Everyone who has a job has probably felt the pressure of workplace stress. Even if you love your job, sometimes the abundance of emails flooding your inbox, back-to-back meetings, and a phone that just doesn’t seem to quit ringing can leave you feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
While occasional stress at work is normal, long-term stress can take a serious toll on your health and wellbeing. In fact, many Americans are aware that stress is affecting their health. More than 76% of adults have reported at least one sign or symptom of too much stress, such as having headaches, feeling very tired, or having trouble sleeping.
April is National Stress Awareness Month. If tension at work is affecting your productivity and your health, it’s time to learn how to keep your stress in check.
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Your body under pressure
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Chronic stress is constant stress that may last for years. Over time, chronic, sustained stress can wear you down, both mentally and physically.
“Sustained stress is one of the common contributory factors of disease. It is a well-known fact that stress positively correlates to high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, mental illness, obesity, gastrointestinal problems, and certain dermatological conditions, just to name a few,” said Ashi Chabeda, a family nurse practitioner at Iredell Occupational Medicine.
Too much stress can make sleeping difficult, slow wound healing, and contribute to headaches and neck, back, and muscle aches. Additionally, the ways you try to alleviate stress can also negatively impact your health. For example, if you cope with stress by eating more, you could end up gaining unwanted weight. You could also turn to risky, addictive behaviors as ‘quick solutions’ to cope with stress, like smoking, drinking, or other drugs.
In addition to diminishing your physical and mental health, job-related stress can have a negative effect on your abilities in the workplace.
“Workplace stress can lead to poor productivity, absenteeism, insecurity, lack of trust, high attrition rate, sabotage, conflict between coworkers, and in short, low morale and a negative workplace culture,” said Chabeda.
Sometimes, job-related stress is unavoidable, especially if you have a challenging project or a deadline approaching. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn to manage it.
“Managing expectations and realizing that stress is part of life and the extent of its impact has a lot to do with how we choose to respond to the triggers. Although stress cannot be eliminated, increasing the capacity for a positive mindset mitigates some of its negative effects,” said Chabeda.
Coping with workplace stress
Below, Chabeda offers several tips and tricks to manage your stress more effectively.
Create a comfortable work environment
“One tip for coping with workplace stress is to participate in developing a comfortable work environment. We spend at least a third of the day in the workplace, so actively creating the environment we want is worth the reward this effort will produce,” said Chabeda.
This could mean keeping your workspace clean and organized, adding plants and decorations to your office, or getting a comfortable chair. Add items to your environment that make it feel more like home and less like an office.
Refrain from quick judgments
“Often, in a stressful or chaotic environment, our perception is skewed. Choosing to refrain from being quick to take offense prevents the negative emotions that can cause wrong actions,” said Chabeda.
“If there is an offense, choosing not to allow it to percolate neutralizes conflicts that can arise from grudges or malice between coworkers,” she added.
Instead of making automatic, quick judgments, try to distance yourself from those thoughts and simply observe the situation before reacting.
Express your concerns to a trusted advisor
Getting support from your boss or supervisor can help alleviate some of your stress. Approach the topic with a calm demeanor from a place of problem-solving rather than from a place of complaint.
“Making an effort to communicate concerns in a quick and concise manner to someone who is trustworthy and has the power to help resolve the situation is appropriate,” said Chabeda.
When you are stressed and overwhelmed, it’s crucial to carve out some time for yourself.
“Take time for self-care, such as regular massage therapy, exercising, stretching, deep breathing, or meditation. Make sure to get good sleep and be well hydrated,” said Chabeda.
Try personal-development podcasts or books
“A tip I personally find helpful is listening to podcasts and reading books on self-development that increase the capacity of any area that I need to work on,” said Chabeda.
Self-development, or self-help books, can teach you ways to overcome stress and anxiety and provide ample coping strategies.
Try stress relief activities at your desk
To relieve stress while at work, try mindfulness activities such as progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing exercises. Box breathing can be helpful when you are feeling overwhelmed. To do this, breathe in for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4, breathe out for a count of 4, and hold again for a count of 4. You can repeat this activity until you feel calmer.
“Using affirmations to declare dreams or meditating on a positive thought of the day can also help to counteract negative emotions or stress,” said Chabeda.
“I sometimes even dance when there are no patients around to see me. It does not have to last a long period of time, just enough to recenter myself,” she added.
Ask for professional help if you need it
If you are still feeling stressed and overwhelmed at work, make sure to express your concerns to your primary care provider. They may suggest you speak to a mental health counselor who can help you manage your stress.
“The activities listed above will hopefully provide you with confidence and self-assurance. True confidence and self-assurance are good benchmarks of emotional intelligence. It supports inner peace and calmness which can translate in the way you interact with others and react to stressors,” said Chabeda.