In today’s highly-competitive, fast-moving economic climate, being super-productive and leaving the office late in the afternoon seems to be the standard.
As a result, stress at work has become a global issue affecting millions of hard-working individuals.
While the European Union spends about 20 billion euros every year on health care costs due to workplace stress, the U.S. spends around 190 billion dollars.
According to data from the American Psychological Association, between 2007 and 2015, the overall stress levels of adults living in the U.S. has increased significantly.
Furthermore, it seems that Millennials are the most affected group, followed closely by Gen X.
In other words, some of the youngest and most vibrant members of our generation – the ones that represent the future – are at risk of losing their careers and relationships, all because of a treatable and preventable problem.
But before we get to how we can manage stress in the workplace, we need to understand what we’re dealing with.
What is Workplace Stress?
The World Health Organization defines workplace stress as,
“The response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope.”
But perhaps a better way to describe it is by looking at how it affects us:
- You feel nervous and agitated;
- You’re always behind deadlines;
- You find it difficult to focus on a given task;
- Your productivity drops significantly;
- You make careless mistakes;
- You feel overwhelmed – like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders;
- You have constant headaches and migraines;
- You have trouble falling asleep.
As you can see, workplace stress doesn’t just affect your productivity at the office and jeopardize your position in the company. This ever-growing problem can have a profoundly negative impact on your overall physical and mental health.
What Causes Stress in the Workplace?
1: The Lack of Support
When there’s a lot of responsibility on your shoulders and no one to lend a helping hand when the going gets tough, sooner or later, things will take a turn for the worse.
Although a certain degree of stress is normal and acceptable, prolonged exposure to challenging tasks, coupled with lack of support, will result in unhealthy levels of stress.
You don’t have to do everything by yourself.
If you feel like you can’t handle the volume of work, there’s no shame in asking for help from a manager or supervisor.
2: Work-life Balance Issues
You’ve probably heard this a million times before – Knowing how to balance work and home life is one of the keys to mental health and well-being.
Sadly, many of us tend to overlook this critical aspect.
We get so caught up in work that we forget to spend time with our loved ones.
We spend most of our waking hours chasing top results, and we postpone activities that could help us relax and de-stress for the sake of productivity.
The ‘all work and no play’ philosophy is the fastest road to work-related stress and burnout.
Think twice before you decide to bring your work laptop home!
3: The Ever-changing Economic Landscape
Considering how fast today’s economy is changing and growing, there’s no surprise many of us end up struggling with stress.
The fierce competition; the ever-growing skill set required to perform well in the workplace; the ever-present fear of losing your job to someone who’s smarter or more productive than you, all these factors can generate a lot of stress.
On top of that, there’s the added pressure of financial instability and debt that, if left unchecked, can cause not just stress but other health-related issues as well.
But since there’s not much we can do to change the way global economy works, the only thing left to do is find effective ways to keep stress in check.
Luckily, researchers and mental health professionals have investigated this problem for decades. Thanks to their efforts, we now have an entire arsenal of techniques to build resilience and combat stress.
Considering that workplace stress has become a serious issue, there’s a growing number of companies that choose to do something about it.
As a paper on workplace stress management interventions points out, “there appears to be a trend toward incorporating stress management as a component of workplace wellness programs.”
Here are some strategies to help you battle stress and tension at work:
#1 Take Regular Breaks
When stacks of files keep piling up on your desk, and your inbox is full of unanswered e-mails, the first instinct is to skip breaks, so that we have more time to finish our daily tasks.
Unfortunately, the extra time you gain by not taking breaks doesn’t translate to increased productivity.
In fact, chances are you might end up completing fewer tasks then you would have typically completed.
That’s because you need constant breaks to refresh and recharge your batteries.
Although the brain is used to being active around the clock, keeping it in ‘overdrive’ for hours on end will eventually result in stress, which in turn causes a significant drop in productivity.
