June 02, 2014 Business Resources

Combatting Stress in the Workplace

It’s likely that you will experience some stress at work – after all, that’s why it’s “work” and not “play time” – but, sometimes it can get to be too much. It’s important to know what the signs of overwhelming work-related stress are, and how you can manage that stress to be happier, healthier, and more productive.

Especially in today’s economy, lots of people feel that they are walking a tightrope at work; words like “layoffs” and “budget cuts” have become commonplace and they leave workers feeling scared, uncertain, and vulnerable. How you react to everyday stressors at work can make a difference in being able to excel at your job, and being a valued employee is the best job security there is. If you’re experiencing stress in your personal life, it will undoubtedly bleed over into your work life, and vice-versa. So, if you can recognize the signs of stress and try to determine the cause, you might be able to figure out ways to cope that will let you feel happier and more relaxed both at and outside of work.

Stress in the workplace can often be attributed to fear of being laid off, excess overtime because of short-staffing, pressure to increase performance, and pressure to be working optimally 100% of the time.

Signs and symptoms of stress

Stress affects everyone differently, but there are some signs that are very common:

  • Anxiety, irritability, depression
  • Apathy, loss of interest at work, difficulty concentrating
  • Sleeping problems
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Stomach pains
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Loss of interest in things you previously enjoyed
  • Reliance on alcohol or drugs as a coping tool

Tips for coping with job-related stress

Stress can be managed in a lot ways, including getting regular exercise, making healthy food choices, avoiding alcohol (except in moderation) and getting eight hours of sleep per night. Here are a few other ideas that are specific to stress at your job:

  • Strike a balance between work and leisure that best fits your lifestyle. You probably can’t spend 40 hours a week on the golf course, but working too many hours can lead to hasty burnout. If you can balance work, family, and some time for social activities and leisure, you could be happier in all respects.
  • Distinguish between “should” and “must” at work: Although there is lots to do, try not to squeeze more into a single day than can reasonably be accomplished. Especially if you’re motivated to excel and succeed, you might have a tendency to underestimate how long a task will actually take. Avoid scheduling back-to-back meetings and assignments. Prioritize your task list to put the “musts” first and leave the “shoulds” for the end of the day or for tomorrow.
  • Be early: It may sound counterintuitive, if being earlier to work means losing 15 precious minutes of sleep in the morning, but often the morning commute is one of the most stressful parts of the day. If you can start 10-15 minutes earlier, you have time to ease into your day, which means you’re starting off less stressed than if you’re rushing to get there on time.
  • Take a break: Short breaks throughout the day can go a long way in clearing your mind and helping you to be more productive. If you can get away from your desk or work station for a short time to take a walk or have a snack, you should feel recharged afterwards and be more productive, rather than less.
  • Make your projects manageable: If you’re working on a large project, breaking it up into steps can make it seem less overwhelming.
  • Accept your limits: Be realistic about what you can accomplish in a day, week, or month. Determination and drive are great qualities to have in the workplace, but setting yourself up for failure because your goals were unattainable won’t help anyone.
  • Reduce clutter: Organization is the key to a well-functioning workplace, both on an organizational and personal level. Don’t try to recreate the wheel because you can’t find a document or sticky note that you thought you saved under a pile of papers. Create your own electronic or paper filing system that works for you. Keep your desk or work station clean, and use to-do lists to stay on track.
  • Make friends: Although it’s important to remain professional in the workplace, having a friend or two at work can help you get through the tough times. If you have someone you trust who will listen when you need to vent (and, of course, you do the same for him or her) and whom you look forward to seeing each day, it can go a long way in making your workplace a pleasant place to be.
  • Use your vacation time: In today’s economy, it is “trendy” in some companies for employees to forfeit their vacation time because they are afraid to take time off or because they simply have so much to do that they feel that they can’t afford it. Don’t be a hero – if your company provides you with vacation time, use it. Even if you aren’t going to take a glorious beach vacation, take a few days off here and there to just be at home and decompress. It’s not a sign of weakness; rather, you will return energized and ready to face the tasks ahead.
  • Don’t let technology overtake your life: It’s kind of a running joke on TV and elsewhere to see a corporate drone who’s chained to his mobile phone, but for some of us, this is more of a reality than we like to admit. If you have a job that requires you to take calls or emails after hours, set limits for yourself. Unless it’s essential that you respond to every buzz or beep immediately, allow for times when the phone is off and you’re not going to respond. If you need to set aside an hour or two in the evening to return calls, then do it – but limit your phone calls to those set hours. Mobile device technology can be a wonderful tool, but don’t let it take over your life.

If you feel that you have an excessive amount of work-related stress, consult your primary care provider to see if she or he can recommend a licensed professional who can help. Or, check CDPHP resources yourself to find someone who can help you manage your stress in order to feel happier and be more productive at work.

References: HelpGuide.org, American Psychological Association, Forbes, MayoClinic.org

Erin Blakesley
About the Author

Erin joined CDPHP in 2008 as a health promotion coordinator in the population health and wellness department. She assists employer groups with offering health and wellness programs for their employees and is instrumental in planning numerous community events. In addition, Erin helps develop the free wellness class schedule for CDPHP members. A nurse with experience in fitness training, Erin is excited to educate the community about the importance of health and wellness.

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