Anything that poses a challenge or threat to your well-being is stress. Biological or physiological stress is your reaction to a stressor, which is a stimulus or agent triggering stress. From unpleasant people and noises to appearing for an exam or interview, handling a work deadline, going on a date, flying in an aeroplane, there could be a wide variety of stressors. So, stressors are the things in your environment that you respond to, while stress is the feeling of being under pressure that’s common when you feel overloaded and wonder if you can really handle it all. In today’s highly competitive workplaces, stress has become an integral part of life and it is very important to learn and practice techniques to reduce the stress. While some types of stress can encourage you and make you perform better, too much of consistent stress can be detrimental to both your physical and mental health. People under tremendous stress are found to have changed levels of cortisol (a steroid hormone). If stress isn’t managed well and a person is under its affect for a long time, it can cause anxiety, loss of appetite, blood pressure fluctuation, depression and cardiovascular diseases.
Stress observed in working professionals
A recent study has found China to be the leader in workplace related stress as 86% of its working population complains of being under stress. As workplace environments grow to become increasingly challenging, requiring extended work hours, working at a stretch without breaks and handling multiple tasks – often under tight deadlines, they all together or individually can contribute to stress in the workforce. Poor work satisfaction together with an ill-tempered boss and non-cooperative seniors or colleagues too can be contributing factors towards workplace stress. Failure to understand how best to cope in a new environment is often found to cause stress in new employees and young professionals.
According to consultant psychiatrist – Dr. Neelanjana Paul, stress among working professionals is often caused by their work environment, where they are regularly exposed to stressful situations and eventually become habituated to it, which makes them expect stress before the stressors, if any, trigger it in reality.
Effects of stress on your body, thoughts & behavior
Apart from poor physical health, stress can create havoc with your mental health too. Some other effects could include:
- Back pain
- Chest pain
- Muscle spasms/Cramps
- Bouts of fainting
- Heart disease
- Erectile dysfunction
- Poor immunity
- Loss of libido
- Nail biting
- Muscular aches
- Sleeping difficulties
- Nervous twitches
- Stomach upset
- Pins and needles
Your feelings and thoughts can be affected by stress as it may trigger
- Feeling of insecurity
- Problem in concentrating
Stress can even have the following possible effects on your behavior:
- Excessive eating or too little intake of food
- Sudden angry outbursts
- Food cravings
- Alcohol abuse
- Drug abuse
- Frequent crying
- Social withdrawal
- Relationship problems
- Problems at workplace with boss, superiors or colleagues
- Excessive consumption of tobacco
Recognize stress & track your stressors
At workplace, recognize when you feel over stressed because it’s the most important factor for treating it. While it may take a few days or a weekend for temporary stress to go away on its own, accumulated stress demands more care and consideration. If going to work seems like a big, boring chore that you have started loathing or you feel no interest in work, you should discuss your condition with your superiors, a senior colleague, or a counselor. It’s important to address the root cause of accumulated stress because exposure to it for a prolonged period can trigger anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and several other diseases.
While stress recognition and its nature are important to address the issue and treat it, it’s equally vital to identify the stressors. Some common stressors triggering workplace stress are:
- Low salary
- Nil or low opportunities for career advancement or growth
- Huge workloads
- Mundane, non-engaging or uninteresting work lacking creativity and challenge
- Absence of social support
- Vague or conflicting performance demands and expectations
- Lack of control with respect to job-related decisions
Response to stress
In life, people are continually evaluating situations that they face or are about to face. In evaluating each situation, they check if it’s a threat, how they can handle it and if they have the adequate resources for it. If they feel they can’t deal with the situation or event due to their lack of ability or resources, they consider it a stress and react with what’s called the fight or flight response.
During a fight-or-flight response, your non-essential body functions (immune and digestive systems) get slowed down while large amounts of the chemicals adrenaline, cortisol, and noradrenaline are produced by your body that cause sweating, rise in pulse rate, heightened alertness and muscle preparedness – all designed to help you protect yourself in testing or hazardous circumstances.
