Raise your hand if you’ve ever claimed to thrive under pressure. We know that stress isn’t always a bad thing. It can help you stay alert and focused. Not to mention that it challenges you to step outside your comfort zone, especially at work. But the reality is that long-term exposure to work-related stress can affect mental and physical health.
While work stress is common, there are steps you can take to manage your stress.
Causes of stress at work
There are a lot of things that can contribute to work-related stress. These include:
- Excessive workload
- Lack of control
- Job security
- Lack of support
- Challenging relationships or bullying
- Insufficient training
- Ineffective or poor leadership
- Lack of recognition
- Poor workplace conditions and/or exposure to hazards
Each person's ability to tolerate stress is different – what stresses one person may not affect another. Factors like skills and experience, age or disability may affect whether someone can cope. It can also make a difference how resilient you are in dealing with stressful situations and if you have any other pressures.
Signs and symptoms of workplace stress
Signs that you are over-stressed may include:
- Tension in the body
- Stomach problems
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased heart rate
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of self-confidence
- Anxiety or depression
You may also notice changes in your behaviour at work:
- Tense relationships with co-workers and managers
- Feeling isolated from your team
- Lack of creativity and motivation
- Lack of patience when working with others
- Drop in performance and loss of interest
Tips for managing stress at work
Here are seven ways to help you effectively cope with job stress:
1. Schedule time for focus
Learning how to organize your day can make all the difference. Look at your tasks and slot them into your calendar at the beginning of the week. Turn off email and chat notifications for an hour or two while you work on these tasks. It will be hard not to peek at your messages at first. But over time it can help you stay productive without getting overwhelmed.
A scheduled 10-minute wrap-up at the end of your day is also a powerful tool to help you de-stress. It can also help set you up for productivity the next day. Your wrap-up ritual is unique to you. It can include:
- reviewing the tasks you completed,
- creating a to-do list for the next day,
- and closing all the browser tabs you won’t need tomorrow.
Once you’ve wrapped up, it’s time to disconnect completely.
2. Communicate your boundaries
Requests pop up, and sometimes they’re urgent. Most of the time, they can wait. The negative affects of having poor boundaries include deteriorating relationships with colleagues and burnout. Not sure how to set strong boundaries you can stick to? Try these steps:
- Be straightforward. Avoid saying things like “maybe” or “let me think about it.” This sets the wrong intention and can lead your colleague to think you have the bandwidth to support them.
- Explain yourself but keep it simple. If you don’t have the capacity to help someone, let them know why. Keep it short and sweet. It’s ok to say, “I’m very busy with my own tasks right now.” Or “I have another priority I need to finish first”. You don’t need to go into the details.
- Provide an alternate solution. If you struggle to say no, then try giving other options. Maybe you’re too busy to help today, but you will have more time at the end of the week.
If you struggle to communicate your boundaries, here are some easy ways to say “no”:
- Unfortunately, I have too much to do today. I can help you another time.
- I would love to help, but I'm feeling a little overwhelmed with work right now.
- I can’t take on any extra work right now. Maybe check with _____?
- The timing right now isn't good. Can you keep me in mind for next time?
- Let me get back to you, but I'm not confident I’ll have the time to help.
3. Focus on your breathing
A common symptom of stress and anxiety is increased heart rate. Prioritizing slow, deep breathing can calm your mind and body. Explore how breathing techniques help you manage stress and how you can incorporate them into daily life.
4. Pay attention to your body
Healthy movement boosts the brain’s feel-good hormones, like dopamine and serotonin. Sitting at a desk all day can have an adverse effect, and increase lethargy, sleep issues, and stress. Schedule five-minute breaks every half-hour to stand, stretch, and take your eyes off the computer screen. Discover some easy ways to incorporate exercise into your day.
5. Take care of yourself
What you do before and after work influences how you feel during work. To help you cope with stress, make sure you're getting enough sleep. Fuel your body with nutritious meals. This will help keep your energy levels consistent throughout the day. And make time to connect with friends and have fun.
6. Talk to your manager
If you work in an environment where you can talk to your manager, schedule time to speak with them. Share with them how you’re feeling and the physical and mental symptoms you’re experiencing. Let them know what you’re struggling with. This will open the door for constructive conversations that can lead to you feeling better at work.
If you can’t speak to your manager, schedule a conversation with Human Resources.
7. Seek support from someone you trust
Despite our efforts, stress sometimes gets the best of us. Talking to a co-worker, a friend or family member can help ease anxiety and make us feel less alone. And while loved ones offer great support, knowing when to seek help from a qualified specialist is also crucial.
Stress and anxiety tend to creep up on us. Oftentimes, a build up of various factors is what causes it to become unmanageable. Learning how to prioritize well-being through small actions every day can keep stress under control.
Stress and anxiety are tough to manage alone. Reach out to a health-care provider if you need support.