By Dr. Sue Ludwig, Registered Psychologist
We all experience stress in the workplace, but there are ways to manage it!
The most important thing you can do is notice when you are stressed. Don’t ignore it! Find out what stresses you out. Talk to someone to help you gain perspective or develop helpful strategies to cope with the stress.
What are some causes of stress in the workplace?
- Too much work; little time to relax
- High pressure periods; deadlines come all at once
- One or two difficult tasks that take up all your time leaving no time left for anything else
- Commitments you can’t get out of
- Personal issues that spill over into the workplace – tension with family, friends or romantic partner; a change in relationships; illness or death of a close friend or family member
- Poor health habits such as not enough sleep, eating too much or too little, smoking or drinking too much, not enough exercise
- Worry about what people think or thinking about what can go wrong rather than what can go right
- Motivation problems, difficulty getting started on tasks
- A tendency to get too worked up when under pressure or in a crisis, and a tendency to get down and dwell on how bad things are
- Organizational change that you have little input into
- Role ambiguity or unstructured or poorly defined job responsibilities
- Conflict between job demands and your own personal standards
You might also try the following suggestions:
Recognize what you can change
Can you change your stressors by avoiding or eliminating them? If you can’t avoid them, can you reduce their intensity (manage them over time instead of immediately)? Can you shorten your exposure to stress (take a break)?
Review the intensity of your emotional reactions
Are you expecting to please everyone? Are you overreacting and viewing things as absolutely critical and urgent? Work at adopting moderate views. See stress as something you can cope with, not something that overpowers you. Do not focus on the negative or the “what ifs.”
Change your physical reactions to stress
Slow, deep breathing will bring your heart rate and respiration back to normal. Relaxation techniques and meditation can reduce muscle tension.
Practice good health habits
Get enough sleep. Exercise for cardiovascular fitness three to four times a week. Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals. Mix leisure with work. Take breaks and get away. We know we need at least two positives for every stressor.
Set realistic goals
Develop realistic goals which are meaningful to you. Expect some frustrations, failures and sorrows; they happen to all of us. Talk about these with someone to help you gain perspective.
Organize and simplify your environment
If your environment is well organized and pleasant, then it can help to reduce stress and increase productivity. Large amounts of background noise during the day can cause irritability, tension and headaches in addition to loss of concentration. If you don’t have your own personal space, find a quiet room when concentration is needed or use earplugs.
Develop your personal space
It’s important for people to feel that they have sufficient personal space at work and at home. Where no personal space is available, you can establish some feeling of ownership by bringing personal objects such as small plants or photographs of family.
Examine what you are thinking
Stress can be caused by how we think. People often believe that the feelings and emotions they experience are caused by external factors. For example, you may hear someone saying, “My boss made me nervous,” or “My child made me so angry.” Most of us think that someone or something determines how we feel.
BUT… This is not true!
What really makes us feel and respond the way we do is not the situation or what someone else does; it is how we see these things and how we think about them.
When we are stressed, our thoughts may be unhelpful or negative and may cause us to feel more stressed. We can have unhelpful thoughts about all kinds of things. Here are some examples:
- I’m not able to cope.
- I’m weak because I can’t manage.
- I can’t do anything more.
- I don’t feel like I have any control.
- I’m destined to fail.
- What if I lose my job?
Once you recognize an unhelpful thought you need to challenge it. Some examples of how to challenge your thought are:
- Is there any evidence that contradicts this thought?
- I’ve always done a good job of my work before. I can do a good job this time too.
- I’ve met deadlines in the past and I can do so again.
Some other questions you could ask yourself to help yourself put the stress in perspective:
- How will I feel about this in six months? I’ll probably look back and laugh about how silly I was being.
- How would others see the situation?
- Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?
You can replace negative or unhelpful thoughts with positive thoughts. For each negative thought, write down something positive. For instance, “My boss hates me. She gave me this difficult report to complete.” could be REPLACED with, “My boss must have a lot of faith in me to give me so much responsibility.”
Finally, socialize with positive people. Notice how people who always look on the bright side deal with challenges. Then consider how you would react in the same situation. Try to adopt their optimism and persistence in the face of difficulty.
Please note that health information on this website is for educational purposes and is not intended to replace advice from your physician or other healthcare professionals.