How To Deal With Stress At Work

Key takeaways

  • Work-related stress is very common, with 50% of British workers feeling “very” or “fairly” stressed at work, and 83% of US workers reporting they suffer from work-related stress
  • The best way to manage your stress at work is to focus on removing and reducing what is stressful at work: this could involve speaking to your manager, improving your work environment and developing your time management skills
  • As well as this, it’s important to build resilience and develop coping strategies to help change the way you think about stress, and equip you with ways of better handling it

Whether you’re dealing with an excessive workload or a difficult manager, most of us get stressed at work sometimes. But that doesn’t mean you should let it take over your life. We’ve put together some tried-and-tested strategies for managing stress at work, to help you find some relief from work-related stress and build resilience at work.

Work Meeting

What are some common triggers of stress at work?

Most people feel stressed at work: that’s a fact. 

A YouGov survey found that half of workers in Britain feel “very” or “fairly” stressed at work, while 36% say they don’t feel very stressed and just 10% say that they don’t feel stressed at all while working. 

And this stress creeps out of their working lives and into their personal lives, with 39% of workers saying they feel stressed when they think about work outside of work hours, and 31% say they feel “very” or “fairly” stressed when they’re not working or even thinking about work.

In the USA, 83% of workers suffer from work-related stress, with 25% saying their job is the number one stressor in their lives.

But what, exactly, is causing us all to be so stressed out at work?

According to a survey by Gallup, the biggest sources of work-related stress are:

  • Unfair treatment at work
  • An unmanageable workload
  • Unclear communications from managers
  • Lack of manager support
  • Unreasonable time pressure

Other things that might be making you feel stressed include:

  • Excessive workload
  • People issues
  • Struggling to juggle work and personal life aka a poor work life balance
  • Lack of job security
  • A low salary
  • Lack of opportunities for growth, development or advancement
  • Work that doesn’t challenge you
  • Lack of control over your work
  • Conflicting demands at work
  • Unclear expectations
  • Being uncomfortable in your working environment
  • Being disorganized

Do any of these sound familiar to you? You might relate to having too much on your plate, or struggling with a lack of support from senior leaders at your workplace. Whatever the cause of your stress, it’s important to understand how to handle stress at work. After all, we spend the majority of our waking hours at work, so it makes sense to make it as comfortable and stress-free as possible. 

How to reduce stress at work

So, what can you do about it? When it comes to stress management at work, the first step is to address the root cause. Coping strategies for stress can be great if you’re going through a busy period and need ways to calm yourself down and focus on your work. But if you’re chronically stressed, the issues are just going to keep snowballing unless you do something to reduce or eliminate your stressors entirely.

1. Understand your stressors

The first thing to do, then, is to understand exactly what it is that’s causing you to be stressed out at work. It’s a good idea to keep a journal for a week, noting down whenever you feel particularly stressed and what triggered it. 

You might find patterns forming over the week. Maybe your journal will show that every morning, you’re annoyed by your colleague on their daily 9am phone call. Or you might find that you always feel overwhelmed because you can’t get through all of your to-do list. Perhaps your journal shows that you feel extra stressed after your weekly one-to-one meeting with your boss.

It can be really easy to feel like everything at work makes you feel stressed, but keeping a journal can help you to pinpoint what the real stressors are for you at work. Once you know what makes you feel stressed, you can start to work towards changing it.

2. Ask your manager for help

There’s no need to suffer alone if you’re stressed at work. It’s important to speak up and let your manager know that you’re struggling – sometimes, they might not even be aware that you have too much work on your plate. 

Keeping a daily journal of your stressors can help you when it comes to talking to your manager, as you’ll be able to clearly point to the things that are bothering you. 

If it’s your workload, for example, your manager should be able to find ways to reduce the amount of work you have to do, by delegating to other people in the team, or helping you to find ways that you can become more efficient with your tasks.

But what about dealing with stress at work if your manager is one of the key sources of your stress? If you have a toxic boss, it’s likely that the last thing you want to do is talk to them about it – but it can be a good idea to raise your concerns with them. 

Have an open and honest conversation with your boss about their behavior, and come armed with some suggestions of things you can both do to improve your relationship. 

You should also take a look at your job description. Are there things you’re being asked to do that aren’t listed in your job description? Are they unclear about what they expect from you? Make sure you know what the scope of your role should be, and make a list of things you do at work that fall outside of your remit, if they are adding to your stress. 

They may be struggling with a stressful job themselves and may not realize how their behavior and actions are impacting their direct reports. 

If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your manager alone, you could ask an impartial colleague to sit in on the meeting, or get HR to attend too.

However, if your boss is aggressive or is bullying you, it’s better to go straight to your HR department rather than trying to broach the subject with your boss.

3. Improve your time management

Although we might not want to admit it, sometimes the reason behind our stress is because we’re not great at keeping on top of things. Do you get to the end of the day and don’t know what you’ve spent the time working on? Do you find yourself working longer hours as the week goes on to try to squeeze in all your tasks? If so, you might find that better time management is the answer when it comes to how to reduce stress at work. 

Some ways to improve your time management include:

  • Understanding when you have the most energy. Can you get through lots of work in the morning, then you hit an afternoon slump? Or do you peak after lunch? Structuring your day around your energy levels can help you to work more efficiently, rather than fighting to focus when you’re not at your best.
  • Make a to-do list. It might sound basic, but making a to-do list which is arranged in order of importance can really help you to get clear in your mind about what tasks are urgent, and which ones you can afford to let slide until tomorrow or the next day.

