Dealing with Stress in the Workplace

Stress in the Workplace

Even when you love your job, work is stressful. There are deadlines to meet, challenging obligations, excessive workloads, conflicting demands and difficult coworkers. Pressure at work is a fact of life. Left unchecked, stress causes everything from a cold or flu to heart disease and metabolic syndrome. It’s important to find effective strategies and techniques for managing and coping with stress in the workplace. 

Possible effects of uncontrolled stress at work:

Work-related stress has many and varied effects on our mental and physical health. These include but are not limited to:

  • Headache
  • Stomachache
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Weakened immune system
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Burnout
  • Exhaustion
  • Cynicism 


Common causes of stress in the workplace:

Some common workplace stressors are:

  • Obstacles with a particular project
  • Unclear expectations
  • A long commute
  • An uncomfortable workspace
  • Difficulty integrating work and life
  • Challenge of learning new technology
  • Low salary
  • Excessive workload
  • Few opportunities for growth or advancement
  • Work that isn’t engaging or challenging
  • Lack of social support
  • Not having enough control over job-related decisions
  • Conflicting demands 
  • The threat of losing the job


Techniques and strategies for managing workplace stress:

Don’t despair! There are ways to mitigate workplace stress. 

  • Identify your stress triggers: Keep a journal for a few weeks. Each time you have a negative physical, mental or emotional response at your workplace, record your thoughts, feelings, the situation, circumstances and the people involved. Note how you responded. Look for patterns. Your personality, experiences and characteristics influence your responses. What causes you stress is different than what pressures your coworkers. 
  • Resolve your triggers (if possible): Find a way to change the circumstances that cause you stress. Define the problem, brainstorm potential solutions, rank the solutions, develop an action plan and test the chosen solution. Try several options till you discover what works for you. Ask for assistance.
  • Talk to your supervisor: Have a conversation with your supervisor/employer. This is not a “beef” session. Use this time to develop an effective plan for managing the stressors you identified. Clarify expectations. Ask about employer-sponsored wellness resources you can utilize (online information, counselling, referral to mental health professionals, etc.).
  • Develop healthy responses: Make healthy choices when the tension rises. Exercise, eat well, engage in hobbies, spend time with friends/family, play games and get enough sleep. Avoid fast food, alcohol and late nights. Talk to family/friends about your stress. Ask for insights and suggestions. Take a break, during your workday as well as vacation time. Set boundaries between work and your life.
  • Learn how to relax: Meditation, deep breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness help reduce stress. Try them. Discover what works for you. 
  • Address worry: Chronic stress often leads to worry, a tendency to interpret situations with a negative lens and jump to negative conclusions. Treat negative thoughts as a possibility rather than a fact. Consider other possibilities. Practice this skill regularly.
  • Sharpen your time management skills: Prepare a list of tasks, ranking them in order of priority. Break large projects into smaller steps. Block off time to work without interruption. Set realistic goals. 
  • Pay attention to the start of your day:  Begin the day with planning, good nutrition, and a positive attitude. Avoid rushing, scrambling with morning tasks and making coffee your only intake.
  • Steer clear of conflict with coworkers. Don’t gossip, share too many personal opinions and/or make offensive comments/jokes. If possible, avoid people who don’t work well with others. Learn how to deal with any conflict that does arise.
  • Stay organized: Plan ahead in order to avoid clutter, inefficiency and to reduce hurry. 
  • Create comfort: Do what you can to create a quiet, comfortable, soothing workstation. Make sure your chair suits your needs. Decorate with objects and pictures that bring you joy and peace. Consider earphones and/or quiet music. 
  • Avoid multitasking: Overextending yourself through multitasking reduces the speed and accuracy of work and creates a frazzled feeling. Focus on one task at a time. 
  • Choose physical activity during your lunch break: Combat the physical and mental effects of stress by taking a walk or doing some yoga during your lunch break. It’ll lift your mood.
  • Beware of perfectionism: You cannot do everything perfectly, every time. Strive to do your best and celebrate yourself for your efforts.

There are many ways to reduce job stress and avoid burnout. If you find that the techniques you try are not bringing the results you need, consult a mental health provider. Work stress can have serious physical and mental health repercussions and should not be left unaddressed. 

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