- Posted by Jon Harju
- On April 16, 2019
You may have your ideal job and work within an awesome team of people you adore, but somehow you still manage to feel stressed at work? How come?
Hands up if you have your work email on your phone? Hands up if you take your mobile phone home with you? Stupid question, of course, you do! But stick with me here. Do you use your phone as an alarm and have it by your bed? Do you check your email at some point in the evening because it’s habitual? Do you check your work plan of actions for the day before sorting your kids out to go to school? Do you respond to a work meeting request on Sunday night at 8 pm?
I could go on… And let’s face it, many of us now have our hands up!
Most of us experience some kind of stress at work, leaving us feeling overwhelmed. Uneasy feelings brought on from a lack of accomplishment, coupled with the realization that we’re living in a world of chaos controlled by work emails, calendars, meetings, and text messages from co-workers with no sense of personal boundaries.
Guess what? Workplace stress has skyrocketed, and it’s because our personal and professional lives have merged. Consequently, we now feel like we just can’t seem to get ahead. No wonder we feel stressed!
Being in the workforce today is more stressful than it ever used to be. Peter Whybrow, in his book American Mania: When More Is Not Enough, suggests that many of our ills are not solely associated with the food we eat but in addition by the way corporate America has developed, our stress levels have risen so high that we’re literally making ourselves sick because of it. More people are suffering from ulcers, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and cancer at record levels.
Why do we experience stress?
It’s important to remember that stress triggers our ‘fight or flight’ response. This is the body and mind’s response to the demands being placed on you. When you feel threatened, your brain releases chemicals that send alarm signals throughout your body. This helps prepare your body to get set to take action. In our modern world, “threats” like heavy workloads or family conflicts are not situations we can easily outrun or fight with a spear. When we don’t have a healthy way to deal with the stress of modern life, it means stress can harm us more than help our primitive survival mechanism.
A constant stream of stress can easily affect our mental health. I believe it can quickly take hold and grasp our mental health in a suffocating grip, often leading us to think we can’t handle it.
The state of stress
The working day can throw deadlines, schedules, and meetings our way. Everyone can experience tense moments of stress at some point.
Entrepreneur.com reports that 39% percent of work-related illnesses each year can be traced to stress and anxiety, with 47% of workers feeling stressed every day. Reportedly, the stress in workers is responsible for an estimated $10.4 million in lost working days annually.
In any given week, at least 500,000 employed Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems. This includes approximately 355,000 disability cases due to mental and/or behavioural disorders¹ and approximately 175,000 full-time workers absent from work due to mental illness.²
Tips and tricks to manage your work stress and improve overall mental health
We all know that life is too short. I’ve listened to various podcasts and read some epic books that all strive to inspire us to take control of our own lives! Sometimes we forget we are in the driving seat of our own thoughts and our own life. I’m a big believer in trying to do what you can when you can. The last thing you need to do is stress yourself out because you feel a sense of failure in not achieving any stress-relieving activities?! Baby steps help create big actions.
Take a peek at some of these stress management tips that I’ve gathered along the way that may help you to manage your working day.
1) Take a break and destress
Most of us battle through the day pushing as hard as we can, thinking if we work the full eight to 10 hours, we’ll get more done. Worst still, some of us (cue my faceplant) skip our morning run or our evening yoga class, thinking by doing so we’ll cross more things off the to-do list and feel better.
The result is that productivity goes down, our stress levels rise and we arrive home with minimal energy left over to enjoy time with family and friends.
The irony is that working hard doesn’t always win the prize. By scheduling breaks throughout the day to walk, by standing up to stretch at your desk or by doing a breathing exercise, you will notice a greater sense of calm and rejuvenation in your working day.
Fact or opinion
It’s important to remember that your perspective of stressful office events will always be subjective and the interpretation of the facts will always be seen through your own filter. They say to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes — and if you can take a step back for a more objective view, you’ll be more effective and less likely to take things personally. When you feel yourself burning with rage or frustration about something, simply ask yourself “Is that a fact or is it my opinion?”. It helps to look at all the cards on the table as opposed to just the ones you hold close to your emotions.
2) Act as opposed to react
We experience stress when we feel that situations are out of our control. This activates the stress hormone and can wear down concentration, confidence and well-being. It’s helpful to look at the aspects of a situation that you are in control of along with the parts you are not. You are not responsible for other peoples actions, tone of voice or body language, therefore just aim to manage and own your own magic and try to let go of the rest.