Set small targets. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you look at the big picture – and all you can see is an enormous project or a never-ending list of tasks. Breaking your work down into smaller tasks can help you to stay more motivated to achieve them, and less stressed, as it will seem far more manageable.

4. Improve your work environment

Do you find it stressful working in a noisy environment? Is your office set up uncomfortable? Are there papers everywhere, and your workstation is messy? These factors could all be contributing to your feelings of stress. 

Taking steps to make your work environment better is one simple way you can reduce stress at work. If you have trouble focusing at work in a loud open-plan office, for instance, you could try wearing earplugs like Loop Engage. They’re designed to filter out noise without blocking it completely, meaning you’ll still be able to have conversations with colleagues, but you’re less likely to be distracted by the noises all around you.

If you’re less distracted and more able to get in the zone at work, you may find that you become less stressed, as you’re actually able to get through more of your tasks.

How to manage stress at work

As well as reducing the root causes of stress, it’s a good idea to learn some coping mechanisms for how to deal with work stress. You may not always be able to remove stressors entirely, but learning a few tips and tricks for handling stress at work can help you to become more resilient and handle whatever’s thrown your way.

1. Take time out during the day

Get up and move around during the day. Staying chained to your desk might make you feel like you’re being more productive, but actually it’s likely that all that screen time is zapping your energy and your brain power.

Go for a brisk walk on your lunch break or even take a trip to the gym or go for a run if you can. Exercise is a great stress buster, and you’ll come back to your desk feeling energized, ready to tackle the afternoon with a fresh new perspective.

If exercise isn’t your thing, simply grab a friend and go for lunch or a coffee instead. It’s important to maintain a strong social network even during times of stress, and who better to understand how you’re feeling than your colleagues who are right there in the thick of it with you?

2. Try to find a better work life balance

When you’re stressed at work, it’s easy to let the balance between your work and personal life become skewed. 

You begin spending more hours at work and less time socializing with friends and family. Your weekly spin class is the first thing to go from the schedule when you’re busy, and you’re working so late that you don’t have time to cook proper meals any more, let alone read a book or watch your favorite trash TV show. You’re getting up early to go to work and going to bed late, burning the candle at both ends.

The thing is, that these are all things that help to alleviate stress. So if you’re working more and more, and doing less of the things that keep you happy, healthy and fulfilled, it’s only going to lead to more stress.

One of the best ways of coping with stress at work is to carve out time for the things that make you happy, outside of work. It can be hard to do this, but it’s super important. 

There are lots of ways you can improve your work life balance, from blocking out time in your calendar for family dates, to setting clear boundaries about not working outside of work hours. Whatever techniques work for you, try to remember that we work to live – not the other way around.

3. Change the way you think

You don’t have to see a counselor – although that can actually be one of the best ways to overcome stress at work – but there is plenty you can learn from techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you manage your stress at work.

CBT teaches you coping skills by focusing on how your thoughts, attitudes and beliefs can affect your feelings and actions. How we think about situations can affect the way we feel and behave, so CBT teaches us to interpret our thoughts in a different way for a different outcome.

At work, for example, you might have a big project due, which requires you to do a lot of work. You might think “This is too much work. I can’t do it all alone, and I have no support. I’m not capable of this.” These thoughts lead to you feeling anxious and depressed, so you might procrastinate, putting off working on the project until it’s really down to the wire.

CBT techniques can help you to reframe your thinking. Faced with the same situation, you could instead think something like “It’s a big project, but I’ve done big projects before. It’s really cool that my boss thinks I can do it all by myself – they obviously have a lot of faith in my abilities. I’m excited to be able to prove my worth.” That might make you feel excited, energized and eager to get started with the project.

Taking a step back and really scrutinizing how you feel about a work situation can help you turn it from something stressful into something positive.

4. Lean on your support network

Whether it’s your colleagues or your friends and family, don’t try to handle everything all by yourself. 

Some people have high levels of work stress because they have difficult relationships with their colleagues. If that’s true in your workplace, is there anything you could do to improve things? Maybe having a one-to-one chat with your colleagues could help to clear the air, while team-building events will help you to form a closer bond.

And don’t forget about your support network outside of work. They’re there for you, so let them help you. If you’re going through a particularly busy period at work, you don’t need to try to do everything by yourself. Accept all offers of babysitting, running errands and a friendly shoulder to cry on – after all, we’re sure you’ll return the favor at some point. That’s what friends are for.

Should you quit your job due to stress?

In some cases, no amount of calendar planning, self-care or CBT will help with stress relief at work. If speaking to your manager doesn’t help, you can’t improve your own workload through better time management techniques, and you’re still feeling overwhelmed when you carve out time for yourself, maybe consider that it’s time to move on from your current role. 

If your job is causing you so much stress that it’s affecting your health, then it may be time to quit your job. It’s a big, scary move, but there’s no shame in making yourself your number one priority. Weigh up all the pros and cons of your job, and talk it through with someone you trust or a job counselor – but if you’re asking yourself whether you should quit your job because you’re so stressed out, you probably know what your gut is telling you already.

Dealing with work stress: it will get better!

Whether you choose to leave your job or try out some of our techniques for stress management at work, we wish you all the best. Stress is no joke, and while small amounts of stress can be beneficial – as you’ll know if you ever pulled an all-nighter to write an essay and wound up with the best grade of your life, or felt anxious about a presentation and ended up smashing it – if your stress levels are too high for too long, it can have a big impact on your life. 

Know that it will get better, though – and we hope that these tips for how to manage work stress help you on your way to becoming a healthier, happier version of yourself, both at work and at home.

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