Stress in the Work Environment

We spend most of our lives working, sometimes starting around 16 years of age, some at 18, and others around 22. Most individuals continue to work until retirement age at 62, give or take. That is a significant amount of time in one’s life spent working! The American Institute of Stress reports that 83% of workers suffer from work related stress. 25% of those saying their job is the top stressor in their lives. 76% of US workers report that workplace stress affects their personal relationships. If most of our lives are spent working, wouldn’t we want it to be a place where we feel at peace?

Physical symptoms of work-related stress include muscle tension, headaches, sleeping difficulties, and gastrointestinal irritants. The stress can also show in behavioral symptoms such as aggression, missed days, a lack of creativity, irritability, difficulties with relationships, and impatience. Meanwhile, psychological symptoms of work stress can include anxiety, depression, a feeling of being overwhelmed, and cognitive challenges (difficulty concentrating or making decisions). These stressors not only have an impact or our mental health and wellness, but also on our effectiveness at our jobs and our quality of life.

Many factors that cause work related stress are out of our own control, such as a negative management style, the culture of the organization you work for, a lack of resources, and the physical work environment. However, there are steps we can take to help create a work environment in which we can perform our best. Some of these strategies include:

  1. Spend time reflecting. Take some time to think about what it is at work that is causing the stress and how you respond to those situations. Include your feelings, the people and circumstances, and the setting. Recall how you responded or reacted in each situation. Did it help? Or did your response make it worse? When you reflect and take notes, it can help you notice patterns to help plan for change.
  2. Plan for each day and eat a nutritious breakfast. This will ensure you stay on task with reasonable goals and that you have the energy needed to be productive.
  3. Create and adhere to boundaries. It is easy to get sucked into living in constant “work-mode”, but this is not allowing you to have the balance you need to be your best. Boundaries will look different for everyone. A boundary may be keeping your work email separate from your personal phone or ensuring you leave work by 6 p.m. each evening. Whatever it looks like for you, make sure you are putting parameters in place to protect other areas of your life like family and wellness time.
  4. Learn techniques that help you relax. Practicing skills like meditation, deep breathing, and mindfulness, can help ease stress. Learn how to be “in the moment” and able to focus on one activity at a time. Do this through the strategies mentioned, by practicing daily. Five minutes each day is enough to get started. It will give you time to relax and you will eventually learn to apply it to other areas of your life.
  5. Create a comfortable workspace. Nothing is worse than being in an environment in which you do not feel at ease. Maybe it is putting up a couple of photos of your loved ones, or a quote that inspires you. Add relaxing colors like warm shades of brown, or a tranquil blue that promotes clear thinking and stability. Add elements of that reflect who you are. The ideas are endless when it comes to creating space that helps you feel your best.
  6. Identify clear expectations from your supervisor. Clarity in any role is needed. If you are unsure of your job expectations, speak with your supervisor and ask questions to ensure you are on track with what is expected of you. Make sure you understand. This will help minimize any confusion and may even remove tasks that do not belong to you, freeing up time and headspace for what you should be working on.

Recognizing there is a problem is the first step for change. Tackling all six of the mentioned strategies at once is an unrealistic goal, so try starting with one or two. Let us know in the comments if there is something specific you will be working on. We would love to hear your thoughts and progress.

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