If workplace stress is overwhelming you, there are some effective steps you can take to keep your health in check. Stress is a natural part of life, but too much can damage your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
In this article, we’ll explore the nature of stress within the workplace, and outline some evidence-based tips to help you prevent stress at work from reducing your quality of life.
How Much Job Stress is too Much?
A little bit of stress can help you stay focused, energized, and motivate you to rise up to demands and new challenges. Stress keeps us actively engaged in what we’re doing so that we can achieve positive outcomes.
Still, too much stress can damage your health and well-being. Today’s workplace can be hectic, and if we don’t keep our stress levels in check, we might eventually burn out. Burnout is a common stress-related condition that can affect all types of workers, from healthcare practitioners to teachers to creatives.
Long hours, high pressure demands from your boss, and looming deadlines can send you on an emotional roller coaster and make you lose sight of your health and well-being. If stress at work becomes too much, you may find yourself worried, exhausted, and overwhelmed.
Excess stress can make it difficult to focus, perform well, and apply your best self to your work. When stress impacts your ability to cope, it is no longer functional. It can deteriorate your physical and mental health and has a significant negative impact on your level of job satisfaction and fulfillment.
If stress at work is damaging your performance, mental health, and social life outside of work, then it’s too much, and it’s time to make a change. No job is worth the loss of your health and well-being. So, no matter what you do, make sure to prioritize your health over everything else.
How Does Workplace Stress Affect Your Health?
Our bodies are designed to handle stress, but only in short bursts. Stress serves a survival function in that it keeps us alert and ready to avoid danger. However, it becomes problematic when it persists and we don’t get any rest.
Persistent, or ‘chronic’, stress leads to tension in the body, which can lead to inflammation if left unchecked. Inflammation is one of the leading causes of illness and disease, so we must do everything within our power to reduce our stress levels.
If stress goes on for too long, our physical and emotional health suffers. We become prone to headaches, stomach problems, high blood pressure, and sleep issues. Too much stress can also lead to emotional issues such as depression, panic attacks, and other types of anxiety-related issues.
Research on the effects of stress on the body has found that chronic stress increases a person’s likelihood of developing heart disease, cancer, lung problems, preventable accidents, liver problems, substance abuse, and even suicide.
What Causes Stress Within the Workplace?
Some of the most common sources of stress in the workplace include:
- Job insecurity
- Working overtime
- Increasing job demands and pressure to perform better with no increase in job fulfillment or satisfaction
- Little control regarding how you work
- Poor stress management
- Lack of support and encouragement
- Stressful work environment
- Lack of appropriate training
These are just some causes of workplace stress. Others include:
- Conflict between you and your co-workers or your boss
- Not liking your job because it doesn’t align with your values or dreams
- Low wages
The causes of workplace stress also come down to your individual experience. It helps to identify your exact stressors at work if you want to eventually overcome them.
What are the Warning Signs of too Much Stress at Work?
If you frequently feel stressed at work, you are likely to become frustrated, angry, irritable, and lacking in confidence. You might become withdrawn, which can impact your workplace relationships and lead to feelings of isolation, which is a common stressor both in and out of work.
If you’re wondering whether your job stress is too much for you to handle, consider the following warning signs of unhealthy workplace stress:
- Anxiety, depression
- Frustration, irritability
- Loss of interest and enjoyment in your job
- Sleep issues (insomnia, over-sleeping, trouble staying asleep)
- Poor concentration and attention
- Brain fog
- Decreased libido
- Using substances to cope with stress
If you’re experiencing any of the above as a result of stress at work, it’s time to take a step back and get your health in check. Is your job really worth it if it’s making you feel that bad?
Of course, many of us feel obliged to stay in our jobs even if we’re stressed because we have mouths to feed, family to take care of, and other important responsibilities we can’t neglect. Simply getting up and leaving your work because it’s stressful just isn’t a viable option for most of us.
Still, that doesn’t mean you have to push through the stress and lose your health in the process. As promised, below we have outlined some effective tips and techniques to help you beat your workplace stress.
