In a nutshell: You can’t escape stress at work, but identifying the stressors, developing healthy behaviors and seeking help can reduce the strain.
According to the American Psychological Association’s recent Stress in America survey, 61% of respondents reported work as a common source of stress. And, for more than a decade, work (along with money) have consistently topped the list of stressors. So, while it may be inevitable to experience stress at work, we can learn healthy ways to cope with it.
Here’s how you can build a happier relationship with work.
Identify What’s Stressing You
There are many reasons why people become stressed at work. Some obvious ones are low salaries, excessive workloads, poor physical working conditions and lack of opportunity for growth (in other words, a dead-end job). But, you may be surprised to learn that overpromotion and underutilized skills are also reasons for stress at work.
The first step in feeling better at work is to pinpoint what’s causing you stress. Start by thinking about it in the simplest way possible. You may not realize that a lack of challenging work is what’s stressing you out. But you can probably identify the fact that you are bored. If you can compare your idealistic work environment to your current situation, this will give you a lead. You can’t fix it until you know what’s wrong.
Develop Healthy Responses
The American Heart Association has an important stress-busting recommendation that should help you at work: positive self-talk. Turn, “Ugh. Why can’t I get this right?” to “I’m human, and we all make mistakes. I can fix it!” If you can practice shifting your negative thoughts to positive, it will help you calm down and control stress. To get the most impact from self-talk, practice it every day. Soon enough, thinking positively will come naturally.
You may find a wave of stress coming over you at some point during your workday. There are several “emergency stress-stoppers” you can try:
- Count to 10 before you speak or act.
- Take a few slow, deep breaths.
- Go for a walk – outside or away from the stress-causing situation.
- Turn on relaxing music or an inspirational TED Talk.
- Try meditation. (A tip for mediation at work: Download a guided meditation app on your phone. Highly rated ones include The Mindfulness App, Headspace, Calm and Buddhify.
Being proactive in warding off stress with healthy activities will go a long way when you’re hit with a stressful work situation. Exercise your creativity by coloring, painting or playing an instrument. If you’re not much of an artist, try physical activities, like playing tennis or going for a jog. Spending time with kids and pets – especially outside – will also let you clear your head.
Consider Talking to Your Supervisor
To determine if you should talk to your supervisor about the stress you’re experiencing at work, first assess if it’s real. Just like positive self-talk can leave you feeling rosy, negative self-talk can make you feel like you’re failing. So, determine if work is actually piling up and deadlines are at risk of being missed. If this is the case, approach your supervisor with the facts. Do it in advance so changes can be implemented before it’s too late. Regular one-on-ones with your manager can facilitate workload conversations and ensure solutions are in place before you have disappointed clients. Human resources should be your last stop – if your manager is not receptive to your concerns.
Seek Out Support Resources
According to the American Psychiatric Association, employee assistance programs (EAP) are an often-overlooked resource. An estimated 97% of companies with more than 5,000 employees have an EAP, yet no more than 5% of people with access to EAPs use them. Many workers don’t even know what their EAP can offer. While every company is different, EAPs commonly offer assessments and services for employees dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues. They provide assistance with health and wellness, like weight loss initiatives and smoking cessation, and can address personal problems, like interpersonal relations, legal issues and financial difficulties. And if your company has an EAP, the services are most likely free.