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How to reduce stress at work

What is work-related stress?

The modern workplace can be both challenging and rewarding, but if your job puts you in constant tension, your stress levels will be high, and you’ll need to develop strategies to keep your mind and body healthy and relaxed.

Work-related stress is caused when people feel overwhelmed or unhappy at their jobs.

When you’re stressed out at work, you may be unable to focus on your tasks and may also have physical symptoms, such as headaches, indigestion, or back pain.

In this article, we’re going to discuss some of the most common causes of stress at work, and then outline some of the best strategies for relieving stress at work.

Get a better understanding of stress levels so you can manage them better

Toxic stress levels can be different for different people. It is possible that you have a high tolerance to stress or you can handle stress better than others.

However, this might actually make stress more dangerous to you because you may fail to recognise that your stress levels have risen to toxic amounts.

Therefore, it is important to know your level of stress and how it impacts on you.

To manage stress better, it is important to understand your stress level. Therefore, try to answer the following questions to learn more about your stress levels.

How do you usually feel when you are stressed?

Do you experience physical changes when you are stressed?

What are your coping strategies when you are stressed?

Are there ways that you cope with the stress that does not work well for you?

What helps you to deal with your stress more effectively?

The answers to these questions can give you insight into how stress can impact on you and how you can change your behaviour to deal with stress in a healthier way.

What are the effects of uncontrolled stress at work?

Uncontrolled stress at work can cause a host of problems ranging from insomnia to increased accidents and illnesses. It can also make it difficult for people to maintain healthy relationships with co-workers, bosses, and family members.

If you don’t deal with it, you can end up making poor decisions.

Uncontrolled stress at work can make you forget what you were doing before and you can lose your motivation and focus. This can negatively affect your work performance, and make you feel exhausted and frustrated.

Whilst stress by itself is not bad, chronic stress can create some major changes in your body. 

When you feel stressed, your body produces a hormone called cortisol. This is the "stress hormone" and it helps us to stay calm and cope with pressure. Cortisol levels naturally rise during stressful periods, but when they rise too high and become chronic, cortisol can disrupt the body’s natural processes. This results in a variety of health conditions such as increased blood pressure, high cholesterol, digestive issues, and headaches.

When is workplace stress too much?

Excessive stress can seriously affect your productivity and lead to physical and emotional problems. Here are some signs of when to take action.

• Feeling emotionally drained, upset, angry, or frustrated

• Finding it difficult to control your temper

• Frequent headaches, stomachaches, and dizziness

• Excessive fatigue or inability to concentrate

• Being unable to complete tasks and projects

• Being irritable, aggressive, or depressed

• Having difficulty making decisions

• Having frequent colds, coughs, or sore throats

How work pressures affect your mental health

Over a period of time, work can become a major source of stress. The demands on your time and energy can feel overwhelming, leaving you feeling depressed or even hopeless. Your mind can start to feel like a constant state of turmoil, and that can make you feel more stressed and overwhelmed.

It’s common to feel down, depressed, and irritable when you’re working long hours, struggling to meet deadlines, or juggling multiple responsibilities. It can be a real challenge to function well when your workload is too high.

The problem is that high work pressures can lead to chronic stress and burnout, which can cause feelings of sadness, despair, and low mood. People with these feelings may experience significant impairments in their functioning, including a reduced ability to concentrate, a diminished ability to make decisions, and feelings of fatigue, hopelessness, and helplessness.

As a result, your brain can begin to feel overloaded with stress hormones like cortisol, which can lead to physical problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, and poor sleep patterns. When work-related pressures go on for months or years, they can damage your brain and your mind, leaving you with a weakened ability to cope.

Common sources of work stress

Understanding the root causes of stressful situations is critical to effectively managing work stress.

Work stress is usually caused by a combination of both external and internal factors.

The following are some possible causes of work stress:

Is generalized anxiety disorder the root of your stress

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by chronic worry, often focused on a particular topic, and accompanied by physical symptoms, such as sweating, palpitations, muscle tension, shortness of breath, and headache. People with GAD experience periods of extreme distress and worry that are out of proportion to the situations they face, and they are constantly vigilant for any potential threat. They can’t seem to relax and enjoy life.

People with GAD also tend to become irritable and angry when they are under stress. 

