Workplace stress touches most of us at one time or another. In fact, according to the American Institute of Stress, 80 percent of us feel stressed at work. Deadlines loom. Bosses make unrealistic demands. Restructuring means anxiety over job security. Although stressors may be an inherent part of work life, buckling under the pressure doesn’t have to be.
There are plenty of reasons to manage your workplace stress rather than accepting it as part and parcel of having a busy career. For starters, stress takes a heavy physical toll. It can cause headaches, stomach upset, irritability, depression, and even elevated blood pressure.
Along with its emotional toll, prolonged job-related stress can drastically affect your physical health. Constant preoccupation with job responsibilities often leads to erratic eating habits and not enough exercise, resulting in weight problems, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol levels.
—American Psychological Association
Stress doesn’t exactly make you more productive on the job, either. It can strip away your ability to concentrate and process complex thoughts. Stress can make it difficult to find the motivation to complete tasks, which creates a negative feedback loop when you’re under pressure to perform.
6 Ways to Manage Stress at Work
1 Know what stresses you out.
Sure, you’re stressed. But do you actually know why? Many of us walk around on edge without ever taking a moment to uncover the source of our stress on a deep level.
Let’s say you often struggle to meet deadlines. Being behind the curve at work can be anxiety-inducing. Can you identify the underlying problems? Maybe a chatty coworker distracts you more frequently than you thought, or you’re lured away from your tasks by social media. Now that you’ve identified the root of the issue, you can work on regaining your focus.
2 Respond to stress in positive ways.
If you respond to stress by coming home, opening a bag of chips, and flinging yourself at the couch where you’ll binge-watch Netflix until you crawl off to bed, you’re not doing yourself any favors.
Here are some better ways to combat stress:
- Get plenty of exercise
- Eat a healthy diet
- Make time to get plenty of rest
- Schedule social time and connect with people regularly
- Make time for your creative pursuits
- Meditate or practice yoga daily
3 Don’t skip vacation.
It’s tempting, especially when job stress is high, to push onward and be a martyr. We all like to come across as committed to our work. But is your commitment really shining through if you’re stressed out all the time and less productive as a result?
Trust us. You need a vacation. Taking time off to rejuvenate ultimately makes workers more productive. It can also reduce symptoms of stress like sleeplessness, fatigue, and headaches. Return to work relaxed and refreshed and you’ll be better equipped to get things done.
4 Act on what you can control, accept what you can’t.
How often do you find yourself thinking, Ugh! I should be getting my act together!
All those “shoulds” tend to pile up on a person, creating stress. But learning to tune in to that interior monologue allows you to focus your thoughts. Mindfulness, and a practice called radical acceptance, can help.
Radical acceptance encourages you to look at distressing events as though you’re a casual observer with no stakes in the game. You begin by simply describing what happened, and your role in it, in the most objective terms possible. Then you assess what you had control over in that particular situation, and what you didn’t.
Mindfulness challenges you to accept the things outside of your control. Why stress over things you’re powerless to change? It also helps you shift your emotional response from negative to neutral, or even productive, by teaching you to channel your energies toward acting (taking ownership of the things you do have control over) rather than simply reacting.
5 Ask for help when you need it.
Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re in the weeds. Everyone gets overwhelmed from time to time, and there’s no shame in asking for help when you truly need it.
We tend to view asking for help as admitting defeat. But put yourself in your manager’s shoes. Would you rather an employee make excuses for not completing a project on time or to your satisfaction, or have that employee ask for help before disaster strikes?
There are a few caveats to asking for help. First, make certain you’ve put in your best effort before you seek out assistance. Second, prepare any questions you have in advance. If you simply go to your boss with a complaint without offering any solutions, you’ll sound like you’re whining rather than being proactive about solving a problem. Most of all, be sure you know the answer to the question your boss is likely to ask: What do you need from me?
6 Remember what you love about your job.
When you’re stressed out, it helps to take a few deep breaths and remember what you love about your job. Maybe the work is fulfilling, or you have great coworkers, or you’re actually living the dream of being what you always wanted to be when you grew up. It’s impossible to feel both grateful and fearful or angry at the same time, so remind yourself from time to time that there are good things about your job even when the stressors are mounting.
Of course, if there’s nothing to love anymore, it may be time to consider moving on. Work stress is a fact of life, but if coping strategies aren’t working and you don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, it may be time to hit the job boards in search of a better fit before stress takes a serious physical or emotional toll.