Stress at Work
The Need for Stress Management
It is a stressful life we all lead these days and stress at work has become the norm. Worry has become such a constant companion that we have come to expect it and consider it as a normal part of our life. Though some amount of stress is considered normal, too much of it influences our physical and emotional well being. Excessive stress can affect our daily functioning and play havoc in our professional life; hence the need for stress management or resilience training. The more resilient we are, the less we seem to be affected by stress.
Common Reasons for Stress at Work
In a competitive world, one has to be ambitious and pushy to come up in life. One has to constantly innovate and come up with new ideas. One has to speak up to be recognized as worthy. No wonder then that work is stressful. The most common reasons for stress at work include the fear of layoff, the need to give the best at all times, lack of job satisfaction, and problems with management or co-workers.
Identifying Stress at Work
Recognizing that you are stressed out is the first step in stress management. If you are not feeling calm, confident, and relaxed, you are in some form of stress. Are you feeling overwhelmed at work or losing confidence in your ability? You could be having severe stress. You need to take countermeasures through stress management techniques before stress gets you into more trouble. Indications for stress can be physical as well as emotional. It’s important that you are able to identify what is causing the stress. Is it coming from the environment or from within?
Listen to your body’s cues: Are you clenching your hands? Do your muscles feel tight? Is your breathing steady or are you “forgetting” to breathe? Check out your emotional response: Are you constantly worrying? Do you feel agitated, depressed, or irritable?
Here are some more typical indications for stress:
- Feeling irritable or anxious always.
- Loss of appetite.
- Sleeping problems.
- Stomach pains (could be ulcers).
- Inability to concentrate.
- Lack of interest in your job.
- Lack of interest in sex.
- Substance abuse to deal with work pressure.
Stress Management and Resilience
What differentiates successful people with those that are struggling in their career is their ability of being able to perform under stress or being more resilient. Successful people are those who have learned to manage stress at work.
Let us consider a very typical scenario – one that we have all come across at some time or the other: Ben has always considered himself successful, but lately he has been struggling… There are some issues with a major client and his boss has been pressuring him to sort them out quickly. He has been staying late at office ever so often that his wife isn’t pleased at all and is trying to make him rethink his career options. Added to that, his generally sweet-tempered daughter is now going through a rebellious phase. Luckily, Ben held on. He recognized that even if he cannot control everything in his home and workplace, there’s one thing he can control – his own ability to react to situations.
Here are a few stress management techniques suggested by occupational psychologists to help you cope with stress at work:
- Recognize that you are having a difficult time with stress at work and try to work around it. Take charge of your physical and emotional well being. When you are healthy (both physically and emotionally), you can deal better with stress.
- Eat healthy and mindfully. Get into a practice of not skipping meals. Eat small meals when hungry. Healthy eating ensures that you get enough energy for work. This will also take care of your blood sugar and blood pressure – the two physiologic factors that are entwined with stress.
- Sleep. Not getting enough sleep is the most common cause of stress at work. Always make sure that you get a good night’s sleep of at least eight hours. Sometimes, worry can also make you sleepless, which is where exercise can help.
- Exercise regularly. Finding time for exercise in an already busy schedule can be difficult. Nonetheless, physical exertion can not only keep your body fit, but also keep you mind sharp. Exercise will also tire you out physically and you will get a more natural and sound sleep. Yoga, for instance, has exercises that can aid you in sleeping better. Yoga also encourages meditation that helps you un-clutter your mind and bust stress at work.
- Reduce smoking and alcohol. While alcohol can temporarily relieve anxiety, you could end up becoming alcohol dependant. Smoking can make you feel jittery instead of calming you up, as nicotine is a stimulant.
- Think calmly. Do not respond emotionally to a pressure situation. Take a breather and then decide what to do. Losing your cool will not solve anything.
- Be positive. Your stress can affect your colleagues too. If you are negative, you will negatively affect other people and their stress will in turn affect you. Identify these negative patterns and try to improve your interactions with your co-workers. Communication is the key.
- Communicate. Laugh and diffuse pressure situations with humour. Be willing to adjust with others’ issues and they will be willing to help you with yours.
- Organize. Managing and organizing work can speed things up and help clear away backlogs. To that end: Be on time. In fact, start 10 or 15 minutes early, so you don’t have to worry about being late. Don’t just make to-do lists, but stick to them and get the jobs done. If a project looms large and makes you anxious, diminish it by taking it through small steps. Congratulate yourself for every little accomplishment.
- Prioritize. Do what has to be done immediately right away and keep less important tasks for later, or…
- Delegate. There are specific tasks that you may be proficient in (or require your particular attention) and some other tasks that you can delegate to an assistant. If you are finding yourself too busy to do everything by yourself, hire an assistant to deal with the less important tasks.
- Practice mindfulness. The modern working life is full of distractions, according to Carlos Schafer, psychologist here at the Centre for Emotion Focused Practice. The self respecting worker these days cannot do without gadgets that keep him connected always. A typical day starts with reading aimless mails, diverting the mind for the rest of the day. No one can do without emails or IMs in a near paperless office. However, these convenient online tools can also prove to be distracting, and giving complete attention to one’s job seems virtually impossible. Carlos and other occupational psychologists suggest practising mindfulness in the workplace to be more efficient as well as to reduce unnecessary stressors that the morning mails bring. Read Carlos Schafer’s article, “Mindfulness in the Workplace and Everywhere” and learn mindfulness techniques that are also very effective in stress management.
- Balance life at work and home. Don’t take up a new project if you are already busy with several. Ensure you have enough leisure for other pursuits.
- Divert your mind by engaging in other pursuits that are fun. All work and no play, as the saying goes, make you dull. Life is not all about work; having a diverting hobby will make you feel that you live life at the fullest.
- Share your problems with your partner or your closest friend. Talking can clear the muddle in your head by giving you a fresh perspective. If you would rather talk to impartial person, going for workplace counselling with an occupational psychologist can be really beneficial. The Centre for Emotion Focused Practice offers services for organisations, both at our workspace here in South Yarra as well as offsite. Our workplace programs utilize Process Experiential Emotion Focused Therapy (PEEFT) techniques which help to promote positive and healthy relationships among team members, and also enhance resilience, productivity, and effectiveness in the workplace.
- Go on a sabbatical. Taking time off work to go on a long holiday with your family or friends will revitalize you. When you return back to work, you will be surprised by the freshness of your ideas and the verve you bring with you.
Finally, realize that you cannot control every situation. If there is anything that you can control, it is in how you adapt to stressful situations. Changing yourself for sake of stress management need not be drastic; nonetheless a change, however minor, in your perspectives, attitudes, and reactions, can help you deal with stress at work.
If you would like help with managing stress or build resilience, please call us on 9820 5577.
Barry Strmelj is an experienced counsellor and psychologist who has a broad range of clinical experiences, working with couples and relationship issues, mental health issues, addictions, disability issues, career roles, and men’s issues. He seeks to develop a collaborative relationship with each person and couple to support them to make effective change in their lives.
If you are looking for help, whether for yourself or for a loved one, our psychologists can assist in exploring underlying issues through therapy. Please visit our practitioners’ page to find out more, or call (03) 9820-5577 for an appointment or to make enquiries.