The Keys to Managing Stress at Work

January 17, 2019

We may be in a new year, and you may be giving your best shot at coping with a stressful work environment. But it's a tough challenge. Or maybe someone near and dear to you is struggling with workplace stress.

Experts say as many as 4 in 10 employees report being "extremely stressed" at work. 8 out of 10 say they experience at least some stress.

Although in some cases you may need and benefit from professional help, there are a number of actions for minimizing stress at work that could help you right now.

What Is Stress?

It's hard to pin down a precise definition of stress. According to the American Institute of Stress, one of the most common descriptions is "physical, mental of emotional strain or tension."

A more detailed definition is "your body's way of responding to any kind of demand. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences. When people feel stressed by something going on around them, their bodies react by releasing chemicals into the blood.

"These chemicals give people more energy and strength, which can be a good thing if their stress is caused by physical danger. But this can also be a bad thing, if their stress is in response to something emotional and there is no outlet for this extra energy and strength." [1]

It's this last part that most of us associate with workplace stress -- because this type of tension can lead to all sorts of mental and physical health problems.

How Do You Know if You're Stressed at Work?

The American Psychological Association (APA) cites work pressures as one of the most significant causes of stress.

This might be caused by such factors as low pay, overwork, job insecurity, lack of promotion prospects, a boring job, or lack of control over decisions that affect you.

"A stressful work environment can contribute to problems such as a headache, stomach ache, sleep disturbances, short temper and difficulty concentrating," APA says.

"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."

Things get worse if people try to reduce stress through unhealthy habits such as overeating, smoking or abusing drugs or alcohol.

Often, stress at work spills over into the family and social life, leading to strained relationships.

In the workplace, stress can lead to mistakes, poor concentration and reduced productivity. You may feel powerless to do anything about it. But you can.

How Can I Ease Workplace Stress?

You can't really act to reduce your stress unless you know what's causing it. So, the APA recommends keeping a journal for a couple of weeks to help you identify the problems.

"Record your thoughts, feelings, and information about the environment, including the people and circumstances involved, the physical setting and how you reacted," the  Association says.

Whatever the cause, here are 12 things you can do that might help to reduce stress at work.

  1. Clarify your job requirements. Not knowing exactly what's expected of you is a key cause of stress.
  2. If you have complaints about your job or workplace practices, don't suppress them. Take up the issues with your boss, your supervisor or your HR department. Don’t do this on the spur of the moment, though; plan out your conversation, supported by evidence of where things are going wrong. Try to agree on a course of action to improve things and reduce your stress.

    Avoid over-commitment. Don’t agree to take on more jobs than you can cope with. Delegate when you can. Learn how to say "no" to unreasonable requests. Check out this article for more on saying "no":

  3. Avoid conflict. Don’t get involved in other people's disputes or in workplace gossip and avoid expressing controversial opinions or interacting with people you know to be negative influences.
  4. Plan your upcoming workday as far as possible and avoid situations that might cause you to rush -- such as arriving late for work or meetings.
  5. Get comfortable. Try to avoid standing or sitting in an uncomfortable position. If you're seated most of the day, make sure you have a good chair and the right seating posture. Take breaks away from your station whenever you can.
  6. Don't clutter your workspace or personal storage areas. If they're untidy now, make time to clear them.
  7. Limit or avoid distractions, such as noise and interruptions. Wearing headphones and playing "white noise" or hanging a "Do Not Disturb" sign might provide a solution, but you may have to tackle distractions head-on by addressing the root cause.
  8. Don't try to multitask. It used to be that trying to do several different things at once was seen as a sign of ability. But no longer. Productivity experts say that multitasking doesn't work and doesn't help you achieve more in less time.
  9. Learn to unwind. Switching off from a stressful job is not easy, but having an absorbing home-based hobby, reading, devoting time to your family or working out at the gym can help you to do this. Yoga, meditation, breathing techniques and mindfulness practices are other effective ways of helping you to switch off.
  10. Also, try to establish work/life boundaries, such as not checking work email or answering the phone during home time. Make not taking your work home with you your default behavior. Don't miss out on your vacation days entitlement either.
  11. Sleep. Everyone knows that sleep is a great healer but most of us don’t get enough quality sleep. There's lots of advice online to help improve sleeping (see these tips from WebMD: ) but the key helpers are:
  • allowing yourself enough (i.e., 8 hours) bedtime,
  • retiring and getting up at the same time each day,
  • avoiding caffeine during the evening,
  • avoiding TV, computer and mobile screens for at least an hour before retiring, and
  • sleeping in a cool environment.

Finally, don't ignore the link between home and work as both a cause and solution to stress problems.

Taking home worries to work with you can be a source of strain that can only be removed by tackling the root cause.

Likewise, sharing your work pressure worries with an understanding person at home can sometimes be the best stress reducer.

According to the non-profit mental health site, "having a strong network of supportive friends and family members is extremely important to managing stress in all areas of your life. On the flip side, the lonelier and more isolated you are, the greater your vulnerability to stress."

If at the end of the day, you feel unable to prevent work stress through the tips and techniques we've mentioned, it may be time to consider a different job.

It may also be time to seek help from a counselor or mental health professional. Some aspects of this might be covered by your health insurance. If you're insured through Aldrich Taylor, you can check with us.

Whatever you do, don’t allow the problems to fester. Without acting, they likely will only get worse!

Note: This article is for information purposes only and is not intended to provide medical advice. If you need help, you should consult a health professional.

[1] Mountain State Centers for Independent Living