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How to deal with high stress at work

By Alison Rodericks

Ask most people how their work life is going and, more often than not, they will say that it’s stressful. And they’re not lying. Modern life being what it is, most of us are stressed on the job – looming deadlines, KPIs to achieve, long hours, too many emails, inadequate pay, unfair treatment by your colleagues or bosses, job dissatisfaction – they all add up, playing havoc with our mental and physical wellbeing. 

A survey conducted by the Australian Council of Trade Unions last year revealed that 47% of workers have experienced trauma or distressing situations at work in the past 12 months. 

Over time, stress can lead to burnout and serious mental health problems. Indeed, it can negatively impact other aspects of our lives, and even our future careers. 

According to the World Health Organisation, “Burn out is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.”

What are the signs of workplace stress?

While some degree of workplace stress is normal (indeed, some of us thrive on it!), too much stress can interfere with your productivity at work and can even have a detrimental impact on your personal relationships. 

Chances are, if you’re stressed at work, you bring the stress home with you and take it out on your loved ones. Here are some of the tell-tale signs indicating that you’re stressed at work:
  • You are constantly tense, unhappy, irritable
  • You suffer from stress headaches, ulcers, muscle tension and/or insomnia
  • You have trouble concentrating and lose interest in work
  • You’re always tired and withdraw socially
  • You lose your appetite for food and/or sex
  • You feel overwhelmed by everyday situations
If you’ve nodded in agreement to a few of the above, here are some tips to change your stressful situation at work. 

Establish boundaries

boundary concept

Modern life being what it is today, you’re on call 24/7 with your phones constantly “pinging” and your laptop taken anywhere and everywhere. You feel pressured to be available at all times and find yourself checking for work-related messages and updates. You need to stop this behaviour and draw a line between your work life and our personal life

Give yourself permission to not check your work emails on the weekend and not answer emails after a certain time. You need to take a break or you will burn out. Find a balance between work and family life, social activities, responsibilities and hobbies.

Plan and prioritise your work

When work gets overwhelming, it’s important to arm yourself with a plan. The best way is to tackle the high-priority tasks first and get them off your To-Do list. 

If the job is too big, break it up into manageable chunks, focusing on one mini task at a time. If you’re able to hand over some responsibilities to others in your team, delegate them and let go of unnecessary stress. 

Change your work situation

Speak to HR or your boss to see if they have a solution to your workplace stress – it’s in their best interests to ensure that the office environment is conducive to productivity. Make sure your tasks are in your job description and that you’re not taking on additional responsibilities - learn how to say ‘No’

Changing your attitude towards your job can also help you regain a sense of purpose and control. If possible, request a transfer or a new role, or take a break if you feel you’re going to burn out. 

Connect with family/friends

bonding with family

Human beings are social creatures; we need to interact with others to feel validated, to share our thoughts, to get sympathy and support. This is why it’s so important to have colleagues you can turn to when you need to vent. Your close family members and friends also form a good support system when things are rough. The lonelier and more isolated you are, the greater your vulnerability to stress.

Keep physically fit

Exercise is a great mood booster – it releases endorphins, those “feel good” happy hormones. For maximum stress relief, try to get at least 30 mins of activity each day – be it a lunch-time yoga class, a few laps at your local pool or even cleaning your home. When a work situation gets especially stressful, try to take a break and do a power walk – it will clear your head and revitalise you

Get adequate rest

When we’re dealing with a stressful situation like a looming deadline, you might be tempted to put in an all-nighter and skimp on sleep. But the fact is, you need sleep to recharge your batteries and be productive. Skimping on sleep interferes with your daytime productivity, creativity, problem-solving skills, and ability to focus. 

The better rested you are, the better equipped you’ll be to tackle your job responsibilities and cope with workplace stress. Try to go to bed and wake up at fixed times every day and aim for eight hours of shut-eye. Keep distractions like your mobile phone and laptop out of your bedroom and aim not to check them as soon as you arise. 

Don’t let workplace stress overtake your life and, if it is, be proactive about managing it and taking back control. 
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