Instead of drinking alcohol or munching on fast food to fight stress, you should opt for healthy ways like yoga or exercising that are great stress-busters. You may even indulge in any other form of physical activity (running, swimming, cycling etc) to feel the tension melting. Investing time to enjoy your hobbies or favorite activities, spending quality time with family and friends, and a good night’s sleep are some other effective methods of stress management.
Avoid interruptions & plan your day for focus & energy
At the workplace, work pressure and tight deadlines often keep people on their toes. With interruptions commonly caused by phone calls, emails, instant messages and pop ins, people get distracted easily, which adds to their stress. Though some of these interrupters can’t be controlled, you can definitely take steps to control your response. For instance, you could cut off the interruption, or accept it, or evaluate its importance and make a plan accordingly. Several of these common interruptions are recurring, which can be anticipated and dealt with. For one, you can take personal calls within the lunch time window, set times to meet clients in person at the office, or close your cubicle’s door when you need to concentrate. Even fixing a short 10 minutes’ window at lunch to check your Facebook or Twitter feed can help avoid interruptions and wasting time.
To stay productive at work, you have to plan your day by scheduling breaks at regular intervals. Some studies have shown a short break after 90 minutes that follows a period of intense concentration rejuvenates and helps avoid stress than if you were to continue working. So, plan your work schedule well and take regular breaks in between to move around the office, do some light stretching or breathing exercises as these will help you come back with a refreshing mind.
Avoid self-imposing stress by building your self-confidence
A lot of stress at the workplace erupts when you start pulling yourself down thinking how others perceive you as an individual or think about your work. Since you can’t control others’ views and perceptions, you start building pressure on yourself. Being stressed this way could make you confrontational or display avoidance behaviors such as procrastination. There’s an effective way to beat all these. You just need to build your self-confidence. Feel confident – both as a person and a professional, and instead of thinking what people may think of you, shift your focus on the task at hand. Put all your efforts to get the job done the right way as that would be a way more impressive method to showcase yourself in positive light than procrastinating about others’ perception of you and your work.
Connect to others & stay organized
Face-to-face interactions with others can be a huge stress buster. When you are feeling insecure, unsure or uncomfortable, just talking to another person can trigger hormones that cause stress relief and make you feel better. All it takes is a few kind words or a friendly look from that person. So, despite your workload, don’t sacrifice having a social life. Make sure to stay in the company of people you love and the ones who make you feel happy. They could be friends, colleagues, neighbors or family members. If you don’t have close relationships or your existing relationships cause you stress, try to build more satisfactory, strong relationships in life as they would act as anchors when you are under stress and even during the troubled phases of your life.
Apart from nurturing your social connections, make an effort to plan your work in advance. Every day before you start work, make a schedule by prioritizing what needs done and by when, while considering the breaks you need to take. Instead of trying to do it all at once and feeling stressed out at the inability to do so, planning and executing the plan well would help you beat stress.
Learn how to relax during work
Whatever be the stressors, you have to learn and practice techniques like deep breathing exercises and meditation, which would help keep your mind calm and regulate your breathing – both of which would help you beat stress. Practicing mindfulness is another effective method to beat stress. You just need to train your mind to be actively engaged in present thoughts and experiences without judging them. A simple way to start could be enjoying each morsel of your meal as you eat, or focus on each breath you take and release. Practice these every day for a few minutes and you will soon develop the skill of being able to focus on a solitary action purposefully without getting distracted. Once you develop this skill of mindfulness into a stronger one with practice, you can apply it to different situations in your professional (and even personal life) to beat stress effectively.
Be positive at your workplace
No workplace will be completely free of stressful conditions. So, the best way to deal with work related stress is to have a positive attitude. From adjusting with the setting of your workplace and feeling comfortable to working with others as a team, having a positive attitude will help in all. Here’s how you can put your positive foot forward at the workplace:
- Be friendly and smile.
