Stress at work is normal isn’t it? Every job has it’s stressful elements doesn’t it? Don’t we just have to accept it as a part and parcel of everyday life and like the incredibly tired cliché tells us to do, we should all probably just ‘keep calm and carry on?’

Well, yes and no.

We’ve all been there though, haven’t we? An annoying boss who takes credit for everything you do; tight deadlines coupled with what appears to be too little time to meet them; external thoughts which affect your concentration and therefore your productivity, notwithstanding the impact all of that has on your physical and emotional well-being.

If our stress level get so bad it can be the difference between success and failure both in and out of the workplace.

The flip side of the coin suggests that some degree of stress at work keeps you focused, energetic and gives you the coping mechanisms to meet challenges, goals or targets. So when does a little, healthy stress become a hole from which you’re finding it increasingly difficult to emerge from?

The thousand-mile-an-hour world in which we find ourselves is an emotional rollercoaster, and it’s only getting more acute, according to the latest Labour Force Survey produced annually by the Office of National Statistics:

  • Work-related stress is at it’s highest rate since 2002
  • Reports of work-related stress, depression or anxiety has risen by 16% since 2014-15
  • In 2016-17 the proportion of people experiencing work-related stress, depression or anxiety equates to 1,610 workers per 100,000 (in 2005-06 it was 1,190 per 100,000)
  • 526,000 people who had worked in the previous 12 months had a work-related mental health condition
  • In 2016-17 the abovementioned figure was 487,000 and in 2015-16 it was 442,000
  • In 2016-17 the number of working days lost to stress, depression and anxiety was 12.5 million, up from 11.7 million in 2015-16.

So, workplace stress is here and by the looks of things, it’s not going away any time soon, so what can we do about it?

Beating Workplace Stress

First, it’s important we look at two things – the most common causes of workplace stress and the warning signs to look for. Once we know those two things, we can go about finding ways in which to overcome them, hopefully permanently.

There are lots of causes of stress in the workplace but the most common causes include:

  • The fear of being made redundant and the potential financial stress that holds its hand
  • An increasing workload due to cutbacks or redundancies
  • Little or no chance for advancement
  • The pressure to meet increasingly tight deadlines and unmanageable expectations with no increase in either remuneration, job security or job satisfaction
  • A growing lack of control over what you’re doing, conflicting demands or unclear expectations

And we know we’re getting stressed at work when we hit one or more of the early-warning triggers:

  • Feelings of anxiety, irritability or depression
  • An apathy towards work
  • Restless sleep and the associated fatigue
  • Issues with concentration, listening and responding
  • Physical manifestations including tense muscles, headaches and stomach issues
  • A social withdrawal
  • Loss of sex drive
  • An increasing dependency on drugs or alcohol

Cause and effect.

But the answers to the question ‘how can I minimise my stress levels at work’ are deceptively simple…

Look For Clarity

Requirements that are unclear, opposing instructions from agenda-driven middle managers and an ever-changing priorities list contribute to workplace stress and the way out of this particular funk is through effective communication. The people in charge need to be clear with you about what they want from you and when they want it so talk to them about it.

This purpose of this particular conversation isn’t to lay down your list of grievances but to work together to establish a clear plan for execution and delivery and for the effective management of the stressors you’ve identified. Talk to and seek advice from the people you trust – family, friends, even colleagues about how to achieve clarity at work. They can look at it objectively, you can’t.

Find Healthier Responses

Unhealthy responses in this sense doesn’t refer to telling your boss to ‘do one’, it refers to your responses to stress. For many of us, a stressful day at work equals a justified trip to Tesco for a bottle of wine, a family-sized four-cheese pizza and three Almond Magnums. The instant gratification may work but the long-term effects most certainly won’t.

When you’re feeling the tension rise, go to a kick-boxing class and imagine your boss’s face on the bag as you knock seven kinds of hell out of it. For a more sedate technique, try yoga, Pilates or tai-chi. Go for a run, a cycle or a swim and you will feel better, you’ll sleep better and you’ll wake up feeling better.

Coffee – Yes or No?

Try taking coffee away from some people and they will attempt to claw your eyes out but limiting your intake is never a bad thing. The opening salvo of a triple-shot macchiato before you’ve sat down followed by three or four departmental coffee rounds over the course of the day will make you jittery and leave you with all-day feelings of unease.

Also, it will (and does) dramatically affect your sleep and those two factors combined increase stress. A couple of coffees a day – ideally before lunch – is fine, six a day isn’t. Try switching two or three out for fruit, jasmine or camomile tea.

Turn Around Self-Defeating Habits

There are plenty of ways in which we can break in-built habits that have a negative effect at work.

  1. Set yourself realistic targets, i.e. always do your best and no-one can ask for more from you.
  2. There are lots of situations under your control you can do something about but don’t focus on situations you can exert no influence over.
  3. De-cluttering your workspace is a cathartic exercise. For one thing, knowing where everything is can be a great stress-reliever but perhaps more importantly, a clean desk equates to clarity of thought and behaviour.
  4. Reverse negative thinking by trying to picture the best possible outcome of a given scenario rather than the worst.
  5. Being a cog in a wheel often gives rise to thoughts centered around ‘what’s the point of all this’ so instead of thinking about yourself as a mundane box-ticker, look for positivity, satisfaction and meaning in what you do. You will regain a sense of purpose and take back control of your day-to-day stress levels.

Walk Away

All uptime needs to be balanced with downtime. We don’t mean quit and go and live on a Buddhist commune in India, we mean that everyone needs time away to recharge to counteract the negative stressors impacting your life. Work to live, don’t live to work.

Take all the holiday time owed to you. You’ve earned it. It’s in your contract. You should never feel guilty about taking time away from the office and when you come back you will feel energised and invigorated. Also, when you leave work, LEAVE work. Try not to be distracted by out-of-hours emails or the presentation you have to give next week. Switch your phone off and instead have some quality time with your family, partner or children. It will relax you and allow you to unwind.

Workplace stress is avoidable if you know three things – the causes, the effects and the resolutions. As with everything of this nature, if it’s left to fester it will only ever get worse but all is not lost. You can take steps to eradicate stress from your life so start tomorrow – it may well be the best career decision you make this year.

For more information about how to deal with stress at work, contact us today.

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