Author: Lote Steina
Work related stress negatively impacts our mental and physical health causing untold amounts of individual and societal suffering. Here’s how you can deal with it!
Stress is a silent killer. It is estimated to cause 120 000 deaths a year in the US alone not to mention $190 billion in healthcare costs. Few people stop to think about these overwhelming figures as they are just lines of virtual ink. But behind them are countless men and women whose lives are negatively affected or outright ruined by stress.
For better or worse most of our stress comes from our jobs. Whether it is your boss, colleagues, assignments, deadlines, pay, work conditions, or anything else – workplace stress is what gets us the most. I’m certain that everyone reading this article has experienced it.
What’s worrying is that a 2021 study found that 48% of employees in the US experienced high to extreme stress. This was an increase of 7% since before the pandemic. Without delving into details as to what might have caused this spike, the implications are dire for employees, employers, and societies in general.
In this article I’ll outline some effective ways you can take to reduce the level of work related stress in your life. First, however, let’s briefly remember why stress is such a nasty enemy.
Imagine a situation like this – your manager messages you asking about a report that’s due tomorrow, but you had completely forgotten about both the task and the deadline. Your heart starts racing, your breath quickens, and your body becomes tense.
This is an evolutionary quirk (fight-or-flight response) that helped our ancestors survive the dangers of their environment. Conveniently it has lingered on and helps many a procrastinator and forgetful worker to muster their resources, pull an all nighter, finish a task, and keep their job, scholarship, social standing, or whatever else.
However, while for our ancestors this was an occasional occurrence that actually helped their survival, many of us feel this on a daily basis. Needless to say, the tension brought about by heightened stress is not good for you, especially if it happens continuously.
Broadly speaking as with everything health related, long-term work related stress can negatively affect both mental and physical health. Burnout (a direct consequence of constant stress at work) is linked to anxiety and depression. Indeed, young men and women who routinely face heavy workloads and extreme time pressure are more likely to have major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
Physically too you will be far from well off with a lot of stress on your shoulders. Going through repeated bouts of fight-or-flight response will not do wonders to your organs and basic bodily systems. Even a flicker of stress disrupts sleep patterns, exercise routines, balanced diet, and a whole bunch of other things. The result? Disturbed immune system as well as increased likelihood of cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes – all are linked to high levels of stress.
It really is a no-brainer that stress is bad for us. Likewise, it is obvious where most of our stress comes from. So how can we make work less taxing on our minds and bodies? Luckily, there are easy steps you can take to make a difference.
There really is no silver bullet when it comes to dealing with stress at work since the causes of the said stress may differ significantly. There may be one, two, or many stressors at your job and overcoming them effectively will require some nuance.
That being said, there are general steps you can take to make yourself more resilient. That way a single frustrating colleague or an annoying task will be nothing more than a mere nuisance, not the straws that break the camel’s back.
So here’s what you can do:
Despite your circumstances, try to plan out your morning so that it goes smoothly. I know, this can be hard for parents as their mornings tend to get hectic. However, if you can prepare clothes, backpacks, and breakfasts the evening before, the morning will be easier and less stressful.
So what does this have to do with work? You would be surprised how much of an impact a peaceful, well-planned and executed morning with proper nutrition and positive attitude can have on the day ahead.
Your physical workplace has a significant impact on your mental wellbeing. Do these things to make it less stressful:
It would be a fair assumption that for most people workplace stress is tied to the tasks they do. After all, that’s where most of our time at work is spent. While sometimes the task itself may create this frustration, more often than not it is lack of clarity that contributes to stress.
To avoid stress, make sure you understand exactly what and by when is expected of you. Make it clear to your management that you would like to be briefed if there are updates or changes to your tasks or the project you participate in.
A great and practical solution is arranging a one-on-one meeting with your supervisor every week or two to discuss the requirements, priorities, and expectations. That will take a load of stress off both of your backs.
Either as you meet with your supervisor or on your own, define priorities and tackle them one at a time. Having a list of tasks is great, but it can be stressful, especially if you have plenty and you don’t know where to start.
Figure out what are your personal priorities as well as what the business or your supervisor expects from you. Then concentrate your efforts on that. If, conversely, your attention was divided between a bunch of different tasks, your concentration will falter, your performance drop, and stress will increase.
The prioritization also implies that any attempts at multitasking should be ruled out. In most cases multitasking ends up being a productivity and quality killer. If those two suffer, neither you nor the manager will be pleased leading to unnecessary stress.
Breaks will help to keep you sane. Just like athletes need time to recover from physical activity, your mind needs to rest from any kind of work. Take breaks every 75 to 90 minutes not just to alleviate stress, but also to boost productivity.
What to do during those breaks? Interact with others by simply chatting or having lunch together. Most importantly, try to get some sort of exercise during your breaks, preferably something outdoors. Fresh air and exercise does wonders to your mood.
Finally and especially if you are a remote worker – don’t open your work email outside work hours. Making a clear distinction between work and family lives is essential for a happier and more peaceful life.
Sure, there are things you can do and steps you can take to remedy the impact stress has on you. However, this shouldn’t be just your responsibility. I love free markets just as much as the next gal, but company profits shouldn’t come at the expense of their workers’ health and well being. There can always be a balance.
After all, burnout is as much of a worry for companies whose overall productivity and bottom lines are seriously affected by stress induced absenteeism, staff turnover, and worsening interpersonal relations between employees. The American Institute of Stress estimates that in the US alone 1 million employees miss work each day due to stress-related causes, costing U.S. businesses up to $300 billion annually.
Governments too shouldn’t turn a blind eye. Stressed out workers are definitely a strain on the healthcare system of any country. Nor do they do wonders to the political stability of societies. Finally, those $300 billion US businesses lose annually is a hefty sum that could have been taxed.
What I’m trying to say is that there are two sides to this. We explored the things you can do to reduce your work stress. Stay tuned for the next article to find out what systemic changes employers can and should make to improve the conditions for their workers.