How to Relieve Your Work-Related Stress

by Diana Bailey - February 18, 2019

Stressed out? You’re not alone.

A survey by the American Institute of Stress shows that 40% of people feel that their job is extremely stressful, and a full 25% would frame their work as the number one source of stress in their lives. No matter where we work or what field we’re in, we all experience workplace stress sometimes. Between meeting deadlines, difficult clients, and the emotional exhaustion of project-related debates, every job has its stressors, even for those who otherwise love their careers.

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While some situations are certainly more stressful than others, it’s important to focus on the person experiencing stress–not the situation. A situation that might not be stressful for you might be stressful for someone else based on their history and other compounding factors. The stigma around stress–that it is a sign of weakness or incompetence–still exists. This stigma makes it difficult to talk honestly about the toll stress takes, and consequently, how to make changes that relieve its associated symptoms.

Everyone experiences stress at one point in time, and only when you separate your own personal feelings of guilt and inadequacy from the situation can you really tackle the problem at its root.

Why you might be stressed out

Sometimes, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact source of your stress. Personal relationships can be anxiety-inducing at times, and that stress can seep into your day-to-day experiences at the office.

However, according to the American Psychological Association, some common causes of workplace (and work-related) stress are:

  • Low salary
  • Excessive workload
  • Lack of control over one’s job
  • Few growth or advancement opportunities
  • Work that isn’t engaging
  • Lack of social support
  • Conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations

Workplace stress can become chronic if it’s left unaddressed. Long-term, seemingly never-ending stress can sap your concentration, erode your energy levels, and provoke very real mental and physical issues. Left untreated, stress can cause frequent colds and infections, migraine headaches, and increase your risk of heart disease. While it might seem obvious, the worst way to deal with workplace stress is to ignore it. Companies that don’t address stress head-on will eventually see their engagement levels plummet and their employee turnover rates grow.

Signs that you might be stressed out

While you probably have an idea of how stress presents itself, seeing how many symptoms you identify with can give you a sense of the severity and reality of your situation.

Some common symptoms of stress include, but definitely are not limited to:

  • Frustration, agitation, and moodiness
  • Depression
  • Wanting to be alone
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Upset stomach
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat

There’s no way to completely eliminate stress, but there are steps you can take to minimize your stressors and to give stress less power over your wellbeing. We’ve put together a list of methods to help anyone break free of the cycle of stress so they can get back to feeling like themselves.

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” — William James

Give yourself the advice you’d give someone else

If a friend approached you for advice on your exact situation, you probably wouldn’t tell them to toughen up or ignore it. A good friend would validate their friend’s feelings and give them some practical tips for how to move forward. Be a good friend to yourself and see what advice you’d give to someone else in your situation.

Take things one at a time

Keeping a constantly updating to-do list in your head aggravates anxiety. Spend a few moments a day writing down and editing your priorities. Though it might seem time-consuming, it will give you some clarity. Once your list is down on paper, you’ll realize that the list in your mind is almost always longer than it is in reality. After you’ve put pen to paper, walk away. Whatever your long-term responsibilities might be, now you have one singular focus: whatever’s next on your list.

Make a shift toward positivity

Once or twice a day, write down two or three things that have gone well, or things that you’re grateful for. Just the simple act of logging a few wins can help put some pep in your step.

Practice time management

We all let time get away from us once in a while. But if you often feel like deadlines have snuck up on you, or you don’t have enough time to finish your tasks, you may need to better organize your time. Read up on time management techniques online, or consider using one of these convenient apps to help you develop better habits.

Take some “me” time

Working at 100% of your capacity, 100% of the time, isn’t sustainable. Ask yourself this: what do you do to blow off steam and how often do you do it? It’s easy to put yourself last when it seems like there is barely enough time to finish your work. Just like any other obligation, you need to schedule time for yourself to make sure that it actually gets done. Make after-work plans to get yourself out of the office and into a better mood. Explore a hobby that has always interested you, but you never thought you had the time for.

Develop better sleep habits

Stress takes a physical toll and your body needs time to recover. Long periods of sleep are necessary to repair tissue, grow muscle, and consolidate our memories. Over time, missing an hour or two of sleep per night–whether it’s because you’re burning the midnight oil at the office, or fretting over tomorrow’s projects–can contribute to lowered productivity, and even a lower life expectancy.

Take control

While it may not always feel like it, there’s a solution to nearly every problem we encounter. The hard part is realizing that it’s up to you to put that solution into action. If you feel like you’re being overworked, you have to set strict boundaries on your time. If you feel unappreciated, you have to make your contributions known. Once you realize that you are the ultimate decision-maker in your life, you won’t feel like you’re at the mercy of other people’s choices. Set limits, stick to them, and learn to say no.

Eat right, exercise regularly, and avoid unhealthy behaviours

A healthy body will have better resilience when faced with stress. Take steps to reduce the sugar in your diet and to eat more leafy greens and protein. Develop an exercise regimen that fits into your routine, and take steps to eliminate any unhealthy crutches–smoking, excessive eating, or the like–that you tend to lean on when the going gets tough.

Clear your head

You might not think that you’re cut out for yoga, but the benefits of meditation and mindfulness exercise are scientifically proven. Mindful meditation practice trains your mind to observe your feelings without judgment and to quiet down the never-ending stream of thoughts. Check out your local gym or community centre for yoga or tai chi classes that fit into your schedule, or try a meditation app to practice mindfulness wherever you are. Meditation can help put things into perspective, no matter what work throws at you.

Don’t do it alone

There are people who care about you a lot, and spending time with them can be restorative. Asking for advice from friends and family can help you get an outsider’s perspective on the struggles you’re dealing with day-to-day. Let yourself lean on your support network while you’re going through a difficult time.

Turn to the pros

There’s no shame in seeking treatment from a mental health professional. Look online for local psychiatrists and psychologists trained in work-related stress management techniques. They can teach you healthy methods of dealing with your stressors. They’re there to listen, and they can spot early warning signs in time for an intervention.

Accept the things you can’t change

Letting go of circumstances you can’t control gives you the time and energy to focus on what you can change. If your company is going through a period of layoffs, invest some time in sending out resumes instead of trying to keep a tight grip on the job you have.

Take the focus off of you

Volunteering is a great way to take a step outside of yourself while lending a helping hand to someone in need. Though fitting the extra hours into a packed schedule can seem daunting, it is worth the time. Offering assistance to people or animals in need can put your situation into perspective and give you a sense of accomplishment. Volunteering also gives you the opportunity to develop new skills in a friendly environment–for instance, you could teach yourself photography by taking pictures at a local community event.

Interrupt the Interruptions

Interruptions are always going to happen, but you can change how you respond to them. Make a plan for how to handle recurring interruptions by scheduling windows for answering phone calls, closing the door on impromptu meetings, and only responding to emails for an hour or so each morning and afternoon. Eventually, interrupters will learn that the most effective way to get what they want is by contacting you at your convenience, not theirs.

While there are strategies and methods that all employees can use to mitigate their stressors, it is ultimately the responsibility of management to supervise their staff. That includes delegating a realistic workload within a reasonable period of time. If a manager oversees a team of frazzled, stressed-out employees that seem to always stay late, that manager is abdicating their responsibility to manage the workload of their employees and the expectations of their clients. Companies should offer support and guidance to employees that are struggling, while also looking out for signs that there are systemic problems that contribute to stress in the workforce.

A corporate culture that values the mental and physical wellbeing of its employees can better anticipate stress-related issues, intervene when someone is struggling, and support employees as they recover.

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