Stress can be good in motivating and pushing you far enough to give you successful results in the workplace, but when it becomes too excessive it can interfere with your productivity and impact your health, both physically and emotionally, and not everyone is equipped to deal with it.
You can’t control everything in your workplace environment, and trying to will only make things worse. Instead you can focus on what is actually within your control: you. It’s common to feel powerless, but remember that you don’t have to scale mountains to drastically change the amount of stress you face – start small and get the ball rolling, and soon everyone around you will feel the positive effects of your emotional change.
1. Recognise the warning signs of excessive stress at work
Feeling overwhelmed at work can shake your confidence causing you to become irritable and withdrawn, and effectively, less productive in your role. Ignoring the warning signs is a big mistake, as they can lead to bigger problems that are harder to remedy.
- Recognise the signs and symptoms of excessive stress: Feeling anxious, apathy, sleep problems, muscle tension, stomach problems, social withdrawal, using alcohol or drugs to cope.
- Common causes of excessive stress: Fear of being laid off, more overtime due to staff cuts, pressure to perform at optimum levels all the time with no job satisfaction.
2. Reduce job stress by taking care of yourself
When stress affects your job, the effects leak into your personal life as well. Once you see your health adversely affected, it’s time to take action. Both physical and emotional health are important, and taking care of these needs will make you more resilient to stress. As always, start small; making simple changes can lift your mood, increase your energy and get you back in control.
- Get moving: Aerobic exercise raises your heart rate, makes you sweat and releases those long sought for endorphins that are great at putting stress back in its box. 30 minutes a day is all it takes, and you can fit it in around your schedule too.
- Make the right food choices: When you’re feeling down, don’t reach for the sugary and salty treats as these only make matters worse. Frequent, small balanced meals help your body maintain an even level of blood sugar, which means your mood will greatly improve.
- Be careful with alcohol and avoid nicotine: Drinking alcohol to cope with stress is a slippery slope and can lead to dependency. It may take the edge off for a while but in the long term it can add to feelings of anxiety as it wears off. Smoking is also a bad idea as the nicotine is a powerful stimulant and will aggravate your anxiety even more.
- Get enough sleep: Stress and worry can cause insomnia; insomnia can cause stress and worry. It’s a vicious cycle that leaves you vulnerable to many health problems, so try to create a sleep schedule to ensure you’re getting enough shut-eye.
- Get support: Close relationships with friends and family are vital to helping you cope through stress. Sharing your problems can be enlightening, and it can be remedial to let it all out to someone you care about who is willing to listen. Accepting support is not a sign of weakness, it is a first step to taking back control over stress and most friends will be happy to help you.
3. Reduce job stress by prioritising and organising
Being able to recognise your own particular stressors will garner respect from your colleagues and can lead to better relationships at work. Manage your time and your tasks efficiently to minimise stress.
Time management tips:
- Create a balanced schedule: All work and no play is a recipe for burnout. Strike the right balance and find time for everything in your life, including downtime when you can relax.
- Don’t over-commit yourself: Don’t try to fit too much into one day. Distinguish between what you would like to get done and what really needs done. Get rid of the tasks that drain your time without much positive outcome.
- Leave earlier in the morning: Leaving even 10-15 minutes earlier can give you just enough time to ease into your day without frantically rushing to your desk.
- Have regular breaks: Short breaks to clear your head or take a walk can be great for giving your creativity and productivity a quick boost if you are feeling sluggish at your desk. Take a minute to relax and recharge and you’ll see the benefits in your work.
Task management tips:
- Prioritise tasks: Make a list of tasks ranked by importance and get unpleasant tasks out of the way first to make the rest of your day better.
- Break down projects: Lots of smaller steps are easier than one bigger one, and will seem less overwhelming.
- Delegate responsibility: Desire to control everything can cause people to do everything themselves, and usually they take on too much. Let someone else do it and give yourself a break from the stress of doing too much at once.
- Compromise: Work with your colleagues if you or someone else is struggling to meet a deadline or complete a task. Being flexible will reduce levels of stress for everyone involved.
4. Reduce job stress by improving emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to use emotions in positive and constructive ways and communicating effectively with others to defuse tension and stress. Emotional intelligence in the workplace has four major components: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Master these with five key skills to help manage stress:
- Realise when you’re stresses: become familiar with the cues and reactions you feel and find something to sooth them.
- Stay connected to internal emotions: this will help you to understand your motivations and needs and to communicate effectively.
- Recognise non-verbal cues and body language: monitor your own body language and how it affects others; does it produce a sense of trust and interest or confusion and distrust? Being able to read others is important to get on with your colleagues.
- Meet challenges with humour: Laughter is the best medicine as long as it isn’t at the expense of others. Laugh it off and others will share your good vibes.
- Resolve conflict positively: Constructive solutions can relieve tension and stress while building trust. Don’t let old emotions or resentments rise to the surface at inopportune times, and if an argument can’t be resolved then walk away without causing negative action.
5. Reduce job stress by breaking bad habits
Sometimes you might not be helping yourself with your behaviour, and once you turn these around you’ll find workplace stress a lot easier to deal with.
- Resist perfectionism: No situation will ever work out perfectly and being able to cut down unrealistic goals and replace them with the best you can do means you won’t fall short of expectations.
- Clean up your act: If you’re always late, make a point of getting up or leaving earlier. If your desk is a mess, file everything away and get rid of the clutter. A clean, organised workspace and structured schedule will reduce stress.
- Stop negative thinking: Try not to see the downside of every situation. Avoid negative thinking coworkers and try to see the good in all of your actions.
- You can’t control everything: Things can be beyond your control, especially other people, so focus on what you can actually change instead.
6. Learn how managers or employers can reduce job stress
It’s in a company’s best interests to reduce the stress on its staff, so managers should act as positive role models by remaining calm in stressful situations. Managers and employers can make organisational changes to reduce workplace stress:
- Improve communication: Share information with employees, define their roles and responsibilities and make communication friendly and efficient, not mean-spirited or petty.
- Consult your employees: Let them participate in important decisions, ensure their workload is reasonable, show they are valued and give rewards, give praise and provide opportunity for career development.
- Cultivate a friendly social environment: Provide opportunity for social interaction between employees, have a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and make management actions in line with organisational values.