Simple tips to help relieve stress at work
Learn information about what can cause stress in the workplace and some tips to help fend it off.
We live in a fast-paced world and stress can come from just about anywhere, including the workplace. The effects of long-term stress — physical health problems, trouble concentrating, anxiety, depression, anger and even suicide — can be devastating.
While marriage, divorce and moving are often ranked as the three most stressful events in contemporary life, stress at the workplace is not far behind. According to a 2020 study from the American Psychological Association, 64% of employed people reported that work is a significant source of stress in their lives.
While people can certainly thrive in high-stress situations, ignoring long-term stress at work can be damaging to your health and career.
Causes of stress at work
Stress in the workplace is real, and it can have many causes. Here are some of the most common ones:
- Long hours: Too much time with your nose to the grindstone can take its toll, leaving you fatigued and making it difficult to concentrate.
- Heavy workloads: Budgets and cutbacks can lead to workloads that feel insurmountable and contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.
- Tight deadlines: Doing more with less and in less time, can feel overwhelming and add to feelings of irritability or anger.
- Increasing demands: Pressure to constantly work at peak performance can cause loss of confidence, and physical manifestations like headaches and stomach issues.
- Lack of control: Feeling micro-managed, or having no input or control over the work you do or the way you do it can cause stress symptoms like apathy and loss of interest in work.
- Inadequate compensation: Lack of opportunity for advancement or low compensation can add to stress about money and feeling unengaged.
Stress management at work
There are plenty of changes at work that you can make to help control stress. Changing your habits and daily routine also has the benefit of helping reduce the risk of repetitive strain injuries. While general pressure, deadlines, increased responsibilities and fear of termination can all contribute to a generally stressful atmosphere, that doesn't mean you have to remain passive at the workplace. Here are some modifications you can make that might help:
- Know yourself: We're often not even aware of the stress we're under, or if we are, we're not sure of the source. Try to stay in tune with your body and your emotions while you're at work. Does your heart rate spike in certain situations? Note it. Do you find yourself particularly aggressive or angry around certain people? Note it. Is there a certain responsibility that makes you break into a cold sweat? Note it. Once you become aware of specific triggers for stress, it's possible you'll be able to do something about them.
- Work on your communication skills: Talking through your problems with a manager or a coworker in a calm, reasoned manner can go a long way toward repairing interpersonal relationships and ultimately reducing stress in the workplace. If you find yourself in a particularly heated or emotional exchange, consider taking a break and resuming the conversation later. Be a good neighbor at work and don't be excessively negative toward coworkers, even if you disagree with them. And if you have a complaint or a problem to raise, work out beforehand what you want to say. Communicating your thoughts and feelings successfully can be a major relief of stress.
- Practice deep breathing exercises: You might not know it, but when you're anxious or stressed, chances are your breathing is shallow and irregular. This creates a bad feedback loop, as irregular breathing can cause even more stress.
- Take a few minutes each day to focus on deep breathing. Not only will it calm you down, but it can clear your mind and help you work.
- Counseling, yoga and meditation all offer specific methods of deep breathing, but the general idea is usually the same. While sitting up straight, take in long, deep breaths through your nose, then slowly exhale through your mouth. Do this for several minutes — you might try closing your eyes, too. You'll be amazed how effective it can be.
Stress management away from work
It's possible that your daily routines and habits, unquestioned and developed over the years, are contributing to an intolerable amount of stress. Sometimes it's the simplest aspects of our lives that need to be revamped.
- Get more sleep: Sleep deprivation and stress go hand-in-hand and, in fact, form a vicious cycle, one problem encouraging and contributing to the other. We need sleep to rest and process stress. And yet the trends are moving in the wrong direction. According to the Sleep Foundation, 35.2% of American adults average less than seven hours of sleep each night. In general, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
- Exercise more: People have a built-in ability to fight stress: physical exercise. Scientists and health-care professionals are virtually unanimous in touting the benefits of a regular exercise routine. Jogging, biking, swimming, walking or just about anything else that gets your heart rate up will increase your brain's production of endorphins and improve your mood.
- Leave for work early: You might just think of yourself as always on the go, but rushing to get to work is a bad start to any day. Try this experiment: For a week, leave home 15 minutes before your usual departure time and see what kind of impact it has.
- Eat healthy: Food we often crave when stressed — comfort foods like sugary items, pasta or French fries — can lead to crashes in mood and energy. Maintaining an even blood sugar level can help maintain energy and focus. This can be accomplished by small, frequent healthy meals. Nothing healthy nearby? Prepare a healthy lunch at home and bring it to work with you.