Work-related stress can lead to decreased energy levels, difficulties performing, and tense relationships. But there are ways to manage it and prevent the effects.
Stress is a natural response to pressure. While it’s not possible to eliminate all stress from your life, you can learn to cope with it and manage your reactions to stressful situations.
One effective way to deal with stress at work is to manage stressors immediately instead of letting situations escalate.
Although this isn’t always possible because some things may be out of your control, consider exploring which tips you may be able to implement in your work conditions.
1. Taking quick breaks
If possible, consider taking a break or taking distance from the source of your immediate stress at your workplace.
If you can’t leave your place of work, consider:
- going to the bathroom
- taking a minute to make tea or walk around
- pausing the activity that’s frustrating you and switching tasks for a few minutes
- watching a relaxing 1- to 5-minute video on YouTube
Although moving around or leaving the place isn’t possible in every work environment, consider ways you can take a mental break. For example, taking a minute to focus on an object nearby and trying to identify as many details of it as possible.
2. Deep breathing exercises
As soon as your stress rises, try a deep breathing exercise.
Because breathing is something you can easily do in most places (including a restroom cubicle if needed), consider relying on it as often as you can.
Several breathing exercises can help you calm down quickly, such as:
Journaling can be as simple as setting a 5-minute timer and scribbling out your frustrations and worries. If you’re unsure what to write, consider a journal prompt.
You can journal on your phone, computer, or on pen and paper.
4. Taking a walk and going outside
Daily exercise can benefit your mental health.
If you can’t exercise regularly, try to stretch in your sitting spot, take walks before, during, or after work, or go up and down the stairs if you can.
Heading outside might also bring you some stress relief. A
During your workday, that might look like walking to work, eating lunch outdoors, or spending time at the park after work.
Looking out a window for 5 minutes to focus on the sky, trees, birds, lights, or anything else you can look at, may also help you manage stress at work.
A 2021 study showed that listening to music for 10 minutes, regardless of the environment, lowers cortisol levels and improves your mood, particularly when it’s your favorite type of music.
Consider searching for music that you can listen to while you work, or, on stressful days, try to listen to your favorite tunes while going to and back from work and during your breaks.
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Meditation doesn’t have to take a whole hour. You can practice short versions of your favorite meditation at your desk or during a restroom break.
For example, you can focus on your breath for 1 minute and then mentally repeat a positive affirmation for 3 minutes. You could also write down this affirmation on a Word document and focus on the screen for a few minutes while you read it in your mind.
Dealing with stress at work may be easier if you anticipate it, particularly if your work environment isn’t supportive. One way of doing this is to grow your stress management toolkit.
When you feel stressed, you may have trouble sleeping. But not sleeping enough may increase those stress levels.
A lack of sleep may also make it more difficult to focus and perform at work.
To better deal with job-related stress, consider maintaining optimal sleep hygiene. If you’re living with a condition that affects your sleep patterns, consider reaching out to a health professional for sleep management options.
2. Identifying patterns
Identifying your stressors can help you anticipate them, making long-term stress management an easier task.
For example, if deadlines increase your stress levels, you might need to ask for longer lead times or start earlier. If you don’t have enough time to execute all your duties, you might want to automate certain tasks.
If this isn’t possible at your workplace, try to spend some time reflecting on this outside of work.
Consider writing a list of all the things that typically cause you a great deal of stress at work. Next to each, try to write at least two possible ways to manage those stressors ahead of time.
3. Focusing on your ‘big yes’
If you’re overwhelmed at work, it might be wise to forgo extra responsibility if possible. You could also let go of voluntary roles that cause you stress without bringing you any joy or opportunities.
Try to focus on your “big yes.” That is, those things you want to say yes to because they’re your key responsibility or they bring you great joy. Then, if possible, consider saying “no” to anything else that comes your way that doesn’t fit these two characteristics.
4. Setting boundaries
You might find it helpful to set boundaries at work. These boundaries can establish:
- your working hours (e.g., not working after 5 p.m.)
- the kinds of tasks you will or won’t do
- how much work you take on
- when you’re available to respond to email or chats
If this isn’t possible at work, consider doing it in your private life to avoid adding more pressure to your days. If setting your own ground rules isn’t possible, try to rely on relaxation techniques on your own time to compensate for some of the stress this may cause you.
5. Managing your time
In some instances, you might find your workload reasonable, but you still have difficulty getting everything done.
In this case, you might want to explore time management practices that could lead you to feel more in control.
6. Asking for help
Asking for help can be difficult but necessary if you want to handle stress in the workplace better.
- asking for more clarity on the tasks assigned to you
- suggesting more efficient ways to carry out tasks
- using office processes
- asking to extend deadlines if needed or requesting support from teammates
- communicating about the tools, human resources, and support you’ll need to carry out a task effectively
Learning to communicate effectively at work may help you reduce stressful situations if your culture allows it.
Many factors can make a work environment more stressful. These can be different for everyone and may be related to the type of job.
Performance anxiety may also lead you to experience higher stress levels in the workplace. Also, your company’s culture may affect how you feel.
Low psychological safety is directly linked to higher stress and lower job satisfaction. Psych safety refers to the belief that you can be yourself, set boundaries, and speak up at work without facing punishment, rejection, or isolation.
Working in an environment, even if virtual, where you may have difficulty expressing yourself, taking breaks, working on your mental health, and getting social recognition and support may lead to higher chances of experiencing job-related stress.
Other possible stressors include:
- heavy or increasing workloads
- low pay
- poor management styles
- lack of enough recharge days or PTO
- disloyal co-workers
- high-pressure environments
- job insecurity
Stress serves a purpose. It can help you stay alert and motivated. But prolonged stress may impact your mental health.
Consider talking with a mental health professional if:
- You’ve noticed unhealthy behavioral patterns that you want to change (e.g., self-sabotage or impostor syndrome).
- You’ve had a particularly traumatic experience (at work or elsewhere).
- You don’t feel you have enough coping skills.
- You’re experiencing physical symptoms as a result of stress.
- You turn to substances to cope.
- Your loved ones, co-workers, or healthcare teams have suggested seeking mental health help.
- You simply feel that you might benefit from therapy.
Therapy can help you develop coping mechanisms. It can also help you address harmful thought patterns and give you a space to process and express your emotions.
It’s possible to deal with stress at work. By anticipating your stressors, practicing relaxation techniques, and managing your time, you can decrease some of the pressures that make you feel stressed out at work.
If you’re finding it hard to cope with stress at work, consider speaking with a mental health professional.