How to Beat Workplace Stress
1. Reach out for support
Sometimes all you need to reduce your stress levels is to reach out to a friend or coworker for support. Share your stress story with someone who you know will listen and offer compassionate support. When we feel stressed, it can be hard to connect with others. However, we are social beings and gain a lot of relaxation and happiness when we connect with others.
Talk to a coworker
Talk out your stress face-to-face with a coworker to blow off some steam and regain your peace of mind. Let the other person know that they don’t need to fix anything for you – you just want them to listen.
If you’re going to reach out to a coworker for support, try not to offload your problems onto them. They’re there to listen, not to take on your stress. If a trusted coworker does offer a compassionate ear, return the favor and let them vent when they’re feeling stressed. By establishing a healthy supportive relationship with a coworker, you may notice an increase in your workplace well-being.
Talk to friends and family
You can also turn to a friend or family member for support if needed. Sometimes you need to vent about work outside of the work setting to someone who isn’t directly involved. They may be able to offer a different perspective because they’re not under the same pressure as you and your coworkers. Just remember to be mindful of using other people for stress relief.
If someone is willing to listen, don’t take it for granted. Know when you’ve said enough, and thank them for taking the time to support you.
2. Take care of yourself
Exercise and nutrition are key to living a healthy, stress-free lifestyle. It’s easy to forget about your health when work demands are high and you’re under pressure to perform well and meet deadlines, but if you forget to mind your health, your work performance and concentration levels will suffer. Exercise and nutrition are key to effective stress management.
If you take the time to keep your physical and mental health in check, your mind and body will be stronger, and you’ll feel more emotionally resilient at work. You can optimize your physical and mental health through regular exercise, staying hydrated, and eating healthy, nutrient-rich foods.
Get enough exercise
One of the most powerful ways to bust your workplace stress and improve your mood while you’re at it is to get regular exercise. Extensive research has shown that exercising even two to three times a week can drastically improve your mental and physical health, lift your mood, increase your energy levels, and sharpen your focus. It is a highly effective way to achieve physical and mental relaxation.
Walking, running, dancing, and skipping rope are known to soothe the nervous system. When the nervous system is in a stressed state for too long, other areas of our life suffer. As babies, when our nervous system is stressed we usually get help from our caregivers. They rock, coo, and sing to us to mechanically soothe our nervous system.
As we get older, we need to learn how to self-soothe. Through rhythmic movement such as dancing or running, we take control of our nervous system by putting it under healthy pressure and allowing it to relax naturally.
Regular exercise (at least two to three times a week) is a great way to prevent stress and tension from building up. Still, sometimes we find ourselves in the midst of stress and lost for what to do.
If you’re at work and feeling overwhelmed with stress, take a quick break if you can. Get up from your desk and go for a walk around the office. Stretch your shoulders and your legs to increase your blood flow and get more oxygen to your brain.
On your breaks, try to fit in a quick walk or run. Of course, you need to make sure you have time to eat, but it’s likely you have enough time for some light activity as well. For example, if you have an hour’s break and you spend 15 minutes eating and 45 minutes on your phone, you can definitely fit in some time for brief exercise.
The food you choose to eat and how you eat it has a huge influence on your mood and stress levels at work. For example, instead of eating a big meal in the morning and waiting until you get home to have dinner, try eating a little more often.
Small but frequent healthy, nutritious meals keep your blood sugar levels consistent, which maintains your energy throughout the day. Low blood sugar is strongly associated with irritability and mood swings, so keep it balanced and you will reap the benefits.
Eat less refined sugar and carbohydrates
Stress can make you crave sugary snacks like chips, cakes, chocolate, or fast food like burgers and fries. These foods might satisfy your hunger and make you feel good in the short term, but in the long term, they expound your stress levels. Excess sugary fast food will soon lead to a crash, where your mood and energy drop significantly and impact your ability to stay focused and present at work.
While work itself might be stressful, two people might experience that stress differently. The person who opts for immediate gratification through unhealthy snack foods is likely to feel overwhelmed by work stress and feel that they don’t have the resources to cope.
