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 2012 American Psychological Association's (APA) annual Stress in America Survey, 65 percent of Americans stated work was their top source of stress, with only 37 percent stating they were doing a very good or excellent job managing the stress. Stress, especially chronic stress, has a major negative impact on our life from our relationships and our health.  In an APA's Center for Organizational Excellence 2013 survey, one-third of working Americans reported experiencing chronic work stress, and only 36 percent said they were provided sufficient resources to help manage that stress by their employer.

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

Chronic stress in the workplace can have a harsh impact on an employee. Per the National Institute of Mental Health, of all types of stress, 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, stomachaches, 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 of the typical work stressors?

Stress triggers and how we deal with stress is different for each of us. Typical workplace stressors include challenges with coworkers, challenges with a manager, low salaries, long hours, excessive workloads, work that's disengaging, lack of support, unclear expectations, and fear of a layoff or severance, 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, and be patient and gentle with yourself. This is especially true 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, with the A list being a 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. Another option is to say "yes," but manage expectations and negotiate a reasonable time to get the work completed. 

5. Identify healthy stress relievers. Stress can be compounded when we turn to unhealthy ways to deal with it, such as alcohol. Working out, meditating, and walks in nature are all proven to be great stress relievers. 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 at times or just talk, can be a huge help in managing stress. You might also consider reaching out to your employer's EAP (Employee Assistance Program) 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 in which to work.

8. Have an honest conversation with your supervisor. A reasonable supervisor will understand that healthy means more productive. It's in his or her best interest to support you and find ways to help you manage your stress in the workplace. It 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 he or she is part of the issue, then consider speaking with someone in your human resources department if available.

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. 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, for example.

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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