It is estimated that work-related stress is responsible for six million days of sick leave per year, with stress being linked to many major and minor illnesses.
For most of us, work is a significant and meaningful feature of life with the majority of us spending over 25% of our lives working. While work can provide us with structure, purpose, satisfaction, self-esteem and earning power, it can also be a place of stress and worry.
What is Work Related Stress
In today’s workplace, most of us encounter stress to a certain degree. In moderation, it actually enables us to become more productive and some people thrive on it. However, excessive and prolonged stress can take its toll, producing a range of physical and emotional problems which can be overwhelming.
There is no single cause of work related stress. It can be triggered suddenly by unforeseen pressures or can be the result of a combination of factors which accumulate over a longer period of time. The experience of stress is very personal. Some people are affected more than others, so what is stressful to one person might not be for another and it can very much depend on your personality type and how you have learned to cope with pressure.
Causes of Work Related Stress
- Excessive time pressures or inflexible Working Hours
- Too much or too little responsibility
- Confusion over your role and responsibilities
- Lack of job variety and interest
- Inadequate training and/or lack of opportunity to learn new skills
- Poor Work/life Balance
- Difficult relationships at work
- Uncertainty over job prospects or a change of role
Physical Symptoms of Work Related Stress
- Headaches and muscular tension
- Backache and neck ache
- Increased susceptibility to colds and other infections
- Excessive tiredness and difficulty sleeping
- Raised heart rate
- Increased sweating
- Lower sex drive
- Blurred vision
- Skin rashes
Work Related Stress
Emotional and behavioural changes caused by work related stress
- Wanting to cry much of the time
- Feeling that you can’t cope
- Short temper at work and at home
- Feeling you’ve achieved nothing at the end of the day
- Eating when you’re not hungry
- Loss of appetite
- Reliance on smoking and drinking to get you through the day
- Inability to concentrate, plan and control work
- Poor productivity
- Poor relationships with colleagues or clients
- Loss of motivation and commitment
Helping Yourself to Cope with Stress at Work
It is impossible to completely eradicate work related pressures so it is important to learn how to ‘manage’ them. There are a number of ways in which you can reduce the negative impact of stress, most of which involve you taking a good look at how you function in the workplace and beyond.
Making Changes at Work to Cope with Stress
Manage your Time more effectively – Prioritise tasks, delegate where necessary and take care not to take on more than you can handle. Try to complete one task before going onto the next and vary your workload where possible.
Relax– Whenever possible try to do the occasional simple stretching exercise and practice some deep breathing techniques. This will help you stay focused and prevent tired and aching muscles. Going for a walk during your lunch break can be beneficial. Know what triggers your stress– Identify the causes of your stress. Practice how you could act differently in situations where you feel pressurised. Perhaps you need to be more assertive or you may need to ‘take a step back’ in tricky situations. Turn to colleagues for support– Not everyone is out to get you! It’s crucial to remember that it’s in most people’s interests for the workplace to be as stress free as possible so seek advice from your line manager or go to your HR department, whether it is to clarify your job role and responsibilities or to deal with workplace bullying or intimidation.
Making Lifestyle Changes to Deal with Work Related Stress
Hobbies and interests– Regular activities outside work will increase your social network and take your mind off work worries. It may be a creative hobby such as painting or by taking up regular exercise such as swimming or cycling. There is increasing evidence that physical activity reduces stress levels quite significantly. Learn to relax– Learning to relax can improve sleep and relieve stress-related physical pains such as stomach pains and headaches. Your GP surgery or the local library will have details of adult education classes where you can learn helpful techniques. Confide in your friends– Talking to close relatives and trusted friends is a useful way to get things off your chest and to discuss your worries and any negative feelings you have. An outsider’s neutral perspective can often change your own for the better. Avoid negative responses– Avoid unhelpful responses to stress such as increased alcohol and caffeine consumption and smoking. Regular healthy and nutritious meals in a balanced high-fibre diet will provide sustained energy levels to keep you on an even keel. Keep things in perspective– At the end of the day, give yourself a pat on the back and reflect on what you’ve achieved that day as opposed to worrying about work tomorrow. Don’t be too hard on yourself and remember to take each day as it comes.
Seeking Further Help for Work Related Stress
Some people may need to seek further help from their GP as they may be suffering from anxiety or depression which needs medical treatment. You may also need to take time off work to deal with anxiety and depression. Further treatment might necessitate the need for anti-depressant medication or some form of counselling and your GP will be able to advice on this.
Stress is an inevitable but complex companion to our working lives. Without challenges and pressures, work would lack sparkle, but we all have the capacity to be overwhelmed by work-related stress, and to experience its exhausting effects. The aim should be to manage stress by becoming aware of our individual ways of responding to it, and through making effective changes to our working lifestyle.
Last Updated on 28 July 2021