When we are stressed, the amygdala in the brain fires a cascade of chemicals, which in turn, activate parts of the brain that are involved in the body’s “fight or flight” response. This causes the muscles to tense, and increases heart rate and breathing. These responses prepare the body for immediate danger.

However, for people with GAD, their amygdala is more activated than normal. This increases the production of these same chemicals, which trigger the fight or flight response even in the absence of a perceived threat. And it causes them to feel even more irritable and anxious when they are experiencing stress.

GAD is associated with low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin, which is released from cells in the brain that regulate emotions, is also produced by the body when people are stressed. So low serotonin levels cause stress to lead to even more stress.

People with GAD also show increased activity in the insular cortex, a part of the brain that is involved in monitoring bodily signals. This means that they are more aware of the signals of their bodies. So, when they are feeling stressed, they are more likely to feel out of control and lose their sense of balance.

A major cause of stress is worrying about whether one is doing things right. Because people with GAD tend to focus on only one aspect of a situation, they can get caught up in their worry. This can make it harder for them to manage situations that are stressful to begin with.

GAD also produces rumination. When people with GAD are under stress, they focus on what they are worried about. And this process of worrying and ruminating is thought to increase their anxiety.

People with GAD can become overwhelmed with stress and worry, which leads to problems with stress management. If you are worried all the time, you may find it hard to relax and unwind. So, it’s important to learn how to reduce your stress so that you can function better.

You may need to practice some stress management techniques. For example, you could use a relaxation technique, like deep breathing, or meditation, to help you relax. You could also exercise. Exercise has the added benefit of reducing stress.

So, if you are dealing with stress from work, try to take care of yourself. Go to a sports gym, if you like this kind of thing. Or, you could just go outside and walk.

When lack of job security becomes a source of stress

We all need to feel secure at work to function well. If we feel insecure at work, we can become anxious and depressed. Insecurity can also lead to problems with stress.

Workplace stress can occur in a variety of ways. The most common one is when we are not given enough responsibility to keep ourselves busy. We then find that our time and energy get taken up trying to take care of all the things that come our way in our daily lives.

For some people, this is exacerbated by a feeling that they do not have control over their job. Some people have a lot of responsibility without much authority to do anything. This makes them feel like they are “at the mercy of the boss”.

Other people have little or no authority to make decisions and cannot have any impact on what happens in their office. This leaves them feeling like they don't really count, and unable to make decisions that would affect their jobs.

Some people have a lot of responsibility and a lot of authority, but not a lot of autonomy over how they spend their time. They are told what to do by others, and have very little power to influence the direction of their department.

Many people find that their job responsibilities increase as they get older, and they may have less time than they had in their 20s to spend time doing things that they enjoy.

Some people may be in a job that pays the bills but that isn't exciting, interesting, or challenging.

All of these situations are stressful. However, having the ability to make decisions and to take control of your life and your work is one of the best ways to deal with stress.

The good news is that you don't have to wait until you are in control of your work situation to make changes that can help you manage stress. You can start right now.

Could your lack of good conflict management skills be the root of your work stress?

Workplaces differ in how they manage conflict. Some are more confrontational and adversarial while others are less so. Some are more open and transparent while others are more closed.

In general, workplaces that are more adversarial tend to promote more stress and anxiety in employees. Because they focus on issues and problems, they create a culture where people don't express their emotions openly or honestly. They create a climate of judgment, hostility, and distrust. These workplaces can make people feel isolated and uncomfortable. By contrast, workplaces that are more open and transparent tend to foster a healthy, trusting atmosphere where people can talk about issues and concerns. Because there is a greater degree of honesty and openness, it's easier for people to work together and communicate. This is true whether they are talking about problems at work or working together on a project.

A conflict-free workplace, on the other hand, has a culture where people work collaboratively and respectfully. They show empathy for each other and work to understand and value each other's perspective. They don't blame, criticize, or judge each other.

And because the workplace is a safe, trustworthy place, people are free to share their feelings and concerns without fear of punishment or criticism. This creates an environment where people feel free to speak up when they have an idea for how to improve something. They don't fear being punished or criticized by their colleagues. They can ask questions or share their ideas without fear of losing their jobs.

If your workplace isn’t conflict-free, and if you don’t work with people who do, it can be hard to build that kind of culture. It's also difficult to change the culture of a workplace that has a history of conflict. But there are things you can do to help.

The first thing is to remember that you are not responsible for changing the culture of your workplace. You can't control what happens in other people's heads. And you don't have to put up with bad behaviour. Your responsibility is to do your own best to work in a conflict-free environment.

The second thing is to put some time into learning conflict management skills. This doesn't mean you have to become an expert in conflict management or even learn anything new. It just means you need to learn enough so that you are able to deal with conflicts fairly, thoughtfully, and effectively. 

Could perfectionism be the root of your work stress

The experience of stress produced by perfectionism and its relationship to burnout are very important to understand.

Burnout is the result of chronic stress on the brain caused by over-achieving at work, where one becomes overextended, stressed out, and tired.

As a perfectionist, you may not even notice that you are putting yourself in a stressful situation until you start experiencing symptoms of burnout.

One of the first things you will notice is that you are feeling tense, distracted, and overwhelmed. You may feel like you can't concentrate on anything and you are just running around in circles. You may feel like your mind has been taken over by an overwhelming number of thoughts and feelings.

You may even notice that you are having physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, chest pain, or indigestion. You might also notice that your social life is suffering, that your relationships with family and friends are suffering, that you're avoiding responsibilities at home, and that you're becoming irritable.

Working against perfectionism involves changing the beliefs about the positive benefits of perfectionism and working to create new coping strategies. Once you begin to change your thinking, you will see the impact of this change in your life.

In some cases, perfectionism is the result of childhood experiences. For example, if you were brought up in a household with over-controlling, critical parents, you may be inclined to follow their rules and become overly concerned with being perfect. If you were punished harshly for your mistakes, you may learn to be afraid of making mistakes.

It's hard to change deeply ingrained habits. But you can change small habits and patterns. This can help to release stress, decrease anxiety, and improve your overall quality of life.

 Could the lack of control you feel be the root of your work stress

When we have problems at work, it is often because of some kind of situation or problem we don’t have control over. It may be the result of someone else’s decisions, a deadline, or some kind of policy that we’ve agreed to.

This is called an uncontrollable stressor. And uncontrollable stressors can lead to anger, frustration, and fear. These emotions in turn create a lot of problems at work—a loss of productivity, lower morale, increased turnover and absenteeism, and more conflict among co-workers. So if you're struggling to handle problems at work, it's important to look at what causes those problems, and whether you have any control over them.

When you are feeling a sense of lack of control, you feel helpless and overwhelmed. If there is a situation where you can’t do anything about it, you may feel like you have no choice but to accept whatever happens. You may feel that there is nothing you can do to change the situation.

In this state of mind, it becomes hard to think clearly and to plan ahead. You may feel like you are losing control of the situation or you may just feel that things are going to get worse. You may also find it difficult to concentrate or focus on anything. And if you get upset, you may lash out or be aggressive. These emotional responses can increase your stress levels.

If you regularly feel that you have little control over your life, ask yourself why you are feeling this way. Is it because you have to work hard and be responsible all day? Do you have a lot of stress and pressure at home? Are you worried about your finances? Or maybe your boss is making you feel like you can’t do anything?

It is true that there are some things we can't have control over. But in most cases, we can make choices about how to react to situations, even when we don’t feel like we have much control over them. It is possible to choose to feel empowered instead of powerless. You can learn how to take control of your life and your emotions. You can learn to control your stress. This will allow you to feel more confident at work and improve your performance.

Could unrealistic deadlines be the root of your work stress?

Unrealistic deadlines are stressful for two reasons. First, because you have no time to prepare for them. And second, because you know that when the deadline comes, you'll feel like a failure if you haven't done a good enough job. So even though you’ve been working on it for days, weeks, months, or even years, you still feel as if you're not going to make it.

This doesn’t mean that you should never give a deadline, but it means that you have to make sure that it’s realistic. If you set a deadline that you don't think is reasonable, you’ll only end up feeling stressed, unhappy, and unfulfilled. working under a deadline can often be associated with feeling like you must be working harder than the person sitting next to you. And the more you have to do, the more you feel like you have to get done.

This can lead to intense pressure. And if you find that you are having to work harder than normal to meet the deadline, you might be in danger of burning out. That’s because burnout happens when we feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and overstressed, and we have to continue working at a pace that is too fast.

