July 15, 2020

July 15, 2020 | Articles


How to effectively manage stress at work

Stress is a normal part of life: feeling tense and worried happens to everyone. In moderation, and short-term, stress can even be helpful to meet a deadline or try something new.

How to effectively manage stress at work

Stress is a normal part of life: feeling tense and worried happens to everyone. In moderation, and short-term, stress can even be helpful to meet a deadline or try something new.

Becoming over-stressed, however, can be quite harmful. Physically it can induce headaches, insomnia, muscle tension and high blood pressure, and, for mental health, it can cause anger, moodiness, low self-esteem and difficulty concentrating.

Prolonged high stress is also a risk factor towards developing depression and anxiety disorders.

Managing work day stress

It’s important to manage stress effectively so it doesn’t cause mental or physical health problems.

Know your signs

LifeWorks psychologist Rebecca Henshall says it can be difficult to recognise mental stress signs until it’s at an extreme level but, with practice, it’s possible to learn. “It creeps up slowly,” she says, “and it can also become a habit that’s hard to break”.

“The positive enforcement we get from the initial adrenaline burst becomes addictive,” explains Henshall. “Through craving that burst we start saying, ‘I’ll just do this’ and ‘I’ll just get this done’, and then you end up doing too much.” That self-talk can be a sign you’re headed towards high stress. Becoming mindful of those signs is a huge stress relief step.

Don’t jam everything into one day

Leading productive, balanced lives can become a pressure in itself. Henshall says we can reach the point we’re saying to ourselves: “I’ve got to exercise, I’ve got to work, I have to take the kids to school, I need to relax, I’ve got to do something after work as a hobby” and it all becomes too much.

Look at your days and your weeks and create some unscheduled space. “If you’re constantly rushing from one thing to another, and if you feel like you’re juggling a number of things all the time, then you’re already stressed,” says Henshall, and slowing down, even for short periods of time, can make all the difference.

Establish good relationships

The relationships you have with your manager and colleagues are a common workplace stress source if you have a lack of communication or feel judged or pressured. Having good social support and strong work relationships, however, can be a great protector against mental health problems.

Avoid peer pressure

Peer pressure continues into adulthood, and into the workforce. Worrying what others think if you’re the last one into the office or the first to leave can be a stressor, and Henshall advises having some conversations about those issues with your team. “I know people who talk to their team to work out each of their work patterns and make a team agreement,” she says

Looking after your wellbeing, rather than thinking about whether you look busy to others, is the priority.

Tell others your limits

It may be difficult to say no to your manager or workmates, but you do need to be realistic about your time to avoid being over-loaded. Henshall says it’s not only about knowing your own boundaries, but letting others know them too: “You need to educate those around you about what you can and can’t do.”

She says this is just as important after work as it is during regular hours. “Tell others when you’re available, perhaps letting your manager know that you’ll respond to something urgent after hours, but if it’s not urgent then I won’t respond after 6pm, for example,” Henshall suggests. “The interesting thing is that you then empower others around you to do the same thing.”

Look out for each other

Spending so much time with your colleagues makes it a prime time to notice any mental stress. “If you see others in your team looking stressed — agitated, tense, talking at a hundred miles an hour — then have a chat,” Henshall advises. “Check in with that person to see how they’re going and how the pressure can be eased.”

Take regular breaks

Set up routines like a computer reminder to take a break, stretch or get a drink of water, to allow your mind and body to reconnect and recharge. “When you’re at the computer you’re cognitively distracted, so you forget about your body,” Henshall explains. “You forget to take breaks and drink enough water.”

If you can take some breaks outside, that’s an even better stress reliever for body and mind.

Breathe

“As they work, most people take shallow, fast breaths from their chest,” says Henshall. “Take 10 or 20 seconds to notice your breathing and your body will automatically start to breathe more deeply from your diaphragm.” This is stress relief at its fastest.

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This article was provided by SuperFriend, a national mental health organisation helping workplaces improve mental health and wellbeing for their employees and customers.