On the other hand, the person who nourishes themselves with whole foods, fruits, vegetables, and plenty of water may also feel stressed but is more likely to take on the challenge and overcome the stress.
Drink less caffeine
Most of us love a coffee in the morning or during the afternoon break, which is fine, as long as you don’t overdo it. It can be tempting to reach for another cup of coffee when a deadline is coming and you need that extra energy boost, but too much coffee can have the opposite of its desired effects.
Caffeine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant, which means it makes us alert and energetic. Too much can lead to hyper-alertness and so much energy that we can’t focus. If you’re already feeling stressed, you may be experiencing some anxiety, which will be exacerbated by caffeine.
Include Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet
Omega-3 fatty acids should be a part of any nutritious diet. They are proven to improve your mood and boost your brain power. You can increase your omega-3 intake by including fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines into your diet two to three times a week, as well as walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds.
Get enough sleep
Good quality sleep is crucial for living a stress-free life. If you don’t get enough sleep, or sleep too much, you face an increased likelihood of experiencing anxiety, depression, and a lack of focus. These are all ingredients for a stressful work day, month, and even year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get between 7 – 9 hours of sleep every night. If you neglect getting enough sleep, it will get in the way of your productivity and problem-solving skills. With more rest, your mental faculties will be high and you’ll find it a lot easier to get through your work day.
You can get better quality sleep by addressing your night time habits. Do you stay up until an unreasonable hour, even when you work early in the morning? Do you stare at your phone screen until you fall asleep? Or do you eat lots of snacks and drink alcohol before bed? All of these habits are damaging your sleep health.
Try to set and follow a sleep routine. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. It may be difficult at first, especially if you’re used to sleeping at different times every night, but it soon becomes easier. Your body will adapt to your new routine and it won’t be long before you start to reap the benefits.
How Can I help my Employees Feel Less Stressed at Work?
Prioritize employee health and well-being
Stress in the workplace kills productivity and reduces your employees’ job satisfaction. If you don’t prioritize your workers’ health and well-being, you risk damaging the health of your company as a whole.
Employers can boost employee well-being and productivity by allocating health-positive resources in the workplace. Make sure your human resources manager is readily available to talk to and support your workers when they feel stressed.
If your employees report high levels of stress in the workplace, ask them what they need to do to feel better. Sometimes all they need is a couple of extra breaks, an extension on a deadline, or a more pleasant working environment.
Incorporate biophilic office design
Try to incorporate biophilic office design into the workplace. Biophilic design refers to the use of plants and natural colors and textures throughout the workspace. A well-designed, nature-oriented workplace can drastically improve employee mood and well-being, reduce stress, reduce absence, and increase job fulfillment and satisfaction.
Consult your employees
Make sure your employees are trained and capable of meeting the demands you place on them. According to the U.S National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, job stress can be defined as ‘harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker.’
Consult with your employees and ask them how they feel about what you’re asking them to do. If they report that your demands are too high or that they don’t feel capable, offer a training program or assess how you delegate responsibilities among your team. If your employees believe that you have their best interests at heart, they will likely feel less stressed and experience greater job satisfaction.
The Bottom Line
If job stress is getting in the way of your health and happiness, it’s time to make a change. In today’s workplace culture it can seem as though pushing ourselves beyond our limits and capabilities is the only way to make progress, but if your health is suffering, then you’re not really making progress. Your health and well-being matter more than your job.
We want to do well at work to achieve our goals and be able to support those we love, but if we neglect our physical and emotional health by allowing stress to take over, we will be less able to work towards our goals and be of support to the people in our life.
Hopefully, the tips and advice offered above will improve your stress management and help you prioritize your personal health and safety. Whenever stress begins to take over, feel free to come back to this page and read over the tips again.
It can be hard to establish a healthy routine immediately, but if you are consistent with your efforts and stay motivated to keep your health in check, you should notice a drastic improvement not only in the workplace, but in life in general.