Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the demands of day to day living, including the workplace. A bit of stress is, in fact, good for you in that it drives you towards better job or professional performance e.g. before an office presentation, the little stress one feels actually helps them work harder and do better. So far, so good but coping with multiple daily life challenges like long commutes, traffic jams, targets, deadlines, social events and managing a family can often test our coping abilities.
Biologically, our brain is designed to guard us using an alarm system during a threat. In a threatening situation, our body gets a brain signal to release hormones, which ramp up our heart rate and blood pressure, which leads to the typical “fight-or-flight” response. Our body gets the fuel to deal with the situation using more oxygen, more energy and the physical and mental “high”. And once the threat is gone, our bodies ought to return to a normal state. But the hassles of modern living never let some people’s alarm systems shut off. This unhealthy state of stress can harm both our mind and body in the long term.
Among common stressors, workplace stress occupies the top slot. A recent survey indicates that more than half of all employees in India feel stressed during at least 60 percent of the week. Workplace stress can have significant health consequences ranging from benign (more colds and flus) to serious (heart disease, metabolic syndrome). Stress in the modern workplace is a harsh reality. Period. We have to learn to live with it. But while stress at the workplace is common, having a low-stress job is difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, a much more realistic approach is to evolve effective coping strategies to reduce the stress you face.
Stress Management Training
Stress management training can help us re-calibrate our alarm system to help us adapt and achieve resilience. Without such resilience, we may always be on a high alert and with time, this long-standing stress can lead to health problems. Therefore, waiting until stress actually damages your health, relationships and the quality of life isn’t a sensible thing to do. You can do a lot to drive away the pressures and lead a much more peaceful and tension-free life by practicing stress management techniques.
Experts in mental health counselling opine that among common stressors, job-related pressures, relationship issues or financial troubles are relatively easy to single out. But the seemingly small and innocuous things like waiting in a long line or rushing for a meeting can also raise the stress you feel. To boot, even apparently positive events like tying the nuptial knot or shifting to a new home can be sources of stress. In fact, any change in life – be it positive or negative- can be a potential source of stress.
It’s important to remember that stress will never vanish from our life. Thus, stress management needs to become part of our day to day living. By identifying the stressors in our life and practicing relaxation, we can certainly hope to counter its ill-effects and improve our coping mechanisms. Of course, you don’t have to deal with all by yourself as you can seek help from family and friends.
Importance of Stress Management Training
Constantly elevated levels of stress endanger our entire physical and mental well-being. It upsets our emotional equilibrium and physical health, interferes with our thinking and functioning and impairs our ability to enjoy life. On the face of it, it appears as if there’s nothing you can do about it. Hold on! You have a lot more control than you think.
Stress management training can help you get rid of stress and become happier, healthier, and more productive. The ultimate goal behind this a balanced life in which you have enough time for work, relationships and fun and you can build the resilience to meet challenges. But there isn’t a universal solution here and you’ll have to experiment to find what works best in your case.
Common sources of work-related stress
In stress management counseling, there are some common threads binding together major problems related to stress. The persistent stress due to these factors takes a toll on your health and well-being. Certain things tend to go together with work-related stress e.g.
- Poor remuneration/salaries
- Excess workload
- Lack of opportunities for advancement
- Un-engaging or un-challenging work
- Lack of social support system
- lack of control over job-related decisions
- Conflicting demands or lack of clarity about job expectations
- Effects of uncontrolled stress
A stressful work environment can contribute to headache, sleep disturbances, short temper, poor concentration problems, anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, and weak immune system. It can also contribute to depression, obesity, and heart disease. To add to it, people with excessive stress often deal with it in unhealthy ways – overeating, eating unhealthy, smoking or drugs and alcohol.
Look for warning signs
The mother of all stress management techniques – identifying your own stressors. If you feel overwhelmed at work, you can lose confidence and can become irritable or withdrawn, which makes you less productive and makes the work seem less rewarding. If you ignore the warning signs of work stress, they can lead to bigger problems.
The warning signs of stress are:
Excessive stress at work
Anxiety, irritability or depression
Apathy, loss of interest
Feeling of fatigue
Muscle tension or headache
Loss of interest in sex drive
Alcohol or drugs
Common causes of excessive stress
Fear of being sacked
More overtime due to staff cuts
Performance pressure to meet expectations, but without increasing job satisfaction
The pressure to work at an optimum level, always
Stress Management Techniques At The Workplace
If you are finding it hard to cope with work stress, you may give the following a try:
Begin it right
After rushing send kids to school, dealing with traffic, and downing coffee for a healthy breakfast, many people are already stressed by the time they reach their workplace. This situation makes them more prone to feeling stress at the workplace in the day.
