Stress In The Workplace

The workplace is one of the most common sources of stress in the United States and many of us struggle with being able to manage this stress without it negatively impacting our emotional, physical, and mental health.  Whether work-related stress is short-term or chronic, it can impact us in various ways if we don’t get a handle on it.   For example, unmanaged short-term stress can cause headaches, stomachaches, difficulty focusing, sleep problems, anger and irritability whereas unmanaged chronic stress can contribute to anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, insomnia, heart disease, obesity, and a weakened immune system.   When we begin to experience some of these negative effects of stress, we often turn to unhealthy coping skills that include alcohol or tobacco use, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and isolation, which just compounds the negative effects of work associated stress.  Take a look at some of the triggers to work-related stress and steps we can take to cope with them:

What are some common factors associated with the workplace that contribute to stress?

1.     Increasing and demanding work loads

2.     Lack of opportunities for growth or advancement

3.     Low salaries or lack of benefits

4.     Lack of social support

5.     Conflict with supervisors/managers or co-workers

6.     Lack of boundaries

7.     Unclear or unrealistic job-related expectations

8.     Lack of decision-making power or ability

9.     Lack of challenge or engagement in job-related tasks

In order to combat work-related stress so that our physical, mental, or emotional functioning is not impacted, we can develop and implement some healthy and effective coping skills. Here are some helpful tips to consider:

1.     Increase awareness of your specific stress-related triggers at work.  This includes identifying what situations/factors cause the most stress and acknowledging how you are responding to them.  It can help to identify thoughts, feelings, and behaviors associated with the specific stressors so that any patterns can be identified. 

2.     Replace unhealthy habits and coping mechanisms with healthy choices.  Instead of grabbing alcohol, junk food, or engaging in isolation, try engaging in physical activity, healthy eating habits, and activities with friends and family. 

3.     Develop healthy sleep hygiene habits.  This includes avoiding caffeine or physical activity 3-4 hours within sleep as well as any stimulating devices such as T.V. or cell phone activity in bed.  Maintaining a consistent sleep-wake cycle also helps promote good sleep quality. 

4.     Establish boundaries.  This not only includes setting boundaries between your work and personal life but also involves setting limits at work.  Identify your limits and learn to be okay with saying no to tasks that you know will increase your stress level.

5.     Identify factors that are both within and outside of your control.  It is easy to focus on aspects of our jobs that we have no control over however that just increases our stress. Instead, focus on the things at work that you are able to manage or control and let go of or learn to accept those factors that you simply cannot change.

6.     Disconnect in order to recharge.  This involves taking time for yourself away from work to re-energize.  This can involve taking a vacation (don’t let your accrued time off go to waste) or just turning off your cell phone or computer for some time so that you aren’t tempted to think about work. 

7.     Practice relaxation exercises.  When you feel triggered or your stress is elevated, try focusing on your breath or engage in a quick meditation exercise to help clear your mind and ground you.

8.     Engage in assertive communication with supervisors and co-workers.  Remind yourself that solely airing complaints is never productive but rather the intention of addressing concerns should be to identify potential solutions or plans that may improve stress-related situations.

9.     Seek out support.  This can include talking with friends and family members to help you vent and process your stress.  Professional help, whether it is through your employer’s EAP program or something you seek on your own, can be very beneficial in addressing concerns and developing new and effective coping skills.

Healthy employees tend to be associated with high levels of productivity and job satisfaction, which are some of the goals we seek to obtain in the workplace. However, stress at work is often unavoidable for the reasons previously mentioned therefore it is critical that we learn to develop healthy and effective strategies for managing it.  

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT