Take a walk through the average workplace and talk to the staff. If you asked them if they were stressed at work, you’d get a mixed bag of answers but just about everyone would talk about stress to some degree or another. Work stress exists for virtually everyone, even the ones who steadfastly state they have no stress.
Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life.Marilu Henner
Stress comes from a variety of sources, often outside of your direct control or influence.
- Excessively high workloads
- Unrealistic deadlines
- Insufficient workloads making people feel underused or undervalued
- A lack of control over work activities
- Getting tasked with assignments for which they have insufficient experience or training
- Concerns over job security and lack of opportunities
- Weak or ineffective management
- Lack of communication between management and coworkers
- A poor physical working environment such as noisy, cold, hot, poor lighting, uncomfortable seating, etc.
All those things can have a significant impact not only on mental health but on work performance. Consider that the average business professional has anywhere from 30 to 100 tasks on their plate at any given time. It’s no surprise we are so stressed at work!
In any given day, employees can be interrupted as much as seven times per hour and can lose as much as 2 hours of their shift due to distractions.
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For professionals working in major corporate environments, they’ll experience at least one major corporate restructuring in their career. That can lead to concerns over lay offs and job security. That’s “long term” stress at work.
All of those stress could be why more than 40% of adults are plagued by sleepless nights and insomnia as they stress about their workload.
So if you’re stressed at work, here’s 8 ways to cope better
#1: Don’t Be Reactive
People have a tendency to react, and overreact, when they feel like a situation is out of their control. That can activate stress hormones, wear down confidence, and chip away at your concentration. When you’re feeling stressed over work-related issues, don’t immediately react. Take the time to sort out what you can do about that particular situation. Identify the aspects of the job issue that you can control and directly influence.
You’re in direct control of your action and your reaction, but you may not be able to directly control or influence outside forces that rest with others. Process and tackle what you can control and let go of the rest.
#2: Stop Trying to Do It All
There will always be more work. In the early days of freelancing, I regularly had dozens of clients at any given time. I was struggling to get all the work done every day until my wife told me to step back and look at the broader work load.
There would always be more work, and I was never going to finish it in a single day – so stop trying.
Scrambling to get to the next thing will only stress you out. Instead, prioritize what needs to be done so you don’t get so stressed at work. Create a list, and tackle it in order. Don’t feel like everything needs to be done in a single sitting. Let it ride to the next day if you don’t get to it.
#3: Delegate and Get Help For Stress At Work
Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like asking for help or delegating tasks is a weakness. It shows strength and intelligence when you’re conscious of the needs of the company and put them over worry about how others will perceive you.
Working with your team, delegating, and bringing in assistance on tasks shows that you care more about the project and getting it done right. Don’t let the stress build because you’re overwhelmed but worried about bringing in others.
#4: Smooth Process Management – Yes, it Reduces Stress at Work!
For complex projects, stress can stack quickly – especially if there are a lot of components or people involved in the project. The more moving parts, the easier it is for something to sleep through the cracks.
Process management or process automation can help you and the rest of your team stay on top of tasks. It’s not just about working more efficiently, but also working more effectively. When tasks transition flawlessly between departments and employees, stress is greatly reduced.
#5: Take Regular Breaks
People have this “push” mentality where they need to ride the ragged edge, with the RPMs in the red, for the entirety of their workday. After an 8 to 10 hour day of being stressed at work, exhaustion sets in hard and there’s virtually no energy left for us through the rest of the day.
You don’t get more done working like that. Productivity is guaranteed to drop, you’ll be more stressed at work, and you won’t have enough to give for the tasks that need the most attention.
Tony Schwartz of the Energy Project has shown that if we have intense concentration for about 90 minutes, followed by a brief period of recover, we can clear the buildup of stress. It doesn’t take much, just a brief 10-15 minutes can greatly reduce mental fatigue and help you avoid feeling stressed at work.
“When demand in our lives intensifies, we tend to hunker down and push harder,” says Tony Schwartz, head of New York City-based productivity consulting firm The Energy Project. “The trouble is that, without any downtime to refresh and recharge, we’re less efficient, make more mistakes, and get less engaged with what we’re doing.”
Here’s how Tim Kreider describes breaks in The New York Times:
“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets…It is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
To work your breaks in, try a few different techniques:
- Work in 90 minute intervals with short breaks
- Use the Pomodoro technique, taking a 5 minute break every 25 minutes. After 4 sessions like this, take a longer 30 minute break.
- Work steady for 52 minutes then take a 17 minute break. This treats your working time as a sprint, making you more productive
- Plan at least two 15-minute breaks each day if you can’t work in blocks of time.
#6: Improve Eat and Sleep Habits
Your brain is driven by complex metabolic processes that break complex foods and proteins down into fuel. Eating poorly is going to stress your system and deprive it of the nutrients and minerals it needs to function properly.
A lack of sleep leads to sluggish metabolic processes and doesn’t give the body enough time to rejuvenate and recover. Aim to get yourself to bed at a reasonable time, and limit any kind of electronics or screen time before bed to give yourself time to transition to sleep.
#7: Breathe and Cool Down
Stress can lead to rapid frustration and even anger. Those things throw you into a reactive loop that has you acting based on emotions, immediately reacting and overreacting.
To help cope with stress before you boil over, and to better manage stressful situations, use a cooling technique that gives you time to process. When stress starts to peak, breath in through your mouth as if you were sipping through a straw. Then, breathe out normally through your nose.
You’ll feel a cooler sensation on the tongue and roof of your mouth. It won’t take long for the urge to react to subside, and you’ll feel more in control. It’s like a hitting a pause button.
#8: Self-Imposed Stress at Work
It’s important to learn how to identify self-imposed stress. These are the thoughts and feelings that originate without any basis in truth or fact. Instead they come from assumptions, worry, and fear of the unknown.
Learn to stop self-imposing stress by building your own self-confidence rather than seeking the approval of others or getting caught up in assumptions.
This is the time to be your own best critic. With all the thoughts pouring through your head at any given time, you have a lot of control over what you allow to get you stressed at work. The simplest fix is to keep yourself laser focused, take breaks, and pump yourself up. Any thoughts that are negative, harsh or critical should be shuttled away.