Have a stressful morning can affect significantly the workplace stress you feel. When you start your day in a planned manner, have healthy meals and a positive attitude, the stress related to your job rolls off your back so quickly.
In stress management counseling, I always advise workers to analyze their schedule, responsibilities and daily tasks. All work and no play is a recipe for burnout. Find a balance between work and family, social activities and me time, responsibilities and downtime.
Too often, we underestimate how long something will take. If you have too much on your plate, distinguish between “shoulds” and “musts.” Place tasks that are not really necessary at the bottom or yank them off altogether.
If you commute, leave earlier in the morning. Mere 10-15 minutes can be the difference between rushing to your desk and having time to ease into the day.
Take short breaks for a walk or to sit back and clear your head. Also, get away from your desk or work for lunch.
De-stress by improving emotional intelligence
Experts on mental health counselling believe that even if you work in a stressful environment, you can maintain self-control and self-confidence by practicing emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage and use your emotions constructively. In matters of satisfaction and success at work, emotional intelligence is as important as intellectual ability. Emotional intelligence means communicating with others in a way that draws others to you, overcomes differences, repairs bruised feelings, and reduces tensions.
It has four main components:
Self-awareness: To recognize your emotions and their effects
Self-management: To control your emotions and behavior and to adapt to changing circumstances.
Social awareness: To understand and respond to others’ emotions and feel socially comfortable.
Relationship management: To inspire, influence and connect with others and manage conflicts.
- Mental health counselling experts advise keeping a journal to identify situations creating the most stress and how you respond. Record your thoughts, feelings, and information about the environment, the physical setting, and how you reacted.
- Did you raise your voice? Get a snack? Go for a walk? It can help you find patterns, triggers and your reactions.
- Developing healthy responses
- Instead of fighting stress with fast food/alcohol, make healthy choices.
- Exercise is a great stress-buster as is Yoga. In fact, any physical activity is beneficial.
- Make time for hobbies and other favourite activities – novels, concerts, games. Do set aside time for the things that bring you pleasure.
One of the most effective Stress Management Techniques, physical activity is a big stress reliever as it releases the feel-good endorphins and can also be a valuable distraction from daily worries.
Regular exercise for 30 minutes or more gives you the most benefit but it’s alright to build up your fitness level over time. Even small activities can add up to a lot over the course of a day. Get up and get going.
- Dance to music.
- Take your dog out for a walk.
- Walk down or cycle to the nearby store for vegetables/ groceries.
- Avoid the elevator. Use the stairs.
- Park your car at a far away location and walk the rest of the way.
- Pair up with an exercise buddy to encourage each other.
- Play ping-pong or other activity-based video game with your children.
While any physical activity would help you burn away stress, rhythmic activities like walking, running, swimming, dancing, cycling, and aerobics are especially effective. Choose something enjoyable so that you stick with it.
While exercising, pay conscious attention to your bodily and emotional sensations and focus on coordinating your breathing with the bodily movements. The mindfulness element helps you break the negative cycle that comes with excessive stress.
- Be Clear
A common variable responsible for burnout is unclear requirements for employees. If you aren’t aware of what is expected of you, or if the requirements keep changing without notice, you may feel extremely stressed.
Thus if you do not know whether what you do is enough, talk to your immediate supervisor. You can talk about job expectations and discuss strategies to meet them to relieve stress!
We should be clear about not confusing hard work with overwork at the cost of relationships and health. Every job holder has felt some work-related stress. In the short-term, you may be pressured to meet a deadline or meet a challenging obligation. But it is when work stress becomes chronic that it gets overwhelming and harms physical and emotional health.
Sadly, long-term stress is quite common. In fact, the workplace is consistently cited as a significant stressor by most workers. Of course, you can’t always avoid tension on the job. Yet you can take steps to manage work-related stress.
- Stay Away
Interpersonal conflict can take a toll on your health, physical and emotional. Though in many situations, conflict among co-workers is difficult to avoid, it’s a good idea to avoid it at work as much as possible.
The Takeaways: Say no to gossip, personal religious and political opinions, and “colourful” office humor. If possible, avoid people known for not working well with others. But if you are caught in conflict, handle it properly.
- Stay Organized
You may be disorganized, but planning can greatly decrease work-related stress. Being organized means less rush to avoid being late and less hustling to get out at the end of the day.
Being organized also means avoiding clutter and being more efficient.
A surprising workplace stressor is physical discomfort, related to where you perform your daily work (e.g. desk). Sitting in an uncomfortable chair for some time may not trouble you much, but if spend a lifetime in that chair, the sore back may make you more reactive to stress.
