For many people, work is where they feel most stressed. This is unsurprising given the fast pace of the corporate world, the intense pressure to be ‘perfectly’ and consistently productive, and the fact that there are so many interpersonal relationships to be managed with superiors, colleagues, and clients.
Yet the day-to-day stress of the workplace is not to be taken lightly—it can be heavily taxing on the mind and the body. In fact, stress-related issues account for three-quarters of doctors’ visits, with stress leading to a whole host of health problems, ranging from heart disease and anxiety to high blood pressure. In a professional context, stress can also affect your performance, efficiency and motivation as an employee.
For these reasons, it is critical to learn effective coping mechanisms for managing and reducing stress. Here, we discuss some of the best techniques for keeping your work-related stress levels at bay.
First, let’s take a look at what stress actually is. Stress is often described as a feeling of being overwhelmed, depleted or rundown, and is usually accompanied by biochemical, physiological and behavioural responses. These include the fight or flight or freeze response, which is characterised by an increase in psychophysiological activities, such as heightened heart rate, blood pressure, pulse rate, and adrenaline levels. If stress is not managed well, the system stays in this response mode, which can have a detrimental impact on the body’s systems, as well as the structure and functioning of the brain.
So how can employees in a high-tension work environment avoid continuously ending up in this response mode? Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to change the intensity of the corporate world, but employees can learn how to manage their stress effectively by altering how they relate to the stressful context of their day-to-day life. In other words, you can alter how you interpret, receive, and process a stressful environment.
Now you may be hoping for a tangible to-do list on how to avoid stress, and yes, I can say do yoga, take a breather, or have a bath, but those are only temporary fixes. The reality is that we cannot get rid of stress with a couple yoga classes and a few deep breaths. Your approach to better stress management must be holistic and consistent in order for you to make a positive, lasting change. Nonetheless, the good news is that your reactions to stressful situations are in fact more pivotal to stress management than the situations themselves.
So the first step to dealing with workplace stress effectively is learning to better manage your reactions to stressful situations. This begins with changing your ‘relationship’ to stress by altering how you perceive and relate to it. When you alter your perspective of a stressful situation, you are more likely to mitigate a negative or unhealthy reaction and maintain a sense of emotional wellbeing. This in turn will allow you to remain productive and efficient in the workplace, preventing stressful situations from snowballing.
When developing a healthy relationship to stress, you first need to be able identify how you are currently expressing and coping with stress. Can you identify when you feel stressed? Do you brush it away or bury it inside? What bodily sensations arise when you feel stressed? What thoughts arise in your mind? Do you have any practices to calm or relax yourself when overwhelmed by stress? How do you express your stress? What does stress mean to you? What does it feel like? When you learn to identify stress and see the patterns used to process it, then you can choose to engage in healthy coping skills to manage it.
We all have coping skills that we fall back on when stressed, but many of these are actually counterproductive and enhance stress, like using cigarettes and caffeine or constantly complaining, all of which actually increase the release of stress hormones, thus inhibiting the mind and body from regulating themselves. On the other hand, healthy coping skills involve engaging in some form of cathartic release on a daily basis, such as physical or creative activities. This approach is effective at clearing the mind and body of stress, and doesn’t contribute to your stress levels even further. After work, when it’s easy to continue feeling the effects of your professional stress, make sure to have a transition period between work and home. Engage in a sport or make quiet alone time for yourself. This will prevent you lashing out at loved ones and carrying your work stress into your personal life.
The long and intense work hours of the corporate world can easily lead to feelings of exhaustion on a daily basis, which can create a disconnect with the purpose of working hard. Reconnecting to that sense of purpose is another vital coping skill that can help the mind and body manage stress more effectively. Indeed, when stress is seen as worthwhile, this can give a renewed sense of purpose, which is often an effective form of motivation.
Another crucial skill to managing stress is seeking support. Making time to connect with others helps the brain and body relax. Seeking support also includes building connections with the people in the work environment itself. Indeed, solid, open, supportive work relationships are vital to managing stress.
Building respectful and supportive interpersonal relationships with colleagues, clients, and supervisors is imperative in managing stress, as it facilitates a relatively stable workenvironment.This can be achieved through adopting and executing interpersonal skills that are based on trust, respect, and inclusivity. Focusing on work relations with a cohesive frame of mind and implementing communication skills that empower one another, create a work environment that gives people the drive to work hard, the confidence to make effective decisions, and the motivation to overcome challenges. The result is stronger individuals leading to stronger teams and organizations. Having a sense of community and support at work give people a chance to practice effective responses to interpersonal challenges, changing work environments, and other stresses.
Above all, the most important skill for managing stress is practicing mindfulness during and outside of work hours. Mindfulness teaches you how to respond to the complexities, pressures, and uncertainties of the workplace with greater balance, clarity, and productivity. Mindfulness practices include: making the effort to let go of thoughts and ruminations about work when at home or at social events; being aware of what you choose to think and say; relaxation exercises; and being present with yourself. All of these practices will help you gain clarity and a sense of calm.
A number of well-known companies such as Apple, Google, Procter & Gamble, Deutsche Bank, and General Mills have implemented mindfulness programmes for their employees, which have resulted in increased productivity, decreased levels of employee stress, improved focus and clarity, improved listening and decision-making skills, and improved overall happiness and wellbeing. Most importantly, the programmes reduced absenteeism and turnover, improved employee and client relationships, and boosted job satisfaction.
So, now that you are armed with all the necessary information to change your relationship to stress, try implementing at least one or two new healthy coping skills. Remember not to feel frustrated if workday stress still creeps in—shifting your perception of stress will take time, patience and continued mindfulness. What’s important is that you persevere in your efforts; then, day by day, you’re sure to find that you are leading a calmer, healthier, happier life, both in the workplace and at home, making you a more productive, efficient and indispensable employee.
Building respectful and supportive interpersonal relationships with colleagues, clients, and supervisors is imperative in managing stress as it facilitates a relatively stable workenvironment.This can be achieved through adopting and executing interpersonal skills that are based on trust, respect, and inclusivity. By focusing on work relations with a cohesive frame of mind and implementing communication skills that empower one other creates a work environment for others to explore and work hard, to be confident to make effective decisions, and motivated to overcome challenges. The result is stronger individuals leading to stronger teams and organizations. Having a sense of community and support at work gives people a chance to practice positive, creative, and productive responses to interpersonal challenges, changing work environments, and other stresses.
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