It’s no secret that prolonged exposure to work-stress is unhealthy and even potentially deadly. Stress is a global health epidemic and a major player is work-related stress. Why managing workplace stress matters is because it is self-care. It is making a choice to protect your mental and physical health. And, it is also making a choice to preserve your vitality to perform optimally and to better cope with everyday relationships.
We all know what it feels like to be stressed-out. But we’re not always good at heeding the warning signs. When we become lax about sustained stress we may even begin to normalise it. Much like the story of the frog in the pot of water. As the water was gradually heated, the frog continued swimming around in the pot, unaware it was being boiled, yet having had the power to escape.
Stress is our response to perceived danger, demands and threats faced. Our bodies react with a surge of brain-released chemicals, and heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing increase. It is a natural defence mechanism that can be helpful in certain limited circumstances, but it is prolonged stress exposure that’s particularly problematic.
Within workplaces many factors can contribute to chronic levels of stress. Long and irregular hours, co-worker conflict and bullying, unrealistic timelines, unreasonable pressure from management, organisational changes and restructures. Other causes can come from an imbalance between role requirements and having the necessary skills, resources and support networks.
The effect of stress overload is physically felt. Fatigue, jaw soreness, neck and shoulder pain, headaches, diarrhoea, insomnia and heart palpitations are just some of the possible symptoms experienced. Left unchecked, a chronically stressed person increases their risk of anxiety, depression or other mental disorders.
Making workplace stress matter means taking ownership, accepting responsibility to recognise and respond to the warning signs of harmful stress and being proactive to reduce or eliminate its effect. Blame-shifting our stress, seeing it as someone else’s responsibility is unhelpful. Workplace stress is typically complex. It can be entwined in a whole web of different elements and influences. So fixing all your sources of stress at once is probably not realistic. The key is to ‘do something’. Just start. Even taking small steps is still progress. Learning to manage workplace stress is taking a leap towards a healthier and happier life. There are many ways to tackle the problem of work-stress, here are 7 commonly helpful steps:
1. Connect: Because chronic stress may lead to becoming withdrawn or isolated, prioritise engaging more with colleagues and spending quality time with family and friends. Develop social supports.
2. Exercise: Keeping physically fit will help to strengthen your resilience. Whether you join a gym or choose to walk, ride, swim or run, do something to keep more active. Regular moderate exercise will not only help keep you in shape physically, there are benefits mentally too. It is known to aid the release of ‘feel good’ hormones and is a natural relaxant that may enhance sleep quality.
3. Nutrition: Eat well to live well. Put good fuel in your body so it will perform at its best. Sugar-laden high fat foods can cause brain fog and lethargy, so make healthy choices that energise and sustain you physically, while also contributing to clarity of mind.
4. Journal: Express your pent-up emotions and thoughts in writing. Just getting the thoughts out on paper can be cathartic. It is a way to examine the narrative of your mind. Ask yourself, “Is it the truth”? Also determine whether you are adding to a stressful state by negatively meditating on future events over which you may have little or no control.
5. Stay rested: Stress is often associated with a state of heightened alertness which contributes to insomnia. So make the effort to get a good night’s sleep. If you’re regularly affected by restlessness, seek out relaxation and mindfulness techniques. Usually they require little time yet can very quickly help you to become centred, calm and refreshed.
6. Make time for yourself: Engage in favourite hobbies and interests. Set aside regular time for doing things that bring you pleasure and enjoyment and that are healthy for your mind and body. Plan ahead and make your weekends an adventure.
7. Get help from a specialist counsellor: If you find you’re struggling with stress-overload, first talk to your GP. Then also see an experienced psychologist or counsellor who can guide you in identifying your stressors, bring new perspectives, help increase self-awareness and improve your understanding of others. Plus… these specialists can also offer you other resources and strategies for better managing and reducing work-stress.
Be encouraged, speak up about work-stress, reach out for support from people you trust, and actively seek solutions. Learn more ways to build resilience. Having greater levels of resiliency helps cushion us against the inevitable stressors of life, including in our workplaces. You may also like to grab a copy of my free eBook “How to Stress-Proof against Work-Stress” . You’ll find in it many more practical tips for effectively managing workplace stress.
ROHAN WATSON is a member of the Australian Counselling Association and a general member of the International Association of Applied Neuroscience. He holds qualifications in Psychology, Counselling and Education from Monash University and USQ. As a Psychotherapist, Counsellor and Mental Health Researcher, Rohan is dedicated to helping unlock the potential in people to live life happily and more purposefully.
Rohan provides specialist counselling and wellbeing coaching services to people from all walks and seasons of life by phone, video or face-to-face. He has facilitated and delivered mental health programs across rural and remote Australia and provides professional psychotherapy services to employees at all levels nationally through EAP based services. Rohan has a special interest in the online delivery of mental wellness programs and his current research for a Master’s thesis is focusing on early intervention mental wellbeing in SMEs. Learn more here.
PS. Ever wondered how a brain performs under stress? Well, if you’re interested, you might enjoy picking up some insights in this Ted Talk featuring Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin – “How to stay calm when you know you’ll be stressed?”