Things as small as noise can distract and cause low-level frustration. By all means, try to have a quiet, comfortable, and calming workplace.
- Multitasking? What’s That?
There was a time, not so long back, when multitasking was touted as a fantastic way to maximize one’s efficiency and get the most done in a day. However, moiré and more research has convincingly proved just the opposite i.e. if people put a phone to their ear and do calculations at the same time, their speed and accuracy often suffer.
A certain “frazzled” feeling comes from splitting your focus, which doesn’t work for most people. So instead of throwing your lot with multitasking, try other cognitive strategies like chunking to stay on top of your game.
- Walk at Lunch
The ill effects of a sedentary lifestyle are too well-known for a recall here. We can combat the effects of work stress with some exercise during the lunch break. You might try short exercise breaks throughout the day to lift your mood and get into better shape.
- Perfectly Imperfect
Being a high achiever makes you feel good and excel, but perfectionism can be problematic for you and others. You cannot do everything perfectly, all the time in a busy, fast-paced job. A good strategy is doing your best and feeling good about your efforts.
- Music on the Drive Home
Listening to music has many benefits and is effective in relieving work-related stress. Listening to a peppy song while making breakfast can help you feel better prepared for the day. Combating the stress of a long day with your favorite music on the drive home can help you wind down.
- Connecting and Reaching Out
Spending good face time with others who makes you feel safe and understood is a calming experience. Face-to-face interaction triggers hormones to neutralize the body’s “fight-or-flight” response, which is a natural stress reliever (and staves off depression and anxiety). So connect regularly face to face with family and friends.
The people you talk to may not “fix” a problem but they can be good listeners. Do not think of yourself as being weak or being a burden as your loved ones will feel flattered by the trust you repose in them. Nurturing a close friend’s network can enhance your resilience to stressors.
- Connect with colleagues. B. Help out others.
- Share lunch/ tea with a friend. D. Ask a loved one to check in on you regularly.
- Accompany someone to a theatre /exhibition/concert.
- Call or email a forgotten friend.
- Go for a walk H. Schedule a weekly dinner date.
- Meet new people by attending a class or joining a club.
- Confide in a teacher/mentor/ elder one.
- Balancing, Having Fun
Take out some “me” time to reduce the stress in life. Do not get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life so much that you forget your own needs. Nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury and you are worth it! With regular fun time, you handle the stresses in a better way.
- Take out leisure time, rest and relaxation in your daily schedule. Don’t let other obligations encroach on this time as you deserve a break to recharge your discharged batteries.
- Watch the stars, play the piano or go biking- any leisure activity of choice. Always keep your sense of humour intact, including laughing at yourself. Being able to laughing at oneself is a mark of emotional maturity. Even otherwise, laughter therapy helps you fight stress.
- Try yoga, meditation, and deep breathing to trigger the relaxation response, the opposite of “the fight or flight” response. Your stress level will decline, making you calm and focused.
- Enough quality sleep is important to effective stress management. Limiting caffeine intake late in the day and minimize computer and television use, at night.
- Fix boundaries. Do not remain available 24 hours a day. Make a rule of not checking email at home in the evening and not answering the phone during dinner. Creating clear boundaries can reduce the work-life conflict and the stress that comes with it.
- Take time to recharge. To avert the negative effects of stress and burnout, take some time out to replenish and return to pre-stress levels. This recovery warrants “switching off” from work with periods when you are not working nor thinking about it. So it’s critical to disconnect from time to time as per your needs and preferences.
- Don’t let your vacation go waste. Take time off to relax and unwind to return to work reinvigorated. If not possible, turn off your smartphone and focus on non-work activities for a while.
- Learn relaxation- meditation, deep breathing exercises, and mindfulness (in which you observe your current experiences and thoughts without judging them) can help melt away stress. Take a few minutes daily for breathing, walking, or enjoying a meal. The skill of focusing on a single activity without distraction will get stronger with practice and you can apply it to many aspects of life.
- Talk to your supervisor. Since employee health is linked to workplace productivity, your boss has an incentive to create a work environment to promote employee well-being. Have an open conversation with your supervisor to come up with an effective plan to manage the stressors you’ve identified, so that you can give your best on the job. While the plan may help you improve your skills in time management, other elements might include identifying employer-sponsored wellness resources you can use, clarifying job expectations, getting necessary support from colleagues, enriching your job to include more challenging tasks or changing your physical workspace to reduce strain.
- Get support. Getting help from friends and family can improve your stress management. Your employer may provide stress management resources including online information, counseling, and referral to mental health professionals. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, you may talk to a psychologist, who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviors.