Managing Workplace Stress – Tips for Employees

Managing Workplace Stress – Tips for Employees

Do you notice feeling more irritable, snappy, or overwhelmed? Or perhaps some physical complaints like frequent headaches, aches and pains, exhaustion, but tests can’t identify the cause? If so, we need to talk about stress. You may have attended our previous webinar on Managing Stress in a Busy Society but if you missed it, here are some key points on managing stress.  

Why do we need to talk about it?

Stress levels are on the rise globally, with the financial climate, social media and social pressures all playing key roles in the reasons why. 

Talking about stress is important because:

  • Stress impacts our physical health – When we experience stress, our bodies release hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can cause a range of physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, and fatigue. We are also more likely to adopt unhealthier coping strategies when stressed, such as drinking more, exercising less and having an imbalanced diet. Over time, chronic stress can increase the risk of developing health problems such as heart disease and high blood pressure.
  • Stress impacts our mental health – People who are stressed are more likely to experience common mental health problems such as depression or anxiety, and stress is also a key exacerbating factor for any existing mental health problems. We are more likely to feel dissatisfied with our jobs or life in general the more stressed we are, which also impacts our mood.
  • Stress impacts our relationships – Stress can affect our relationships with others, causing conflict, irritability, or withdrawal from social situations. Do you notice when you are feeling irritable it’s those closest to you that get the brunt of this and vice versa? Also, stress impacts our energy levels and our sex drive which can have an impact on our romantic relationships.
  • We can take action – By identifying its presence, we can learn how to manage it and put things in place to enhance our wellbeing.
  • It leads to better quality of life – By taking action we can re-address our work life balance so it is healthier, we can improve our relationships and sense of control. 

How do I know if I am stressed?

Key signs of stress include:

  1. Physical symptoms: Stress can cause a range of physical symptoms, including headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. It can also cause changes in appetite, digestion, and libido.
  2. Emotional symptoms: Stress can also affect our emotions, causing feelings of anxiety, irritability, and low mood. 
  3. Behavioral symptoms: When stressed, we may exhibit behavioral changes such as eating more or less than usual, isolating ourselves from others, or engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or drug use.
  4. Cognitive symptoms: Stress can also affect our thought processes, leading to negative self-talk, pessimism, and difficulty seeing the positives in life. We may find it hard to think clearly, concentrate and/or make decisions.

So, what can I do about this?

Loads of things! It is just about finding what works for you and your individual circumstances. Some ideas include:

  • Prioritize

What is the worst that is going to happen if you don’t do that thing on your to do list today? Do you really have to get it ALL done right now?? We can often get pulled into the trap of thinking we have to finish everything to feel better and more in control. The irony is that this leaves us feeling more out of control, usually because it is not humanly possible to be on top of everything all the time! 

Number your to-do list (make one you haven’t got one already) in order of how essential each item is. Carry over any you didn’t get done to the following day, but again in order of priority. This may mean one task is carried over 20 days in a row, that is ok if it isn’t one of the essential ones! 

  • Break tasks down 

Ok so you’ve got a to-do list, you know what you need to prioritize…but where to start?! This can be a common stumbling block – the getting started bit. We are more likely to procrastinate when it is a task that feels too big or too boring; so, it stays on the list, and we feel more stressed just looking at it!

Perhaps break down each task into individual steps, and tackle one at a time. Schedule the components into your diary if helpful – like mini appointments with yourself. 

  • Take breaks

Breaks are essential in managing stress, for wellbeing, productivity, and creativity reasons. Yet the more stressed we are the more they feel like a luxury and the less we are likely to take them! You can read my earlier blog in the Sage Library on 6 reasons why taking breaks is essential. 

  • Be mindful

Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present and engaged in the current moment. It can help you to reduce stress by increasing their awareness of thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. You don’t have to sit and do a lengthy meditation though (or do if this is your kind of thing), you can be more mindful by focusing on one task at a time, using your senses to anchor yourself to the present and what you are doing in that given moment. If you are interested in learning more about this, my earlier blog on mindlessness vs mindfulness could be a starting point. 

  • Stay connected

Having a support system both inside and outside of the workplace can help to reduce stress. Reply to that friend who messaged you days ago, arrange a catch up with someone – you don’t even have to talk about how you are feeling, even just connecting in general can do great things for our wellbeing. 

Chat to colleagues – are they in the same boat but no one is talking about it?? We can often feel alone and isolated, which perpetuates beliefs there must be something wrong with us. However, putting it out there often helps us realize how we are so not alone in this – stress is universal, everyone experiences it in some shape or form! Maybe others have tips, or can just offer a space to validate and normalize. 

  • Establish a good routine

This includes sleep, balanced eating, exercise, socializing, leisure activities. Make time for these things alongside work. With your new priority system, hopefully there is more flexibility in your schedule. 

Start small and build up. Exercise doesn’t have to be an hour in the gym, it could start with taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking to work if possible, or a walk on your lunch break, or maybe 20 minutes of yoga via a YouTube video in the evening. Socializing doesn’t have to be a big night out where if you are anything like me you may end up exhausted and recovering for 2 days afterwards…it could start with just texting someone, phone calls, a quick coffee catch up. 

  • Speak to your manager

Now this one can be extra daunting and tied up with all sorts of worries about how you may be perceived. BUT a constructive conversation can go a long way. Think about the contributing factors for your stress – both at an individual and occupational level. Have some ideas of what might help, and take these suggestions to your manager, with the aim of having a meaningful forward-thinking discussion and negotiation that could lead to specific changes and strategies being put into place. 

Workplace stress is common, and you are not alone with it. If you notice stress is a persistent factor affecting your wellbeing, or if it is contributing to / exacerbating mental health difficulties, then you may find it helpful to speak to a professional about extra support. At Sage we offer a range of tools for support – from informative webinars to support groups and individual therapy, so don’t hesitate to get in touch if you think this could be helpful to you. 

Written by: Dr Gurveen Ranger

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