Because of this, unrealistic deadlines can result in feelings of stress and exhaustion that may lead to problems with stress at work.

It can also be difficult to be creative or solve problems under pressure. Because you feel that you must get everything done by the deadline, you won’t have time to focus on what you want to do.

If the unrealistic deadline is something you are placing on yourself, you will need to ask yourself why you want the deadline to be unrealistic. Do you want to make your boss happy? Do you want to impress your co-worker? Is there something important that you want to accomplish?

If the deadline is something that you place on yourself because it's required by someone else, then it is more appropriate to ask them to revise their expectations. This way, you can still be productive, but you’re doing it in a way that doesn’t put so much stress on you.

If you have deadlines at work that aren’t realistic, and you are feeling stressed, try to take a break. It will help you refocus on what you actually want to do and get done. Take a walk, listen to some music, watch a movie, or just sit and relax. It will help you get back into a more positive mindset.

Could your office space be the root of your work stress?

How can poor office space promote problems with stress at work?
Most people underestimate the impact of their surroundings on their performance and happiness at work. In fact, your physical surroundings can have a profound effect on your mental health.

Our environment includes more than our actual physical surroundings. It also includes our relationships with people at work, the organization we work for, the physical conditions of our work place, and the way we spend our time there.

When you are stressed at work, you experience physical tension and discomfort that can affect your productivity and your ability to enjoy your work.

Your physical work environment contributes to the stress you feel. If you feel under-appreciated at work, or if your boss is pressuring you to do too much, you may experience more stress.

You can change your situation, and you can change the way you feel about the situation. This is true whether you feel your work is stressful or not.

Some ways to improve the way you feel about your work include:

- Making the best use of your workspace

- Having access to fresh air

- Being in a positive environment

- Knowing your boss well and communicating with him or her regularly

- Finding work that allows you to use your strengths

- Dealing with difficult colleagues by talking things over with your manager

- Developing skills and techniques for handling difficult situations

- Taking regular breaks

- Keeping good health habits, such as eating a balanced diet

- Relaxing regularly

- Spending time with friends and family

Dealing with challenging tasks

When faced with excessive pressure and deadlines, most people have two choices:

They either quit, or they push harder.

The former is better for the individual, as quitting shows that the individual is capable of dealing with such situations.

The latter is better for the organization, because if the individual were to leave, there would be no one to replace him/her.

Stress arises from a combination of three factors:

1) The amount of responsibility you have to complete a task. This includes whether you can easily do the task (e.g., if it requires specialized skills or knowledge), whether you have the time to complete the task, whether you know what to do and how to do it, and whether there is any personal cost to completing the task.

2) Your ability to complete the task. This includes whether you know how to do the task, whether you have the skills needed to do the task, and whether you are willing to use those skills.

3) The amount of support you have from others. This includes whether others expect you to do the task, whether there is an established procedure for doing the task, and whether you have the support of your manager to get assistance if you need it.

The key to dealing with stress at work is not to avoid stress, but rather to accept it as part of doing business.

What to do when you can't avoid excessive workload

If you have a very demanding job that requires you to perform at high levels all the time. In this case, you've got to become a master of finding opportunities within your life where you can take off some of the stress. 

Here are some things you can do to achieve this:

1) Reduce the number of people you help outside work so that you can have more energy to deal with tasks at work.

2) Try to spend more time on hobbies that do not involve working. This will help you unwind and improve your mood.

3) Schedule a couple of free days a month. This gives you more time to yourself and get out of the routine of work.

4) Learn to say “no” with good evidence for why you are saying to back yourself up. This will make it easier for you to control how much work you are doing. If you feel that you have to do it all, this is an indicator that you need to simplify your schedule.

5) Set up an area at home or at work where you can relax and focus. This will help you to stop thinking about work and to unwind.

6) Keep a list of positive affirmations that you say to yourself throughout the day. This will help you to stay focused and to feel like you are accomplishing something.

7) Plan a lunch or dinner date with someone every week. This will help you to avoid staying at work late and will allow you to recharge your batteries.

