Living in a highly competitive economic climate means you have to deal with work stress constantly. The pressure of tight deadlines, fierce competition, and spectacular results can quickly take a toll on your physical and mental health.
Luckily, you don’t have to let stress ruin your personal and professional life. Over the last decades, experts have identified numerous strategies that we can use to keep work stress in check.
Work Stress: Are You Coping?
Work stress isn’t something you can simply eliminate from your daily routine. In fact, stress is a typical response that you experience whenever you’re facing a situation that requires some extra effort on your part. In a way, we could argue that stress mobilizes our internal resources so that we can successfully cope with whatever life throws at us.
Since eliminating work stress altogether isn’t an option, the only way to avoid its unpleasant consequences is by learning how to manage it.
Experiencing Stress Before You Go to Work
In many cases, work stress doesn’t occur at work. It starts from the moment you wake up and realize you have a full day ahead of you. In other words, stress often depends on our own expectations.
If you worry to the point where you convince yourself that today is going to be a terribly exhausting day, chances are stress will reach an unbearable intensity. Your perception can significantly influence your ability to cope with stress.
Always Feeling Stressed at Work
If every day you spend at the office feels like a nightmare, then you’re probably dealing with an unhealthy dose of stress. Over time, this situation will only get worse, unless you do something about it.
Prolonged exposure to high levels of stress can have a profoundly negative impact on your overall health and well-being.
High Stress Levels
If stress is a relatively normal part of life, how can we distinguish between healthy and unhealthy stress?
Usually, it all boils down to how stress impacts different areas of your life. For example, if your performance drops and you’re having difficulties relaxing even in your spare time, you might be dealing with too much stress.
Exposing yourself to high levels of stress for extended periods can lead to medical and emotional problems.
What Causes Stress in The Work Environment?
According to the World Health Organization, work-related stress is the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched with their knowledge and abilities, which could challenge their ability to cope.
Some of the leading causes of work stress are:
- The lack of opportunities for growth
- Lack of social support
- Unclear performance expectations
- High volumes of work
- Lack of engaging or challenging activities
- Conflicting demands
Do any of these factors ring a bell?
Signs of Stress Overload
Stress is a phenomenon that affects us on all levels. It can damage our relationships, ruin our productivity, and prevent us from getting well-deserved rest after a long day at the office.
Recognizing the telltale signs of unhealthy stress is the first step towards managing this condition.
Emotional Effects of Stress
Emotionally, stress can manifest as anxiety, irritability, and an overall sense of helplessness. It almost feels like you’re carrying the weight of the world is on your shoulders, 24/7.
If it’s left unmanaged, work stress can lead to emotional problems like anxiety and depression, not to mention all sorts of severe medical conditions.
Physical Symptoms of Stress
You may have noticed that stress often triggers unpleasant bodily sensations like headaches, migraines, insomnia, lack of appetite (or overeating), and many more.
Worst of all, we tend to ignore these symptoms or merely blame them on something else like the weather or a medical condition we think we might be dealing with.
Stress Related Illnesses
We all know that people who are under a lot of stress at work can develop all sorts of medical conditions like gastrointestinal complications or cardiovascular problems. In fact, a 2017 paper, published in Experimental and Clinical Sciences, presents stress as a triggering or aggravating factor for many diseases and pathological conditions.
Long Term Stress Can Affect Your Mental Health
Many of us tend to look the other way when we are confronted with the long-term effects of our everyday habits. However, it’s important to realize that stress is one of the leading factors that contribute to poor physical and mental health.
A study, published in BMC Psychiatry, revealed that repeated exposure to stressors could result in accelerated cognitive decline. Furthermore, work stress can lead to depression, anxiety, and even personality changes that could affect the quality of your life.
Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies you can implement on your own to manage work stress.
Stress Management Begins With You
Let’s begin with four simple tips that will help you keep work stress under control.
Identify Workplace Stress Triggers
The first step towards effective stress management is identifying your triggers. Are you dissatisfied with how much money you make? Do you feel like you spend most of your waking hours buried under piles of work? Do you have issues with a co-worker?
Once you zero in on the factors that generate stress, you can take specific actions to keep this problem under control.
Manage Your Time More Effectively
Time management is one of the key strategies involved in managing stress. But how exactly can we manage the 24 hours we have at our disposal? Will there be enough time to complete our tasks and get some well-deserved “me” time?
