How to work it out when it comes to stress at work.

We will all hold a job, probably several, throughout our life. Per the 2016 Work and Wellbeing survey from the American Psychological Association (APA), one in three workers surveyed reported being chronically stressed on the job. Stress, especially chronic stress, has a major negative impact on our lives, from our relationships to our health.

Ongoing workplace stress takes a toll on your health and well-being

Chronic stress in the workplace can have a harsh impact on employees. Per the National Institute of Mental Health, health impacted by routine stress may be hardest to notice at first because the stress is constant and the body doesn't know how or when to return to normal. This is one reason why it's important to understand the possible impact of stress and to take measures to support your mind and body.

Workplace stress can cause sleep issues, difficulty concentrating, headaches, stomach aches, and mood changes. Ongoing stress can cause an impaired immune system, high blood pressure, heart disease, insomnia, obesity, depression, and other serious health conditions. Per the APA 2014 Stress Report, the most common symptoms of stress reported were feeling fatigued (32 percent), lack of interest or motivation (34 percent), nervousness or anxiousness (35 percent), feeling angry or irritable (37 percent), and being sad or depressed (31 percent).

What are some typical work stressors?

Stress triggers and how we deal with stress is different for each of us. Typical workplace stressors include challenges with co-workers, manager challenges, low salaries, long hours, excessive workloads, work that's disengaging, lack of support, unclear expectations, and fear of a layoff or severance — just to name a few.

How can I manage and minimize the impact of stress at work?

1. Keep a diary. To help you manage stress, keep a daily journal of how you react to situations and feel throughout the day. This will help you identify what events are key stressors for you so you can alleviate them or find a better way to respond to them.

2. Focus on breathing and become acquainted with your inner calm. It’s easy to get overwhelmed in today's fast-paced work environment. To minimize stress, take a lot of deep breaths and breaks when needed; be patient and gentle with yourself, especially if you're new to a company or organization. You're not expected to know everything overnight.  

3. Perfect your time management skills. Are there really only 24 hours in a day? The volume of work and personal issues you need to address each day can be overwhelming. Good time management is extremely important. Some common time management techniques include maintaining lists of items to be addressed daily and scheduling blocks of time to address particular items. Keep in mind that when you say "yes" to one item you inherently say "no" to another. Prioritize your activities and make an A, B, and C-list. The C-list will get done when it gets done, while the A-list is top priority.  

4. Learn to say "no." It's hard for many of us to say "no" to someone, but if we are to maintain our health and sanity, it's a requirement at times. This is especially true when we're being asked to do work outside of our daily responsibilities in the workplace or if we're being asked to do too much.

Related: Moving Through the Challenges of Perfectionism at Work

5. Identify healthy stress relievers. Stress can be compounded when we turn to unhealthy ways of dealing with it — like alcohol. Working out, meditating, and walks in nature are all proven to be great stress relievers without the negative side effects, and, even though these are outside of the workplace, they will help stabilize your overall stress level.  

6. Ask for support. Support from family and friends, even if it's to vent or just talk, can be a huge help in managing stress. You might also consider reaching out to your employer's Employee Assistance Program (EAP) representative if available or seek support from a therapist or psychologist to help you manage any feelings of being overwhelmed that trigger stress.

7. Evaluate your work environment. Some work environments and positions aren't healthy for us, no matter what we do or try. If this is you, and you're in a position to find work elsewhere, begin the job search now with hopes of finding a healthier situation.

8. Have an honest conversation with your supervisor. A reasonable supervisor will understand that healthy means more productive. It's in their best interest to support you and find ways to help you manage your stress in the workplace, which might mean taking a few items off your plate or helping you deal with an unfriendly co-worker. If you don't feel comfortable speaking with your supervisor for some reason, or if they are a part of the issue, then consider speaking with someone in your human resources department.

9. Take time to reset. We all need a break now and then. If you have personal days or vacation days to use, take them and give yourself some breathing room away from work. Do something fun and relaxing, and do your best not to think about work while you're away.

10. Establish healthy boundaries. Know what is acceptable to you and what's not when it comes to relationships at work. Set good boundaries so others don't intrude on your time or space. Setting healthy boundaries also means making clear decisions as to when you'll check email, maintain work hours, and speak with co-workers. For example, if you need to be with family after you leave work, then create the boundary that you stay off of your work phone and computer after a certain time.

11. Develop a healthy sleep routine. Our brains and bodies recover while we rest, which puts us in a better position to deal with stress during the day. Getting six to eight hours of sleep is essential for most of us, and staying off of computers and away from the TV right before bed helps us fall asleep and rest better. Consider talking to a healthcare professional if you're having difficulty sleeping as this can have a major impact on your overall health and how you cope with stress.

12. Give your body the fuel it needs. As stated in a "5 Ways to Relieve Stress" on The Center for Mind-Body Medicine's site, Kathie Swift, Food as Medicine Education Director, sites the connection between the gut and the mind at relieving stress. If we're feeding our gut what it needs — a diet with healthy fruits, vegetables, fats, and clean protein — then the brain feels less stressed.

Stress is no joke. When our health takes a hit due to stress, then our work productivity also takes a hit. Consider these job tips and make your health a top priority to maintain a healthy, happy, and productive work-life balance. It's worth it in the end.

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