12 super ways to build resilience to workplace stress

  1. Prevent a toxic office atmosphere from getting you down: You want a work environment where you can be creative, productive and enjoy your job. Allowing the stress and bad vibes from others to influence your moods will prevent you from being creative and performing at your optimum. So, do whatever you can to minimize your exposure to bad vibes. Focus on doing your best at work. Spend more time with people who give you positive energy. This will increase your resilience and help you focus on the positive aspects of your job.

  2. Rely on a strong support network: Problem-solving alone through life can be difficult. Having a strong support network essential for feeling empowered to pursue and achieve your dreams. You can only achieve so much without support. This is even more necessary if you work in a toxic environment because your work and life needs to be harmonious.
  3. Form positive work relationships: Before you can feel strong and capable to perform at your best at work, It is important to take charge of engineering that helps you feel valued and important. By being conscious about your relationships and interactions with your colleagues, clients, and managers, you can improve the overall morale of your work environment. The best way to do this is to show respect to others. Avoid gossiping and undermining the work of others. Show gratitude and appreciation for the hard work of others. These steps will improve your relationships and help you feel confident in the workplace.
  4. Know when to take control and when to let go: Your life is a series of choices and your choices shape the outcome. If you are constantly taking on new responsibilities, chances are, you will be overwhelmed with too many tasks. If you let your boss decide on the number of tasks you have to complete, you will likely end up being resentful and stressed. You can’t do everything. So learn when to take control, and when to leave decisions to your manager. This will help you create a healthy work-life balance.
  5. Be Clear on Requirements: Clarity about what is expected of you at work will prevent unnecessary stress and confusion. A common fear is that you might be considered not good enough if you ask for a better explanation. This can result in you performing poorly. The truth is that most managers would rather you ask for clarity than do a bad job. If you are clear, you are less likely to create unnecessary stress.
  6. Hone your time management skills: Sometimes time management issues result from over checking work or doing things that make it hard to make deadlines. At other times it is because you are too scared to say no. Beware of these tendencies and work against them. Prioritize and manage your time so you don't over commit yourself.
  7. Don't take things personally: Many times we have heard that the key to happiness is being able to let go of things. You have to let go of your personal feelings towards the people and things that happen. This will give you the freedom to concentrate on your priorities. It is important to learn how to get rid of the unproductive and the harmful thoughts from your mind.
  8. Keep track of your progress: Track your progress through small accomplishments. For example, if you are learning to cook, keep track of the small things you learn each day. You don’t have to master all the recipes. Just track your progress and congratulate yourself when you complete small tasks.
  9. Focus on the big picture: Too often we get distracted from our purpose by little things. As soon as you become aware of something, you have to react. This results in us becoming overwhelmed and anxious about small, irrelevant problems. The best way to combat this is to focus on the bigger picture. Instead of obsessing over the little things, concentrate on what is important.
  10. Use Stress to Your Advantage: When things get tough, it is a great time to take stock of how you are spending your time and how it relates to your long term goals. Look at where you need to improve and try to use the stress as an opportunity to grow.
  11. Plan for success: Even if you don't have the skills to be successful at work, it is important to prepare yourself mentally for failure. You may be working on a project that doesn't seem to be going anywhere. This is the perfect time to reflect on your goals and figure out what areas of your life could be improved. By preparing yourself for success, you are less likely to get upset when things don't go the way you planned.
  12. Practice being assertive: Sometimes, you might find yourself in situations where you feel you need to assert your opinions. At work, it is crucial to be assertive. Your boss is not always right. So, it is important to speak up when you feel it is necessary. Asking for clarification when necessary and voicing your opinions when it is appropriate will help you feel more comfortable at work.

It is time you master work stress and keep your sanity

It is time you stop dreading going to work every day... 

It is time to stop getting overwhelmed and exhausted by the end of the day... 

It's time to take back control and create an environment in your workplace that will allow you to feel happy, relaxed and productive.

You can learn how to manage your stress in a new and unique way.  

You just have to make small changes in the way you work that will lead to big changes in your attitude towards work. This will make all the difference. You'll be more relaxed, feel calmer and enjoy the experience of working at the office.


Articles in this series

Effective ways to relieve stress
Do this to stop drowning in stress: 5 Simple Mental Flips to Overcome Overwhelm
How to reduce stress at work (This article)
79 misconceptions about stress
Is heavy work stress strangling you

Written by Adewale Ademuyiwa


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