Start by making a to-do list as soon as you arrive at the office. Also, make sure that you delegate tasks in order to avoid overburdening yourself. Lastly, avoid multitasking at all costs.
Sometimes, it’s easy to get lost in your work and to forget about “the big picture.”
You just need to pause for a moment (maybe take a short walk), readjust your perspective, and come back with a clear head. Also, don’t forget to get your priorities organized every now and then. Otherwise, you risk burning out to the point where you don’t even have the energy to get out of bed in the morning.
Take Care of Your Health
Part of keeping stress in check is taking care of your physical health. You need to invest in healthy habits that will boost your energy and keep you “fresh” throughout the day.
A diet rich in vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients along with proper sleep and regular physical activity can do wonders for your body and mind.
The Importance of Work-Life Balance
The concept of “work-life balance” plays a crucial role in stress management. One of the biggest reasons why we often end up feeling stressed is the fact that we tend to tamper with this balance by spending too much time at the office.
Although it may seem like putting in more office hours is the logical way to get more done, this unhealthy strategy often leads to exhaustion and poor performance. Some experts believe that in today’s highly competitive business environment, a good work-life balance and a sense of well-being are both strong predictors of top performance.
Think twice before you choose to sacrifice your free time for the sake of productivity because you might end up with much less than what you expected.
5 Tips for Dealing With Stress in the Workplace
When it comes to work stress, creating a “positive” work environment is an excellent way to eliminate stressors and improve your overall sense of well-being.
One paper, published in the Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, supports this argument strongly. The paper clearly mentions that workplace stress management relies on both ameliorative interventions that focus on personal resources and preventive interventions like wellness programs for employees.
Start Your Day The Right Way
If you wish to avoid falling behind on your daily tasks, make sure you begin work as soon as you arrive at the office. That means no one-hour coffee breaks and no mindless scrolling through social media. The sooner you begin to work, the more likely you will be to leave the office at a reasonable hour.
Work-related conflicts are relatively common. In fact, there are no conflict-free offices. Even in ideal work environments, conflict can arise between coworkers and learning how to handle these situations is essential for maintaining productivity and morale.
If you wish to work in a stress-free environment, make sure to improve your communication skills and be ready to mitigate conflicts between other coworkers.
Stay on Top of Things
Staying on top of things means having a “global” perspective on your workflow. In other words, make sure that you keep track of your progress. Identify challenging tasks that require extra effort and delegate anything that’s above your expertise.
Keep Your Workspace Organized
An organized workspace is an efficient workspace where you can perform at your best. Make sure to clean and organize your desk before you leave the office so that you can enjoy a tidy workspace the next day.
Make Time For Relaxing
Setting aside some time for relaxing activities is crucial for your health and well-being. And it’s not just about what you do when you’re not at work. Even when you’re at the office, there’s plenty of things that can help you relax. For example, you can take a short walk after lunch, listen to your favorite tunes during a break, or have a pleasant chat with a colleague.
Knowing When to Seek Help
If you feel like your work stress has gotten out of control, perhaps it’s time to seek help. Talk to someone who understands your problem or get in touch with a mental health professional who can help you manage your stress more effectively.
- W. H. Organization, “Stress at the workplace,” World Health Organization, n.a.. [Online]. Available: https://www.who.int/occupational_health/topics/stressatwp/en/.
- A. P. Association, “Coping with stress at work,” American Psychological Association, October 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/work-stress.aspx.
- H. Yaribeygi, Y. Panahi and A. Sahebkar, “The impact of stress on body function: A review,” Experimental and Clinical Sciences, vol. 16, pp. 1057-1072, 2017.
- S. B. Scott, J. E. Graham-Engeland, J. M. Smyth and a. others, “The Effects of Stress on Cognitive Aging, Physiology, and Emotion (ESCAPE) Project,” BMC Psychiatry, vol. 15, 2015.
- S. N. Shobitha Poulose, “Work Life Balance: A Conceptual Review,” International Journal of Advances in Management and Economics, vol. 3, no. 2, 2014.
- L. E. Tetrick and C. J. Winslow, “Workplace Stress Management Interventions and Health Promotion,” Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, vol. 2, pp. 583-603, 2015.