No matter how much work you need to complete by the end of the day, remember to take a 5-minute break every hour.
And NEVER EVER skip lunch breaks!
#2 Use Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is perhaps one of the most popular stress reduction techniques.
After Jon Kabat-Zinn launched his Mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR), this technique gained massive popularity and recognition among both clinicians and corporate executives.
A 2015 meta-analysis revealed that “MBSR is moderately effective in reducing stress, depression, anxiety and distress and in ameliorating the quality of life of healthy individuals.”
Although it might not be the perfect solution, mindfulness does provide a quick and easy way to cope with workplace stress. On top of that, it can also help you manage anxiety and depression, two of the problems that go hand in hand with stress.
By helping you put aside the worries of an unpredictable future and make peace with your painful past, mindfulness meditation reveals the beauty of the present moment.
Once you learn to focus on the ‘here and now,’ you will finally have that much-needed break from stress.Mindfulness meditation is perhaps one of the most popular stress reduction techniques. Click To Tweet
#3 Develop Healthy Habits
When it comes to managing stress in the workplace, there’s little you can do to reduce the outside factors that might be responsible for it.
But what you can do is focus on building a resilient mind and body that can cope with stress.
And this is where your lifestyle habits play a crucial role.
A balanced diet, a rigorous exercise routine, and plenty of sleep will not only help you handle stress, but also improve your overall physical health.
Sometimes, the secret to building resilience (and coping with stress) is in the healthy habits we choose to follow in our day-to-day lives.
#4 Avoid Multitasking
In the digital era, multitasking has become a common practice for many of us. Today, there are only a handful of people who can focus on one (and only one) task at a time.
In fact, there are times when multitasking is part of the job description. We take calls, reply to e-mails, and research potential clients, all at the same time.
However, if we take a closer look, multitasking is not doing several tasks simultaneously, but jumping quickly from one task to another. Every time we begin a new task while doing another, our brain pauses the first one and moves to the second, sometimes in a fraction of a second.
In a sense, what we call multitasking looks more like serial tasking.
But regardless of how you choose to call it, this habit puts a lot of tension on your brain. And that tension will eventually generate stress.
If you want to keep work-related stress in check, make sure to avoid multitasking at all costs.
#5 Seek Professional Help
Dealing with workplace stress isn’t easy.
Aside from work-related difficulties, this condition can also cause problems in your personal life.
You might lose your friends and loved ones because you’re too busy working 16 hours a day. You might develop all sorts of medical conditions that require years of treatment.
The point is, there are countless ways in which workplace stress can negatively impact our health and well-being.
If you feel like stress has reached critical levels, perhaps it’s time to seek professional help.
A licensed therapist or counselor can help you identify healthy coping styles, build resilience, and get a handle on stress before it consumes you.
Once again, there’s no shame in asking for help.
It takes courage to admit you have a problem and take the necessary steps to overcome it.
To sum up
The lack of support some of us deal with, coupled with work-life balance issues and an unstable economic climate can often lead to severe problems such as stress.
If you want to keep stress in check and prevent it from ruining your personal and professional life, make sure to:
- Avoid multitasking at all costs.
- Take regular breaks while you’re at the office.
- Practice mindfulness meditation.
- Develop healthy lifestyle habits.
- Seek professional help if you feel like stress has gotten out of hand.
So, what are your thoughts on this topic? Have you ever tried one of the five coping strategies mentioned earlier? Which one did you find most useful? Are there any other techniques that have worked well for you?
Tell us everything in a comment below!
Clinical Psychologist, Licensed CBT Therapist.
I’m a Clinical Psychologist and a licensed Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy practitioner. My work focuses mainly on strategies designed to manage and prevent the most common mental issues – anxiety, depression, and stress.
When I’m not busy with my therapeutic practice or other work-related activities, I enjoy going out for a jog or hit the nearby gym.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via LinkedIn (link below), or through the Contact Us page.