If you’re currently working, you probably know what it feels like to be stressed on the job. A must-do project arrives without warning. Three emails stack up for each one you delete. Phones ring, meetings are scheduled, a coworker drops the ball on a shared assignment.
How does your body react to work stress?
Imagine for a moment that your boss has emailed you about an unfinished assignment (a stressor). Your body and mind instantly respond, activating a physical reaction called the fight-or-flight response. Your heart beats faster, your breath quickens, and your muscles tense. At the same time you might say to yourself, “I’m going to get fired if I don’t finish this.” Then to manage your anxiety and negative self-talk, you work late into the night to complete the task.
Over the course of our evolutionary history, humans developed this coordinated fear response to protect against dangers in our environment. For example, a faster heart rate and tense muscles would help us escape from predators. In the modern era, fear continues to serve an important function. After all, the fight-or-flight response can provide the necessary energy to pull an all-nighter and keep your job.
But what happens if you encounter stressful experiences at work every day? Over time, chronic work stress can lead to a psychological syndrome known as burnout. Warning signs of burnout are overwhelming exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of inefficacy. Certain work-related stressors are closely linked with burnout. Examples are having too much work or too little independence, inadequate pay, lack of community between coworkers, unfairness or disrespect, and a mismatch between workplace and personal values.
How can work stress affect well-being?
Long-term exposure to work-related stressors like these can affect mental health. Research links burnout with symptoms of anxiety and depression. In some cases, this sets the stage for serious mental health problems. Indeed, one study shows younger people who routinely face heavy workloads and extreme time pressure on the job are more likely to experience major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
High levels of stress at work –– and outside of it –– can affect physical health, too. Repeated activation of the fight-or-flight response can disrupt bodily systems and increase susceptibility to disease. For example, repeated release of the stress hormone cortisol can disturb the immune system, and raise the likelihood of developing autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic stress can also affect health by interfering with healthy behaviors, such as exercise, balanced eating, and sleep.
Work stress can also harm companies or organizations. Burnout reduces job productivity and boosts absenteeism and job turnover, and also leads to conflict between coworkers, causing stress to spread within a workplace.
How can you cope with work stress?
All of us can benefit by learning skills to manage fear and anxiety on the job. Several skills taught in cognitive behavioral therapy may help, including these:
Relaxation strategies. Relaxation helps counter the physiological effects of the fight-or-flight response. For example, progressive muscle relaxation helps reduce muscle tension associated with anxiety. To practice this skill, sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Working from your legs upward, systematically tense and relax each major muscle groups. Hold the tension for 10 seconds; release tension for 20 seconds. Each time you release muscle tension, think “relax” to yourself. This skill and many other relaxation strategies can help reduce symptoms of anxiety.
Problem-solving. Problem-solving is an active coping strategy that involves teaching people to take specific steps when approaching a roadblock or challenge. These steps include defining the problem, brainstorming potential solutions, ranking the solutions, developing an action plan, and testing the chosen solution.
Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to
the present moment with curiosity, openness, and acceptance. Stress can be exacerbated when we spend time ruminating about the past, worrying about the future, or engaging in self-criticism. Mindfulness helps to train the brain to break these harmful habits. You can cultivate mindfulness skills through formal practice (like guided meditation) and informal exercises (like mindful walking), or try mindfulness apps or classes. Mindfulness-based therapies are effective for reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Reappraising negative thoughts. Chronic stress and worry can lead people to develop a mental filter in which they automatically interpret situations through a negative lens. A person might jump to negative conclusions with little or no evidence (“my boss thinks I’m incompetent”) and doubt their ability to cope with stressors (“I’ll be devastated if I don’t get the promotion”). To reappraise negative thoughts, treat them as hypotheses instead of facts and consider other possibilities. Regularly practicing this skill can help people reduce negative emotions in response to stressors
Other means includes;
1. Practice Meditation to Cope with Workplace Stress
Stress is a major issue for many people in the workplace, and it can affect not only your mental health but also your physical health. Meditation is an excellent way to ease the stress and anxiety you might be feeling, and it can improve energy levels and mood in the work environment.
Stress is a natural part of life. It can be a motivating force that pushes us to do our best work. However, chronic stress can lead to a number of health problems such as anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure. Meditation can help combat stress because it promotes relaxation, reduces anxiety/depression and lowers blood pressure.
Meditation is a great way to cope with stress. It’s been proven to reduce stress and help people better deal with life. There are many types of meditation, but it’s important to find the one that works best for you.
2. Create a Work-Life Balance to Cope with Work Stress
According to the American Psychological Association, work-life balance is “the ability to successfully manage the demands of work and family/personal life.” Coping strategies are effective when they are adaptive, realistic, feasible, and sustainable. Coping strategies can be individualized to fit your needs.