“Stress primarily comes from not taking action over something that you can have some control over…I find as soon as identify it, and make the first phone call, or send off the first email… it dramatically reduces any stress that might come from it”. — Jeff Bezos Founder, chairman and CEO of Amazon.com
3) Take that vacation
Vacation or days off are particularly crucial if the pace of your workplace is fast. If we cannot control the workplace pace then its vital we schedule regular breaks from our work to prevent stress, burnout and a negative impact on our mental wellness. The life-work balance is an individual concept. Do what you can, when you can — and make sure you give your body a chance to rest when it’s tired and enjoy those opportunities to spend time with your family and friends, helping you recharge and feel connected.
“I think it’s really important to take time off, and I’ve also found that sometimes you get really good insights by taking time off, too.”—Susan Wojcicki CEO of YouTube
4) Unplug from screens
A major source of stress for many professionals is the boundaries between their work and private lives. We live in a time where leaving the office at the end of the day (if we’re lucky) is no guarantee our work day is over. And while you can’t control the email you receive at 7.30pm from a colleague with a new task, you can control how you spend the rest of your time that day outside of the office.
The less time we spend on our phones and screens, the easier it will be to create time between work and rest. By taking time to unplug and enjoy an activity away from our email notifications, we will reinforce to ourselves a sense of rest and relaxation in the hours away from our desk.
5) Deep breaths
I know, I know, there is a lot of information out there about the power of deep breathing in our day, but bear with me here. Think about it — the smokers of our workplace take regular breaks outside to smoke. They feel more energized and less stressed when they return to their desks.
The benefits of taking a break, being outside for 5 minutes in fresh air can be bountiful. Consider taking a 5–10 minute stroll around the block or sit outside on a bench.
“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm… Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before.”— Steve Jobs, Co-founder, chairman and CEO of Apple Inc.
6) Get Some Sleep
Our sleep can be affected by the vicious circle of workplace stress. According to the APA, research suggests most Americans could benefit from 60 to 90 more minutes of sleep a night, meaning they’d be healthier, happier and functioning at higher levels. Breathing exercises, shutting the cell phone off at night, eating earlier in the evening, drinking specialty teas, regular exercise, and making lists as discussed above can all help in improving your sleeping habits.
7) Brain dump
Do you find yourself thinking at night about how much you have to do tomorrow? Mel Robbins, author and motivational speaker, advocates doing a brain dump. She suggests we make a list of all the things you have to do and highlight three that are a priority. The moment you dump your stressors on paper, the sooner you feel the benefits of a mind that can switch off more easily and rest.
8) Be kind to yourself
Let’s face it, the world consists of many different personalities and the workplace is the perfect stage to show how different people can be! You may encounter negative vibes and words from others, so the last thing you need is to add your own negative voice to the narrative too. Kind words only!
Recognize the symptoms of stress and try to be proactive. Don’t wait until you’re almost frazzled to address the issue. Do something positive or calming for yourself and strive to care and protect yourself as you would your loved ones.
9) Reach out
You may find yourself stressed because of your workplace or because certain things beyond your control in your workload trigger a stress reaction in you. If it becomes controlling or overwhelming and your stress does not respond to the above tips, you can always seek out the help of a professional.
There is no shame in wanting to improve your life and learn new ways to manage your life’s stressful situations. Its a sign of strength to reach out to a therapist or counsellor who is ready to help you with your needs. Remember, they have undergone extensive training to identify coping strategies for people’s specific needs. A perplexing issue may leave you in a high sense of unmanageable stress. A mental health care practitioner can show you the tools to provide you with life-changing strategies and a workable plan!
There is always so much to be gained from therapy. The strategies and perspectives you gain equip you with all the tools you need to nail your life-long mission of being the happiest possible version of you. All you have to do is reach out and ask for help.
Download the Snapclarity online therapy platform today!
¹ Dewa, Chau, and Dermer (2010). Examining the comparative incidence and costs of physical and mental health-related disabilities in an employed population. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 52: 758–62. Number of disability cases calculated using Statistics Canada employment data, retrieved from http://www40.statcan.ca/l01/cst01/labor21a-eng.htm.
² Institute of Health Economics (2007). Mental health economics statistics in your pocket. Edmonton: IHE. Number of absent workers calculated using Statistics Canada work absence rates, retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/71-211-x/71-211-x2011000-eng.pdf.