Can I Learn How to Manage Stress at Work?
Updated August 28, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
Just when you think you can’t put one more thing on your plate at work, your boss comes to you with a new project. If that’s ever happened to you, you might feel like exploding right there on the spot. If you think about it, you probably had a physical reaction at that moment. Do you remember feeling your heart suddenly beating faster? Did your muscles tense up? Perhaps you even felt short of breath. If you didn’t notice those symptoms, it might be because your body went into fight or flight response because of stress at work.
Many people respond to such a situation by working strong and steadily until they finish all the work before them out of fear of losing their jobs. Other people deal with it by backing down and retreating. Regardless of what kind of job you have, it’s vitally important to manage stress on and off the job.
You can learn how to handle stress at work, and it’s in your best interest to do so. While dealing with stress at work, you don’t have to tackle it alone. A licensed professional counselor is an excellent resource to help you manage stress if things seem like they’re out of control and gaining momentum.
Stress Affects Your Mental Health And Well-Being
If you’ve ever paid attention to your body when you’re stressed or afraid, you probably noticed some physical changes in your body. That’s because stress and fear have a purpose. When we experience intense emotions, our bodies give off a surge of energy. Sometimes the surge is so strong that it causes us to go into a state of fight or flight. Either you fight against the stressor, or you’d do anything to escape it. The surge of energy gives you an extra charge to allow you to do things that you couldn’t do when you feel completely drained.
Stress at work that’s constant can lead you down a path of burnout. The warning signs of occupational burnout are overwhelming exhaustion, cynicism, and having a sense of inefficacy. When you enter your work, knowing that you have more work than you can complete for the day, the stress begins to build before you even enter the facility. You may be the victim of an overbearing boss who is looking over your shoulder every few minutes. Tensions can occur in the workplace when there is an environment of disrespect or unfairness among co-workers. Those tensions can build further if there are incidents or threats of sexual, physical, or verbal harassment. If you feel like you’re undervalued and underpaid, these are issues that often lay just beneath the surface. For many people, their workplace doesn’t match their core values, and this, too, can be a source of work stress.
It’s common for people to be so focused on their jobs that they don’t even notice that work stress is affecting their mental health. Research tells us that younger people who experience lots of pressure at work, along with a heavy workload, may suffer from a major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder.
In addition, it’s common for stress at work to affect you in a physical sense. High levels of work stress, along with the everyday pressures in other areas of your life, compound the effects of physical and mental stress. Severe stress that occurs repeatedly can disrupt your immune system and increase the potential for developing autoimmune disorders, heart problems, and bring on Alzheimer’s disease, as evidenced by this study.
Take a moment to consider what your life was like before you became inundated with stress at work. If you ate a healthy diet, exercised regularly, and slept well and all that has changed, it’s time to figure out how to manage stress better. A few changes in your lifestyle may be just what you need to alleviate harmful stress.
Be aware that stress at work isn’t any better for your company than it is for you and your co-workers. A workforce that’s continually burned out will suffer in productivity. Absenteeism is likely to be high, and the rate of employee turnover will also be high. When tensions run high, it can create an atmosphere of negativity that looms over the entire workforce like a gloomy cloud.
How To Manage Stress At Work
In many cases, it is possible to learn how to manage stress at work, and these are good skills to develop. Most of the stress-reducing strategies cost little or nothing, and they’re things you can do right at home or even while you’re at work.
Guided relaxation is a good way to combat stress at work. If you’re interested in therapy, this is something that therapists also do in conjunction with cognitive-behavioral therapy. Progressive muscle relaxation is a process that takes you through alternating tensing and relaxing each muscle group while focusing on relaxing thoughts. Just a short session can help you to feel rejuvenated and recharged.
If you’re naturally skilled at problem-solving, this could be a real asset in stress reduction. Try to narrow down the issue that’s causing you the most stress and brainstorm potential solutions. Rank your solutions from best to worst and come up with an action plan for reducing stress.
Mindfulness or guided meditation is becoming a popular way to reduce everyday stressors. Practicing mindfulness is an activity where you pay attention to the current moment with curiosity, openness, and acceptance. By feeling the current moment, it takes away worries about the past and future and doesn’t allow you the space to engage in negative self-talk. The APA notes that several studies highlight the benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness helps reduce stress, boosts your working memory, reduces rumination, increases your focus, improves your relationships, allows you to react with less emotion, and increase your cognitive function. Your ability to practice mindfulness improves with practice. Essentially, mindfulness trains your brain to break harmful habits. It’s fairly easy to find books, articles, apps, and videos on mindfulness, and many of them are free.
Constant worry tends to be a byproduct of stress at work. Negative thoughts invade your mind, causing you to view most situations through a negative lens. Reframing and reappraising negative thoughts are other strategies for reducing the stress that stems from your workplace. The idea is to treat negative, invasive thoughts as hypotheses rather than as facts. As stressful thoughts begin to enter your mind, try to change your inner dialogue from how stressful the situation is to the fact that the situation is challenging, but it presents new opportunities for you to grow and learn. Reframing situations helps to shift your mindset and help you approach the task with a fresh and renewed spirit.
It’s also possible to crowd out negative thoughts and stressful feelings by learning something new. In a study of learning as a means for dealing with stress, researchers found that when people focused strongly on learning something new that they were passionate about, it helped get them unstuck from dealing with chronic stress. By learning how to do new things, people expressed fewer negative emotions and behaved in a more ethical manner, even when relaxation strategies failed to work. Of the over 300 U.S. employees that participated in the study, respondents said they felt more capable and were better able to see themselves as growing and improving. Learning new skills helped improve their capacity for building new skills and improve their problem-solving abilities. The act of learning something new often renews you from a psychological perspective. Try not to view learning activities as more work for yourself, which will defeat the purpose. Consider it a chance to give yourself some much- needed respite from the normal routine. Using learning as a distraction from stress at work isn’t just for people with stressful jobs. Learning new skills, whether they’re related to your work or not, will help you to be more resilient overall in addition to giving you new skills that will boost your resume.
Consider that word problems don’t have to be yours alone. Instead of tackling things completely on your own, it’s okay to ask for help once in a while. Ask your co-workers or your boss for insight or input. A pair of fresh eyes on a tough issue may be just what you need. Working together as a team will improve your collaboration skills and may improve the morale of your teammates as well as your own.
Dealing with stress at work is common, and struggling with it is no cause for shame. We all have our limits with how much we can deal with and how far we can push ourselves. Be cautious about pushing yourself beyond your limits. It won’t do you or the company any good. You might find some of the strategies for dealing with work stress listed here to be helpful. When nothing seems to be helping or if you’re too depleted to try, it often helps to talk it out. A licensed online therapist is a good resource for helping you work things through when times get tough. Remember that help is available, and no one has to do it alone.