nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands triggering the release of catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. These chemicals are what invokes the ‘fight or flight’ response - something that saved our ancestors from the physical danger of, for example a sabre-toothed tiger thousands of years ago.
In the modern world, stress is a frequent feeling for many people, and at the right levels, it can actually help to focus your attention and help you meet the demands of work, home and family life.
It is the impact of too much stress that can cause problems. Stress can create a feeling in the mind of ‘helplessness’ or inability to cope. The physiological responses to excessive stress can cause the body to cease up or literally close down. If high levels of stress are experienced on a regular basis, chronic stress can set in and lead to serious mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.
Work related stress is usually the result of excessive expectations to achieve, too much work and not enough people to do it, long hours, conflicts with co-workers or managers, lack of control or minimal support within your role. Depending on the level of severity, stress can affect you emotionally, physically and mentally, along with leading serious illnesses including high blood pressure, heart problems or complex mental health issues.
We’ve collated twelve effective ways to help manage stress in the workplace. Putting just a few of these ideas into action could really help to ensure you remain mentally and physically healthy at work.
Until you work out the root cause of your stress, it is almost impossible to deal with it. According to the American Psychological Association, identifying what situations cause an individual the most stress is vital in taking steps to combat it.
One way to begin to identify your stress trigger points is to write your thoughts in a journal, documenting everyday activities - focusing specifically on challenging situations.
Finding patterns between scenarios that invoke feelings of stress and behaviours as a result, is the first step towards finding out what and understanding why certain situations cause stress.
Many people ‘deal’ with stress by punishing their body - it could be turning to fast food or even alcohol in an attempt to ‘nullify’ the impacts. These kinds of actions, in the long run, simply make things worse.
The American Psychological Association suggests the best way to react to stress is to fight against it with positive activities such as exercise. This could be high intensity activities such as running, cycling or swimming, or perhaps something slightly calmer offering yoga as a good option to help relax both the body and mind.
Another way to remove some of the stresses of daily life is to ensure you treat yourself with something you really enjoy everyday. This could be taking 20 minutes to read a chapter of a book, watching a film, going for a coffee with a friend, or perhaps spending some time playing video games.
It is important to place limits on your working day - making clear distinctions between your work and personal life.
The American Psychological Association states that establishing boundaries is vital, seeing as in the age of the smartphone, laptop and other technological devices this ensure that we are potentially contactable 24 hours per day. This level of availability can only ensure to increase stress levels.
Experts say that it is a good idea to set some clear limits when it comes to contactability outside of normal working hours. A few suggestions include, to refrain from obsessively checking emails from home, putting your phone on silent or turning it off for certain periods of time, all serving to help to reduce work-related stress. This does require a level of discipline, as mobile phone use can be habitual and even addictive - but taking steps to reduce usage is a positive move towards reducing stress levels.
Research suggests that the effects of work related stress and fatigue directly leads to reduced levels of productivity at work. This means spending more time working does not mean better productivity levels.
Taking regular breaks during the day is vital to help reduce stress levels and maintain good working ability.
According to the American Psychological Association, it is also important to fully “disconnect" from work outside of office hours to ensure that work related stress does not become a chronic problem. If stress becomes chronic, it can impact on overall working performance and likely to lead to problems in your personal life.
Developing a positive working relationship with your manager is an important step to help maintain positive mental well-being at work. Talking to your manager about professional challenges you are facing can help you to deal with stressful situations that could be hindering your ability to work to your best capacity. Clarifying work expectations with your manager before starting a new project can also reduce levels of uncertainty and therefore stress levels.
Communication is key when it comes to managing stress. If you have an issue, or perhaps require some physical adjustments to improve your working environment to reduce stress levels, it is important to share this with your manager. If they don’t know you are having difficulties - no measures can be put in place to help.
It’s okay not to be okay. If you feel like your stress is affecting your day to day life, it is important to reach out for help.
Support could come from a family member or friend, or you may need to seek professional support, such as from a counsellor or psychotherapist.
Talking therapies can be particularly helpful in working through stressful situations and can also help you uncover what is causing your levels of stress.
The American Psychological Association explains that, if necessary, many businesses can offer employees access to mental well-being programmes and counselling, which can be beneficial in helping to reduce stress levels in the workplace.
Have you heard the phrase “tidy house, tidy mind”? This can apply to work too.
It’s important to bring some organisation in to your work space to help reduce the impact of stress. Keeping your work environment tidy and comfortable will help to create a sense of order.
Establishing a regular daily routine at work (creating SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) lists can be helpful) will also give the mind structure, allowing it to function at a manageable pace, creating a better stress reducing working environment.
If you manage a team of people, delegation is vital.
By delegating, you give your team more confidence, make them feel important, responsible and allow them to take ownership over their work - ultimately empowering them.
Effective delegation ensures that no individual is overloaded with work. If successfully executed, delegation can reinforce positive team working, organisational skills and highlight professional maturity. Delegation can help to reduce personal and whole team stress levels.
There is always a tipping point or limit when it comes to manageable stress levels. Workplace stress can make a person feel as though they are losing control over a situation, which can cause the mind to become blocked. Ideally before reaching that stress limit, it is important to step out of the situation for 5 minutes, to allow the mind to rest. It is only when you give your brain time to ‘breathe’ that productivity can resume.
In addition to yoga or other types of sports, there are a number of relaxation techniques that can help during stressful situations. Practising meditation or mindfulness are two of the best known ways to reduce stress levels.
Jacobson's relaxation technique or ‘progressive relaxation’ is a type of therapy that focuses on the tightening and relaxing muscle groups in sequence. This therapy can help reduce the physical sensations of stress in the body. By concentrating on specific areas and tensing and then relaxing them, you can become more aware of your body and physical sensations. This technique takes a few minutes to carry out and can be particularly effective in defusing an acute attack of stress.
A some point work may become monotonous, the thrill and excitement to achieve disappears and motivation levels drop. It is important to make changes if you find yourself bored or generally fed-up at work. This could be by improving relationships with colleagues, taking on a new project or rediscovering a lost passion that you have neglected due to other priorities in your role.
The important thing is to rediscover your passion for your current role or consider seeking a new challenge to keep your brain active and motivated.
There’s life beyond the day (or night) job.
Regardless of idealised views working exceptionally hard is what leads to happy and prosperous futures, there is more to life than your job. It’s important to find a purpose in your job, and hopefully a feeling of passion for the work you do, but it is important to remember, we’re all humans and we have limits.
Working should be conducted within a healthy framework, viewed as a tool to create a living - not positioned as the only important aspect of your life.