- Know your colleagues and get acquainted with them.
- Don’t be confrontational every time a difficult situation crops up.
- Avoid conflicts and try to find solutions working with others, not against them.
- Ask your boss or superiors to have clarity about your job role and tasks allotted.
Rather than complain about everything and get involved in conflicts, which invariably add to stress and make your workplace an uncomfortable environment, be positive and you will find your professional life becoming a much more enjoyable experience sans stress.
Eat & sleep well
Reaching out to that muffin or a packet of chips can appear to boost your mood when you are under stress but they do a lot of harm to your overall. Skipping on your meals or eating fat-laden, processed foods are equally harmful as they will stress your system adversely. A key step to beat workplace stress is to eat right. Here’s how you can do it.
- Make sure never to skip your breakfast.
- If you have missed your breakfast, opt for a healthy one at the office canteen (fresh fruits, vegetable salad, oats etc) if you have the option.
- Bring your own lunch and make sure it’s high on protein and low on sugar.
- Pack some healthy snacks to munch on during breaks.
A good night’s sleep is as important as having healthy meals. If you can’t fall asleep after going to bed or have interrupted sleep with intervals where you wake up and fail to go back to sleep quickly, you won’t feel rejuvenated the day after and will have problems concentrating on your tasks. To get sufficient sleep, practice mediation or breathing techniques (such as covering your right nostril and breathing for 3-5 minutes with your left nostril), which can help you fall asleep faster and have a quality sleep.
De-stress yourself on off days
On your off-days, make an effort to get engaged in de-stressing activities as they will make you shake off the lethargy of a long week of work and feel energized to return to the grind once again when it’s time. You could de-stress in various ways like:
- Doing light stretching at home
- Going for a workout at the gym
- Taking a hike
- Meeting friends or family
- Enjoy a hobby (reading books, listening to music, gardening, cooking, dancing etc)
While exercises and mediation or yoga help you beat stress by producing feel-good hormones, your favorite activities or hobbies will take your mind off work, thus helping you to enjoy the other aspects of life. The key is to do something that gives you joy and helps both your body and mind to feel relaxed.
Influence others and be your own critic
Though you can’t change how others react to a situation, you can always influence them and act in a manner that dilutes the tension at workplace and makes an erring colleague see reasons. For example, instead of talking in a critical tone that would make others resentful and not accept you as a leader, you can use a respectful tone to confront a problem colleague. Focus on how the person’s bad behavior is having an adverse influence on him/her, the work and the team, and then request for a change.
While influencing others is important, you should bring the focus inward too to ward off negativity – both internal and external. With almost 60,000 thoughts stream crossing your mind every day, getting stressed by external events or internal negativity is quite common. But you can fight them by giving yourself some pep-talk. Here’s how you can do it:
- Strengthen your self-image.
- Offer yourself positive criticism.
- Feed yourself encouraging thoughts that help motivate you to achieve goals and inspire others.
You just can’t escape work-related stress. Though short-term stress like handling a project deadline or completing a challenging task can act as a motivating factor for many, chronic stress can play havoc with your emotional and physical health. But it just needs a mind shift as well as a change in your outlook and attitude together with adhering to the techniques above to reduce workplace stress and not feel overwhelmed. So, start integrating these techniques in your life to beat stress at workplace and experience how they boost your confidence and self-image. If you have loathed going to work or dressed a confrontation with that problem colleague, you will be in for a surprise change when you see how your positive attitude and confidence make situations better. What’s more, with regular practice of these techniques, you can rise above the level of just ordinary to influence people, get heard and be seen, all of which will help you get noted by the management. This will eventually make you rise and shine in your career for sure.
Act today to start managing workplace stress better for a better tomorrow!
About the Author –
Joey Karam, Content Strategist for Power of Calm. Being active in the field of Human psychology & stress management, he loves to write about ‘Mental health & Self-Improvement’. When he is not in office you can find him hiking through trails.