How to deal with work-related stress
How to reduce stress at work
If you think you are suffering from work-related stress, or want to avoid being stressed at work in the future, then our guide to coping with stress in the workplace is just what you need. This guide will tell you how to recognise the signs of stress and offer tips on how to deal with it.
It is estimated that the majority of us spend around a quarter of our adult working lives actually in work — and while it can provide us with some job satisfaction and a sense of purpose, the workplace can also be a setting of real stress and worry.
‘Stress in the workplace’ refers to an adverse reaction we may get due to unrealistic demands being placed on us at work. While some stress is an accepted part of work and can be a good motivator, excessive pressure can lead to unproductive stress — which will undermine your performance and potentially make you ill.
What are the causes of work-related stress?
Everyone is under some form of pressure in the workplace. From the cleaner, who is expected to live up to the exacting standards of the company, to the manager, on whom the ultimate responsibility and direction of the company rests — all have various daily problems to overcome. If these problems become overwhelming, then it is more likely that you’ll become stressed.
The experience of stress in the workplace is, of course, different for each individual. Some workers can be more affected than others, despite the set of circumstances being exactly the same. What is stressful to one person may not be the same to for another. Other people may become accustomed to the symptoms of stress so that it goes unnoticed to their detriment.
There is no single cause of work-related stress. Sudden unexpected events can produce an element of pressure, which can sometimes lead to stress — but it is usually a gradual accumulation of stressful factors which has the most impact on health.
Signs of stress at work
Work-related stress can manifest itself as physical and emotional health problems, or in altered behaviour at work and at home.
Obvious physical symptoms of stress can include: increased susceptibility to illness; infections; headaches; muscular tension; backache and neck ache; excessive tiredness; sleeping problems; digestive problems; raised heart rate; increased sweating; lower sex drive; skin rashes; and blurred vision.
There may also be emotional and behavioural changes, which can include: feeling that you can’t cope; short-temperedness; feeling tearful; eating when you’re not hungry; losing your appetite; smoking and drinking throughout the day; being unable to concentrate; getting less work done; having poor relationships with colleagues; and a loss of motivation and commitment.
Other indictors of stress that are specific to the workplace can include: eating on the run; rushing tasks; being available to everyone; doing several jobs at once; missing breaks; taking work home with you; and having no time for exercise and relaxation.
Recognising the causes of stress in the workplace
Being able to recognise some of the common causes of stress at work is important, so that you can take steps to minimise your stress levels wherever possible. Examples of factors contributing to stress at work include:
- Excessive workloads and unrealistic deadlines.
- Excessive or inflexible working hours.
- Lack of control over work activities.
- Lack of experience, training or support for a job.
- Problems settling into a new position, perhaps after a promotion or move.
- Bullying or harassment.
- A ‘blame culture’ in the workplace when things go wrong.
- Uncertainty about the company’s future.
- A poor physical working environment — for example an office that is too hot or too cold.
- Confusion about duties and responsibilities.
- Difficult relationships at work.
Dealing with stress at work
If some of the factors above strike a chord with you, then it’s likely that you are getting stressed out by them. So what should you do if you feel the strain is starting to make you stressed?
Firstly, it’s important to recognise that it’s impossible to escape from pressure at work altogether. There will always be certain pressures on you in your workplace — so the key dealing with stress is how you manage the pressures that you face.
There are a number of ways in which you can manage pressures at work and thereby reduce the negative impact of stress — most of which involve taking a good look at how you function within your work setting and beyond. Our tips and advice below will provide you with some useful ideas on how to deal with the pressures of work:
- Deal with problems as soon as possible — If work-related stress is affecting you, then it’s important to deal with the cause of your stress as soon as possible. Putting off dealing with a problem will prevent you from getting on with other tasks efficiently, and could potentially lead to a build-up of other problems — which will make you even more stressed.
- Manage your time effectively — One of the most important factors in reducing stress levels is managing your time effectively. To do this you should prioritise your tasks, delegate work when possible, and make sure you don’t take on more than you can handle. Completing one task before going on to the next one will allow you to forget about the task you’ve completed and move onto the next thing with a clearer, more focused mind. You could also use your flexi-time, if available, to manage your time more effectively — for example to avoid rush-hour travel.
- Take time out — Take frequent breaks while at work if possible, as this will help you to focus better. You could use these short periods of ‘off time’ to do some simple stretching exercises to prevent your muscles from getting tired. Also, going for a short walk at lunchtime, for example, can help take your mind off work. Some people make the mistake when under pressure at work of skipping breaks because they’re trying to catch up — when in fact simply having a break would be of more benefit. You should also ensure that you only work your regular hours and take all the breaks and holidays you’re entitled to.
- Identify stressful situations — Pick out those situations that stress you the most. If you’re fortunate, it may be the case that you can avoid them — but if you can’t, then think about how you can handle them differently in the future to minimise your stress levels. Perhaps by being more assertive in a situation might resolve it — or perhaps you simply need to learn when not to get involved in a situation or problem that isn’t your responsibility.
- Seek help— Asking for help can sometimes be hard. But if you don’t ask then people may not realise the amount of stress you are under. Seeking help can range from getting practical help in the workplace from another colleague to discussing problems or concerns with your employer. Your manager or employer has a duty to take reasonable steps to try to resolve any problems that are causing stress — so you should make sure you talk to them about any problems you may have.
- Engage in activities and meet people outside work — Regular activities outside work — especially with friends who aren’t your work colleagues — will help you to take your mind away from the worries of work and remind you that there is more to life than sitting at a desk all day. If you only mix with people from your work during your time off, then work is never going to be too far away from your thoughts – so make sure you socialise with a variety of people!
- Exercise — Regular physical activity can help to reduce stress levels, as it’s a good way of forgetting about work and can trigger brain chemicals which improve mood. Not only will you feel fitter, healthier and happier by doing exercise, you’ll also rid your body of the damaging adrenaline which is released into your body when you’re stressed. Choose an activity that you enjoy doing so that you’re more likely to keep it up.
- Take the weight off your mind — Confiding in trusted work colleagues, friends and relatives is a useful way of ridding yourself of stressful feelings. Other people give you a different perspective on problems and help you to find potential solutions — and you will feel much better after getting something off your mind.
- Avoid unhelpful ‘crutches' — Stay away from artificial coping devices such as alcohol, smoking, and high caffeine intake. These only succeed in increasing stress levels — as they are stimulants — rather than calming the body and mind down. Eating a well-balanced diet at regular times will give you all the levels of energy you need to see you through your day — without you having to depend on stimulants.
- Celebrate your achievements — Don’t be too hard on yourself, and avoid spending too much time thinking about what you didn’t get done today and what you have to do in the future. Instead, think about all those things that you did achieve and give yourself a pat on the back. Take each working day as it comes and celebrate the good things that you are responsible for doing and achieving.
- If necessary, seek further help — If the techniques mentioned above don’t have the desired impact on your stress levels, then it may be that you need to seek further help in order to deal with your work-related stress. High levels of stress can result in anxiety and depression — and in these cases it’s a good idea to seek advice from your doctor. Treatments can range from taking medication or a course of counselling to learning relaxation techniques or going on a course for stress management. And remember: there are many different methods of dealing with or treating stress — so if one method doesn’t work for you, then try a different one.
- Managing stress in the future — Stress is an inevitable part of our working lives. Without problems to overcome our jobs work would lack interest and not be as challenging. However, we all have the capacity to be overwhelmed by work problems and to experience the impact of work-related stress on our physical and mental well-being. Your aim should be to manage stress by becoming aware of how you respond to problems, and then making effective changes to your working lifestyle.