Work-related stress is a growing health concern. As reported by the American Institute of Stress in 2019, “83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress, US businesses lose up to $300 billion yearly as a result of workplace stress, and stress causes around one million workers to miss work every day.” The numbers are astounding, especially when you think about each of those workers bringing that stress to bear on their mental health, physical health, and relationships. One of those stressed-out workers may very well be you.
Work-related stress connects to many sources, such as ineffective communication, conflict with supervisors or coworkers, heavy workloads, and looming deadlines. Add on stresses surrounding transportation, childcare, and a shaky economy, and it’s no wonder so many people are suffering.
While some work stress is best resolved through company-wide changes to the workplace environment, you may not have control over those circumstances. Working toward positive change in the workplace is a healthy goal, but the best thing you can do to decrease your stress today is to focus on what you can control.
When you get that sinking feeling as the alarm goes off in the morning, where does your mind go? Your demanding boss? Your chaotic desk? A work truck that barely sputters to its destination?
Again, you can’t control everything, but you can listen to your thoughts, determine what is causing the most stress, and work to solve problems when you can. Maybe taking an afternoon to clean and organize your work space, though not pressing in the moment, will help you work with more efficiency in the long run, lessening your stress.
Perhaps developing a new time management strategy will yield the same results. Prioritize tasks you must do, followed by ones you would like to do and those that can wait, in order to clarify and focus your day. Set aside specific times to reply to emails and phone calls while reserving other spaces in your schedule to focus on tasks without interruptions. If simply moving your work space or switching up teams can prevent interpersonal conflict with another employee, talk with your employer or human resources manager. There may be a simple solution that can reduce your stress significantly.
When deadlines are beating down the door, probably the last thing you want to do is leave your desk to stretch, take a brisk walk, engage in breathing exercises, or eat lunch. Like taking the time to organize your space or to-do list, however, taking breaks will yield greater productivity in the long run. A minute or two away from your chair, screen, or work equipment once per hour does wonders for your eyesight and physical health, too.
You probably know all the “good-for-you” tips: eating well, sleeping well, getting exercise. But are you really incorporating these healthy actions into your daily life? If revamping your life feels overwhelming at first, take the process slowly, one new habit at a time. Consider trauma-informed yoga a release exercise for stress. Invite coworkers to join you for mutual encouragement and support. Chances are, they need it, too!
Self care includes watching your thought patterns as well. According to the Harvard Health Blog, “Chronic stress and worry can lead people to develop a mental filter in which they automatically interpret situations through a negative lens.” These negative thoughts become reality in the mind, compounding the stress cycle. By switching out a negative filter for a more realistic one, you may find it easier to cope with work challenges.
Lastly, give yourself permission to say no. Of course, your job requires you to keep commitments and meet expectations. However, if you cannot keep up with unrealistic demands, you have the right to politely express that you have reached your limit.
If work stress continues to impact your life after applying these strategies, seek help. A mental health professional specializing in stress management can help you find hope and relief, even when your stress feels insurmountable. The Mental Health and Recovery Board of Ashland County provides resources and support for people facing work stress, unemployment stress, and other personal challenges.