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Managing work stress

We’ve all been there. An important project is due, or a crucial meeting is being held. You’ve got to be on top form for the work day ahead, but instead you’ve suffered snatched moments of sleep and woken with a racing pulse and a dull ache in your stomach. You’re feeling stressed.

Getting a bit stressed or worried about an important event at work is normal, and just goes to prove you’re in an adequately challenging role. However, if those episodes of stress responses become more frequent or start interfering with your general well-being, it could be that you are suffering from work related stress.

Workplace stress is not uncommon. In fact, a recent study by NIOSH (the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) found that almost a half of workers (40 per cent) felt their job was very or extremely stressful, and around a third admitted to feeling quite stressed at work. 

What causes workplace stress?

Identifying the root causes of work related stress can be a good way to start figuring out how to minimise the negative effects. The American Psychological Association has identified a few key factors which tend to go hand in hand with workplace stress. These are:

  • Excessive workloads
  • Low salary
  • Lack of opportunity for advancement
  • Lack of social support
  • Work which is not engaging or challenging enough
  • Lack of control over decisions affecting the job
  • Unclear expectations
  • Conflicting demands

If you think you’re suffering from workplace stress, ask yourself which of these it is that is contributing to your problem. If you can identify the contributing issues, you’re half way to reducing or managing your stress better.

Managing workplace stress

Not all stress is bad for your health, and indeed a little shot of adrenaline from time to time can be somewhat motivating. However, uncontrolled levels of stress lead to a whole host of negative consequences, both physiologically and psychologically. Common problems can include headaches, stomach pain, lack of concentration and a short temper. Over a longer period, these can develop into high blood pressure, a weakened immune system and can even cause much more grievous ailments such as heart problems, clinical depression or anxiety and insomnia.

It is key, therefore, to nip work related stress in the bud as early as possible, before it becomes something much more serious. Here are some ideas for effectively managing workplace stress.

Learn to relax: Read up on mindfulness, and take time to practice meditation and deep breathing techniques. Set aside a few minutes each day to reconnect with yourself, and let the stress melt away.

Work on your responses: Typical responses to workplace stress include alcohol or drug abuse, overeating and smoking. Start to understand why you are choosing these things, and work on other, more healthy responses to stress. Instead of reaching for the wine at the end of a hard day, go for a swim or meet a friend for coffee.

Get enough sleep: Sleep is key. When you are lacking in sleep, you’re more likely to make mistakes which will only add to your stress levels. Sleeping well can be hard when you’re feeling stressed, so try to add in some cardiovascular exercise to your schedule, as this will help you achieve peaceful sleep. You’ll also get a welcome shot of those happy little endorphins.

Set your boundaries: It’s all too easy to be ‘on call’ 24/7, but for most of us there’s really no reason for this. Set yourself times when you will be available, and outside of those times, make sure you effectively disconnect. Switch off the work phone, avoid reading emails and create a clear distinction between work time and ‘you’ time.

Build social connections: Having people at work that you get along with and can chat to will make the experience all the better. If you’re not able to make friends at work, maybe because you’re the boss or you work from home, then nurture and cultivate happy non-work relationships so that you have a good support network in place.

Workplace stress does not have to be a long-term thing. Indeed, many people who suffer workplace stress go on to figure things out and to ultimately start enjoying their job again. The most important thing is to notice when you’re suffering, and to take steps to address the situation.

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