As talented as you can be, being productive and thriving in a hostile workplace or dealing with stressful situations can be difficult. Here are some ways you can deal with workplace challenges and stress.
Everyone who has ever held a job has, at some point, felt the pressure of work-related stress. Any job can have stressful elements, even if you love what you do. In the short term, you may experience pressure to meet a deadline or to fulfill a challenging obligation. But when work stress becomes chronic, it can be overwhelming — and harmful to both physical and emotional health. Learning how to deal with and manage stress is critical to maximising job performance and maintaining both physical and mental wellbeing.
Some common workplace stressors are:
- Excessive workload
- Compensation issues
- Fewer opportunities for growth or advancement.
- Work that isn't engaging or challenging.
- Lack of social support.
- Not having enough control over job-related decisions.
- Conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations.
Effects of stress
In the short term, a stressful work environment can contribute to problems such as headache, stomachache, sleep disturbances, short temper and difficulty concentrating. Chronic stress can result in anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system.
It can also contribute to health conditions such as depression, obesity and heart disease. Compounding the problem, people who experience excessive stress often deal with it in unhealthy ways such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs and alcohol
Early warning signs of job stress
While the causes can be something other than job stress, here are the most common symptoms and early warning signs of job stress and burnout:
Physical problems (headaches, stomach problems)
Taking steps to manage stress
- Track your stressors
- It is important to identify which situations create the most stress and how you respond to them. Taking notes can help you find patterns among your stressors and your reactions to them.
- Develop healthy responses
- Instead of attempting to fight stress with fast food or alcohol, do your best to make healthy choices when you feel the tension rise. Exercise is a great stress-buster. Yoga can be an excellent choice, but any form of physical activity is beneficial. Also, make time for hobbies and indulge in some of your favourite activities. Whether it's reading a novel, going to concerts or playing games with your family, make sure to set aside time for the things that bring you pleasure. Getting enough good-quality sleep is also important for effective stress management. Build healthy sleep habits by limiting your caffeine intake late in the day and minimising stimulating activities, such as computer and television use, at night.
- Establish boundaries
- In today's digital world, it's easy to feel pressure to be available 24 hours a day. Establish some work-life boundaries for yourself. Having clear boundaries between these realms can reduce the potential for work-life conflict and the stress that goes with it.
- Take time to recharge
- To avoid the negative effects of chronic stress and burnout, we need time to replenish and return to our pre-stress level of functioning. This recovery process requires “switching off” from work by having periods of time when you are neither engaging in work-related activities, nor thinking about work. That's why it's critical that you disconnect from time to time, in a way that fits your needs and preferences. Don't let your vacation days go to waste.
- Learn how to relax.
- Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises and mindfulness (a state in which you actively observe present experiences and thoughts without judging them) can help melt away stress. Start by taking a few minutes each day to focus on a simple activity like breathing, walking or enjoying a meal.
- Talk to your supervisor.
- Healthy employees are typically more productive, so your boss has an incentive to create a work environment that promotes employee well-being. Start by having an open conversation with your supervisor. The purpose of this isn't to lay out a list of complaints, but rather to come up with an effective plan for managing the stressors you've identified, so you can perform at your best on the job. While some parts of the plan may be designed to help you improve your skills in areas such as time management, other elements might include identifying employer-sponsored wellness resources you can tap into, clarifying what's expected of you, getting necessary resources or support from colleagues, enriching your job to include more challenging or meaningful tasks, or making changes to your physical workspace to make it more comfortable and reduce strain.
- Get some support.
- Accepting help from trusted friends and family members can improve your ability to manage stress. Your employer may also have stress management resources available through an employee assistance programme (EAP), including online information, available counseling and referral to mental health professionals, if needed. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by work stress, you may want to talk to a psychologist who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviour.
- Prioritise and organise
When job and workplace stress threatens to overwhelm you, there are simple, practical steps you can take to regain control.
Time management tips
Create a balanced schedule. All work and no play is a recipe for burnout. Try to find a balance between work and family life, social activities and solitary pursuits, daily responsibilities and downtime.
Leave earlier in the morning. Even 10-15 minutes can make the difference between frantically rushing and having time to ease into your day.
Plan regular breaks. Make sure to take short breaks throughout the day to take a walk or chat to a friendly face.
Establish healthy boundaries. Many of us keep checking our smartphones for work-related messages and updates. But it’s important to maintain periods where you’re not working or thinking about work.
Task management tips
Prioritise tasks. Tackle high-priority tasks first. If you have something particularly unpleasant to do, get it over with early.
Break projects into small steps. If a large project seems overwhelming, focus on one manageable step at a time, rather than taking on everything at once.
Delegate responsibility. You don’t have to do it all yourself. Let go of the desire to control every little step.
Don't over-commit yourself. Avoid scheduling things back-to-back or trying to fit too much into one day.
9. Break bad habits that contribute to workplace stress.
Many of us make job stress worse with negative thoughts and behaviour. If you can turn around these self-defeating habits, you’ll find employer-imposed stress easier to handle.
Resist perfectionism. When you set unrealistic goals for yourself, you’re setting yourself up to fall short.
Flip your negative thinking. If you focus on the downside of every situation and interaction, you'll find yourself drained of energy and motivation. Try to think positively about your work, and avoid negative-thinking co-workers.
Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.
Look for humour in the situation. When used appropriately, humour is a great way to relieve stress in the workplace.
Clean up your act. If you're always running late, set your clocks and watches fast and give yourself extra time.
Fight through the clutter. Taking the time to organise your desk or workspace can help ease the sense of losing control that comes from too much clutter. Keeping a to-do list — and then crossing things off it — also helps.
10. Be proactive about your job and your workplace duties
When we feel uncertain, helpless, or out of control, our stress levels are the highest. Here are some things you can do to regain a sense of control over your job and career.
Talk to your employer about workplace stressors. Rather than rattle off a list of complaints, let your employer know about specific conditions that are impacting your work performance.
Clarify your job description. Ask your supervisor for an updated description of your job duties and responsibilities.
Request a transfer. If your workplace is large enough, you might be able to escape a toxic environment by transferring to another department.
Ask for new duties. If you've been doing the exact same work for a long time, ask to try something new: a different grade level, a different sales territory, a different machine.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)
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- Industrial and organizational psychology
- Stress management
- Occupational stress
- Psychological stress