Stress at work
Stress, including stress at work, can be a significant cause of illness and misery, and is known to be linked with high levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and other issues such as more errors. We probably all need to feel a little pressure in order to motivate us at work but there is a difference between pressure and stress. Pressure can help us achieve our goals and perform better and stress can also result from having too few demands, as people will become bored, feel undervalued and lack recognition. But stress occurs when this pressure becomes excessive and is a natural reaction to too much pressure. In fact one commonly given definition of stress is that it is likely to be experienced when a person perceives that the demands of their work are greater than their ability to cope.
Symptoms of stress at work
When you feel overwhelmed at work, you lose confidence and may become irritable or withdrawn. This can make you less productive and less effective in your job, and make the work seem less rewarding. If you ignore the warning signs of work stress, they can lead to bigger problems. Beyond interfering with job performance and satisfaction, chronic or intense stress can also lead to physical and emotional health problems. These include:
- Feeling anxious, irritable, or depressed
- Apathy, loss of interest in work
- Problems sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Muscle tension or headaches
- Stomach problems
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of sex drive
- Using alcohol or drugs to cope
What causes stress at work?
Recent research into stress at work has shown that there are key factors involved in determining whether we experience our jobs as stressful or not. We are less likely to feel stressed if we have a sense of control over our work, if we feel that even though the workload may be heavy, we have high levels of support from our colleagues or managers, if our role is clearly defined and if change (for example in team members or the nature of the work)is managed effectively. Relationships with colleagues can be one of the biggest sources of stress, especially where there are problems like bullying and harassment.
What one person finds stressful in life can be normal or even invigorating to another and if course this is true in the workplace too. How we appraise a situation will depend on various factors, including: our background and culture, our skills and experience, our personality, our personal circumstances (what else is going on in our lives at the time), our state of health, characteristics such as ethnicity, gender, age or disability.
10 top tips to beat stress at work
1. Slow down…
Most of us tend to frantically rush around from the moment the alarm sounds to the moment we finally reach our desk. It might mean setting your alarm for a few minutes earlier, but taking time to ease into your day, thinking about what it is you really want to achieve, perhaps including some slow breathing exercises. If you have time to exercise or meditate, make this part of your morning routine.
During your day, if it is practical, make sure you include regular short breaks to walk around and clear your mind. Also try to get away from your desk or your work station for lunch. This deliberate stepping away to briefly relax and recharge will help you to be more, not less, productive. (It’s no accident that some of our most forward looking companies, such as Google, Apple, Nike and Yahoo provide employees with free meditation rooms and mindfulness classes).If you can’t leave your desk, take a few moments here and there to simple check in to how you are feeling – a few deep slow breaths, perhaps a couple of neck rolls and surreptitious stretches…
2. Prioritise and organise
(We all know we need to do this – I wonder why the mere thought of it can strike fear in us!) A healthy balance between work and family life, social activities and solitary pursuits, daily responsibilities and downtime is essential if we are to avoid burnout. Don’t over-commit yourself, say “no” if you need to. Try to avoid scheduling things back-to-back or trying to fit too much into one day. Distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts” and move tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely. Break projects into small steps. If a large project seems overwhelming, make a step-by-step plan. Focus on one manageable step at a time, rather than taking on everything at once.
3. Get moving
Regular exercise is a powerful stress reliever, even though its often the last we feel like doing. Study after study has shown that any kind of exercise is a hugely effective way to lift your mood, increase your energy, sharpen your focus, and relax both your mind and your body. Try walking, dancing, swimming, or chasing the kids or the dog around the park!
4. Talk about it
Simply sharing your feelings with someone you trust can be very helpful, even if there’s nothing they or you can do to alter the stressful situation. A strong network of supportive friends and family members can be an enormous buffer against stress at work and in other aspects of your life. Talking to a counsellor can also help if you want total confidentiality and a chance to really explore what is going on in your life.
5. Eat as well as you can
Some of us stop lose our appetites when we feeling stressed, others binge on sugary fast foods. A stressful period at work is no time to embark go on a really weight loss strict diet – eating healthily, perhaps small but frequent meals, can help your body maintain an even level of blood sugar, keep your energy up, stay focused, and avoid mood swings.
6. Watch the alcohol intake!
We know that alcohol temporarily reduces anxiety and worry, but too much can cause anxiety as it wears off. Drinking to relieve job stress may also eventually lead to alcohol abuse and dependence.
7. Get enough sleep
Unfortunately it’s a bit of a vicious circle – not only can stress and worry can cause insomnia, but a lack of sleep can leave you vulnerable to even more stress. When you’re well-rested, it’s much easier to keep your emotional balance, a key factor in coping with job and workplace stress.
8. Delegate and stop trying to be perfect
Both in your work and home life, remember that you don’t have to do it all yourself. Let go of the desire to control or oversee every little step. Introduce compromise and resist perfectionism. No project, situation, or decision is ever perfect, so trying to attain perfection on everything will simply add unnecessary stress to your day. When you set unrealistic goals for yourself or try to do too much, you’re setting yourself up to fall short. Aim to do your best, no one can ask for more than that.
9. Challenge those negative thoughts
Stress has the unfortunate effect of making our thinking patterns quite rigid – everything is either very good or extremely bad, black or white. Negative thought about work and colleagues, especially during our down time, drain us of energy and motivation. If at all possible , look for humour in the situation -when used appropriately, it can be a great way to relieve stress.
10. Don’t try to control the uncontrollable
Many things at work are beyond our control—whether it’s the state of the economy or the behaviour of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.
For more information on Coping with stress go to my Stress Counselling Cork page.
Need some more advice and support?
If you are experiencing stress at work and would like to talk things over, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!