Managing Work-Related Stress
Workplace stress is highly personal.
Some people thrive in fast-paced jobs, such as emergency room nurses, police officers, and
air-traffic controllers. These are stressful jobs where making a mistake can put people’s
lives at risk.
The rest of us likely wouldn’t last a
day in such high-pressure environments. But that doesn’t mean our jobs are less stressful.
Every job has its own kind of stress. There could be short deadlines, endless paperwork, or
the occasional angry customer. Or there may be meetings that drag on for hours, putting
everyone even more behind. All can cause stress.
In other words, it’s not just the job
that creates stress. It’s also the way a person responds to the pressures and demands of
each workplace that makes them stressed.
Not surprisingly, people respond to
stress differently. The way they respond depends on their personality and their workplace
Short-term effects of stress
- Shallow breathing
- Trouble sleeping
- Upset stomach
Long-term constant stress can increase the risk for:
- Heart disease
- Back pain
- Lasting muscle aches and pains
- A weakened immune system
Stress also can affect your mind.
It can impair your ability to focus and your imagination. Stress also increases the
chance you’ll make mistakes because you’re not thinking clearly.
Constant stress can affect your
emotions and behavior. It can make you grouchy, impatient, less excited about your job,
and even depressed.
What to do about work-related stress
When you’re in a high-pressure situation, examine your train of thought to see if it’s adding to the stress you feel.
Are you imagining a far worse
outcome than is likely? Is the project or situation likely to affect your job
approval, reputation, or income? Are you really out of your league? Or are the
immediate demands really more of a challenge than a disaster in the making?
Manage your time
Correct time and priority
management can reduce a lot of workplace stress.
Start each day by making a to-do list of tasks, calls to make, and e-mails to write. Prioritize the list according to tasks you must do, those you would like to do, and those that can wait. Don’t schedule too much. And build in time for interruptions.
Take a break
Hourly mini-breaks where you
stretch your shoulders, back, and neck can provide physical stress relief. This can
then reduce mental stress. Lunch is often skipped at the expense of more stress. Try
to take lunch if you can.
Stop promising to do more than you can handle. Be polite as you say, “With the workload I have, I can’t take on more at this time.”
Every day, plan to spend some time at rest, but not asleep. Sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, and relax your muscles.
Then focus on breathing
regularly as you keep repeating one simple word aloud or silently. This might be a
word such as “peace,” “relax,” or “om.” Keep doing this until your muscles and mind
Try muscle relaxation
Try this relaxation exercise:
- Sit or lie down, if you can, and close your eyes.
- Starting at your head, tense your face by clenching your
teeth and furrowing your brow. Hold the tension for 5 seconds. Then release it.
- Next, tense your shoulders by bringing them up to your
ears. Hold for 5 seconds. Then release.
- Next, tense your arm muscles. Hold for 5 seconds. Then
- Continue to tighten and release each group of muscles in
your body until you reach your toes.
- Focus on the warmth and heaviness of your body as you
relax. Breathe gently for a few moments. Then open your eyes.
Sit or lie down and close your
eyes. For 5 to 10 minutes, imagine you’re in a place you love. This may be the beach,
the mountains, or the house you grew up in. Breathe slowly and deeply as you imagine
what you see, feel, hear, taste, and smell in your special place.
Breathe slowly and deeply
- Lie flat on your back with your eyes closed. Place your
feet slightly apart.
- Rest one hand above your belly button. Put the other hand
on your chest.
- Breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your
mouth. Do this until you’ve emptied most of the air from your lungs.
- As you slowly count to 4, gently inhale, making your
stomach rise. Pause for 1 second.
- Then as you slowly count to 4, gently exhale, letting your
belly slowly fall. Pause for another second.
- Repeat these steps 10 times.
Eat a healthy diet and exercise
A healthy diet rich in whole
foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein may reduce stress. Having
lots of caffeine, sugar, and alcohol can increase it.
Many studies have found exercise
reduces stress. Aerobic exercise works best for most people. This includes running,
swimming, or brisk walking. Yoga, Pilates, tai chi, or simple stretching can also
help. They help create a calmer, meditative state.
Talking with a family member or friend outside of work about the issues that cause your stress at work can help you put things in perspective. Explore solutions and ways to cope together.
If you’ve tried these self-help
methods but continue to be highly stressed, get help. Talk with a mental health
provider who specializes in stress management.