Coping with Stress at Work
Everyone who has ever held a job has, at some point, felt the pressure of work-related stress. Any job can have stressful elements, even if you love what you do. In the short-term, you may experience pressure to meet a deadline or to fulfill a challenging obligation. But when work stress becomes chronic, it can be overwhelming — and harmful to both physical and emotional health.
Unfortunately, such long-term stress is all too common. In fact, APA’s annual Stress in America survey has consistently found that work is cited as a significant source of stress by a majority of Americans. You can’t always avoid the tensions that occur on the job. Yet you can take steps to manage work-related stress.
Common Sources of Work Stress
Certain factors tend to go hand-in-hand with work-related stress. Some common workplace stressors are:
- Low salaries
- Excessive workloads
- Few opportunities for growth or advancement
- Work that isn’t engaging or challenging
- Lack of social support
- Not having enough control over job-related decisions
- Conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations
Effects of Uncontrolled Stress
Work-related stress doesn’t just disappear when you head home for the day. When stress persists, it can take a toll on your health and well-being. A stressful work environment can contribute to problems such as headache, stomachache, sleep disturbances, short temper, and difficulty concentrating. Chronic stress can result in anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system. It can also contribute to health conditions such as depression, obesity, and heart disease. Compounding the problem, people who experience excessive stress often deal with it in unhealthy ways such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs and alcohol.
Taking Steps to Manage Stress
Track your stressors. Keep a journal for a week or two to identify which situations create the most stress and how you respond to them. Record your thoughts, feelings, and information about the environment, including the people and circumstances involved, the physical setting and how you reacted. Taking notes can help you find patterns among your stressors and your reactions to them.
Develop healthy responses. Instead of attempting to fight stress with fast food or alcohol, do your best to make healthy choices when you feel the tension rise. Exercise is a great stress-buster. Yoga can be an excellent choice, but any form of physical activity is beneficial. Also, make time for hobbies and favorite activities. Getting enough good-quality sleep is also important for effective stress management.
Establish boundaries. In today’s digital world, it’s easy to feel pressure to be available 24 hours a day. Establish some work-life boundaries. That might mean making a rule not to check email from home in the evening, or not answering the phone during dinner.
Take time to recharge. To avoid burnout we need time to replenish and return to our pre-stress level of functioning. This recovery process requires “switching off” from work by having periods of time when you are neither engaging in work-related activities nor thinking about work. Don’t let your vacation days go to waste.
Learn how to relax. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises and mindfulness can help melt away stress. Start by taking a few minutes each day to focus on a simple activity like breathing, walking or enjoying a meal.
Talk to your supervisor. Employee health has been linked to productivity at work, so your boss has an incentive to create a work environment that promotes employee well-being. Start by having an open conversation with your supervisor. The purpose of this isn’t to lay out a list of complaints, but rather to come up with an effective plan for managing the stressors you’ve identified, so you can perform at your best on the job.