Ruth C White Ph.D.

Culture in Mind


Is Work Driving You Crazy? It's Time to Stop the Madness!

Manage your stress and make work a saner place to be.

Posted Nov 26, 2011

Is this you? Well read on....

Does getting up to go to work in the morning fill you with dread? Are you counting the minutes until the weekend and then on Sunday you are dreading the Monday morning countdown?

For many people (not everyone) the workplace is a source of great stress. In 2011 the head of Lloyd's Bank in the UK had to take stress leave because his health was being affected by his work.

Most of us have to work and we have to work for a long time. Some of us enjoy our work and others cannot wait until the day they have to work no more. No matter your feelings about work you can make the time more productive, less stressful and give yourself more 'me' time, which keeps you mentally sharp, more focused and more calm. 

What is making us stressed out at work? What are the factors that contribute to a stressful workplace and what can you do to make it better? Those are the questions I will answer in this post.


First, we work very long hours.

In the culture that is America, we work longer than any other advanced economy. By mid-October we have worked as much as most other industrialized nations and still have more than 2 months to go. There are no laws in the USA dictating a minimum vacation though we do have laws legislating breaks during the work day. So while most countries get 4-6 weeks to start, many Americans start at 2 weeks and many people get none at all.

And  what mystifies many foreigners is that often we do not take the few weeks vacation that we have because we live in a culture where being on the job is so highly valued.


Organizations are stripped to the bone with regard to human resources, which means more people are being asked to do more, and because of high unemployment, no one dare complain. Some expectations are unrealistic and if you acknowledge them as such and give best effort you can cut yourself some mental slack.


More than 180 countries in the world have some sort of federally legislated PAID maternity leave and we are among 4 or so countries that do not. Some employers offer it as a benefit, and msot of these are large Fortune 100 companies who compete for top talent. Most factory workers cannot afford leave. With no maternity leave, mothers can get very stressed on the job because not many women can afford to take 3 months (Family and Medical Leave Act).

We also have very little sick leave and it is often combined as part of our entire leave package so one sick day is one less holiday.


Not too many of us have the good fortune of working for a company like Google where workers are trusted to do their jobs and time is flexible and our ideas are given attention and recreation and food are easily accessible. Most of us work in disconnected spaces, worrying about our jobs in a time of high unemployment and get little recognition for our successes or appreciation for our best efforts.


  • Set realistic goals. Be clear with yourself and your boss what will be delivered and when and schedule your work accordingly. If you must revise deadlines because of unexpected events, negotiate this with your boss. Sometimes, there is room to manouevre but you wont know unless you ask. 
  • Create a work routine. Answer email at specific times during the day - first thing in the morning, once in the afternoon and right before leaving is good. Not everything needs responding to right away just because it shows up on your smartphone. Return calls during a certain time. Allot time for projects. Know that things do not always go according to plan but at least you have a plan.
  • Leave work at work. Set boundaries between work and home. Because of technology people seem to be working all the time (I'm writing this on a Saturday morning sitting on my bed:) and that can feel like you do not have any 'off' time or 'me' time. You may find it easier to stay later at work and then come home knowing you are done for the day. You may find you are more productive if you go to work before everyone else so that you have undisturbed, focused time. It may also reduce your commute by traveling at off times. Or if you absolutely need to work from home, set specific times and take me time first. For example, I a writing this after having done my morning swim and walk.
  • Space out holidays over the year so that you have regular breaks from work. Add days to long weekends or see if you can take off when there are natural lulls in the work cycle. When on holiday, disconnect from your devices and if you can't do that, then disconnect from work-related activities on your device(s).
  • Create a de-stress routine at work. Take a 15 minute break at least once every 2 hours and leave your cubicle or office and just get some fresh air. Exercise at your desk every hour. Do some stretches or some high knee marching or keep some hand weights to keep your arms toned with some simple exercises. Herbal teas that calm are also a great way to keep hydrated while keeping your mind and body calm.
  • Exercise. Before work is best because it gives your brain clarity, gives you energy, keeps your mood even and you can be proud of yourself for having accomplished something before the work day has even begun. After work gyms tend to be busy and if you exercise too late it can make it hard to fall asleep because your body is all revved up.
  • Connect. Be the one at work to suggest time out celebrations of little and large accomplishments. One simple step is a 'dont eat lunch at your desk' day. Eating under stress causes indigestion and other digestive discomforts. Connecting with people in small and little ways creates bonds that improve mental wellbeing through social support.

Work is a part of life and it can be very stressful but it is not the stress that matters as much as how you deal with the stress you do have. Taking steps to destress and to cushion yourself against the forces of stress pay off in your physical and mental health and improve your effectiveness and efficiency at work.