It can be difficult for people to maintain a work-life balance. Identifying the right tasks to prioritize and automatically scheduling these tasks in the day can help someone achieve this goal. Similarly, limiting social media usage can also help create this balance.
It is essential for employees to find a balance between work and personal life. A healthy work-life balance can reduce workplace stress and anxiety and improve one’s quality of life. With the right time management skills and a healthy lifestyle, it is possible to maintain a balance between work and life.
3. Stay Organized by Using Good Filing Systems and Creating Personal Rituals
The more organized your life, the less stressed you will be. Create a filing system that works for you, with folders for important documents, recent documents and projects. Develop an organizational plan that is easy to maintain.
This will save you time in the long run by making everything easily accessible. Consider creating rituals for your daily life. These may include personal routines like making tea before work or going on a walk every day during your afternoon break.
It can be tough to stay on top of things, but with some good filing systems and personal rituals, it’s possible. One way is to create a plan for where you’re going to put mail as soon as you receive it. If the mail is junk, throw it out or recycle it immediately. If the mail needs action or processing, put it in a folder or bin for that type of task.
4. Ask for Help Where You Need It at Work
The workplace of the 21st century is becoming increasingly competitive and causing workplace stress. It’s more important than ever to have a mentor or coach to guide you through your career, especially if you are feeling unsure of your next steps.
5. Take Care of Your Physical Health
One of the most important things you can do for your physical and mental health is exercise and eat well. Although it may seem like a lot of work, the payoff is worth it. Exercise can release endorphins that make you feel good and help manage stress, depression and anxiety.
Eating well means eating food that will nourish your body and provide you with all the minerals and vitamins your body needs to deal with a stressful work environment. Looking after your physical health is vital for your well-being. The benefits are numerous, including increased energy, improved moods, reduced pain, better sleep quality and much more.
You may think that physical health has nothing to do with your mental health, but this is not the case. Your physical health can have a significant impact on your mental wellbeing. If you are not taking care of your body, then you are likely not taking care of your mind.
Physical health plays a significant role in determining a person’s quality of life. Studies have shown that a person who has good physical fitness and good mental health is more likely to be successful in the workplace and in other areas of their life.
6. Find Some Time for Yourself to Pursue Hobbies or Interests That Are Not Work-Related
Studies have shown that people who pursue hobbies and interests outside of work are more productive and satisfied with their careers. If you’re feeling overworked or feel workplace stress, try dedicating a few hours per week to this task. You’ll be happy you did!
7. Identify and Track the Stressors at Work
One of the most crucial steps of dealing with a stressful work environment is identifying all the things at work that are stressing you out and putting extra pressure on you. Knowing what is bringing you down can help you find better solutions.
Keeping a journal to track your thoughts and feelings can help you out and be useful. Writing about your day and what stressed you out can enable you to identify your triggers at work. You can also write down how you deal with stressful situations.
Keeping a record of how you react to such situations can help you find which solutions work best for you and how you can implement them in your daily work life. Tracking these events can help you find a pattern among your stressors and what enables you to feel better.
8. Come Up with Healthy Responses
When you are trying to fight workplace stress, don’t indulge in unhealthy coping mechanisms like junk food or alcohol. Instead, you can try developing healthier habits that enable you to relieve stress and make you more active and productive.
Various types of exercise can help you beat stress. Trying yoga can help you center yourself and find peace. Any physical activity after work can be beneficial for you. Setting aside time for taking part in activities that can lift your mood can help you improve your performance at work.
9. Take Time Off to Recharge
Chronic stress at the workplace can affect your performance and cause burnout. Everyone needs to take some time off to recharge and replenish themselves to return to the pre-stress performance levels.
To recover properly, you must switch off completely. It is crucial for your well-being to take this time away from work and not check up on anything going on at the workplace. Not taking part in any work-related activities can help you refresh your brain.
It is always better to avail your vacation days. Whenever you feel like the work is getting too much for you to handle and you need a break to recharge your batteries, you should take some time off.
10. Talk to Your Supervisor
The health of employees can have an effect on the company’s productivity. It is essential for supervisors to look after their employees if they want the best performance possible. Of course, your boss has an incentive to create an environment that promotes the well-being of the workers.
Having an open conversation with your supervisor can help you move in the right direction. You don’t have to complain about the problems you are facing. Instead, you can list out all the ways you feel you can combat workplace stress. You can let your supervisor know about all the stressors for you at work and how to overcome them.
It is essential that you discuss all the aspects of the workplace that might be affecting your productivity and work. You can also make suggestions about improving the physical workspace and making it more comfortable for everyone.
Work can get highly stressful. It is crucial for everyone to learn how they can manage workplace stress effectively. You need to focus on yourself and give yourself a break when you need it. Prioritizing employee well-being is also essential for companies as it can help improve their performance and productivity.