Is Your Workplace Stressing You Out?

Five steps to cope

Posted Apr 23, 2015

“There cannot be a stressful crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” - Henry Kissinger

The contemporary workplace environment is very demanding, quick-paced and increasingly uncertain. Pressure of deadlines, deliverables and working with difficult people, among other factors, puts modern employees under unreasonable amounts of stress. In fact, being constantly stressed out is so universal in America that many laborers have accepted it as unpleasant, but a way of life. While a certain amount of stress is acceptable and can actually be beneficial for you—keeping you alert and focused, helping you cope well with challenges—beyond a certain acceptable limit, stress is nothing but bad for you! Not only does it affect your mental stability but also your health, relationships, productivity at work, and overall quality of life.

People are different, so we react differently to the same set of circumstances; something that one person may find stressful, another may regard as only mildly challenging or even normal. How you tolerate and respond to stress depends not only on the particularities of your situation but also on what type of person you are; your natural inclinations, beliefs and behaviors.

While workplace stress is nothing new, it tends to insidiously build up, making you lose your focus and confidence, and feel more and more overwhelmed, and in the worst case scenarios it might lead to physical and mental collapse. If not managed properly, stress can cause your job satisfaction to suffer and your performance at work to decline. It goes without saying that if employee productivity falls short of expectations, management may opt to cut back on the financial rewards for them or even consider a more efficient candidate to fill the position. Stress at work is not something to ignore; it can potentially cause you greater problems that will only lead to more stress. Long-term stress can cause you to experience:

  • Anxiety and chronic tension
  • Agitation and fits of panic
  • Aggression
  • Mood swings and disorientation
  • Negative self-talk and self-abuse
  • Sleeping difficulties and constant fatigue
  • Eating, drinking and other disorders
  • Pessimism and despondency
  • Gradual withdrawal from society

The two major consequences of inexorable workplace stress are employee disengagement and absenteeism, according to the Global Benefits Attitudes Survey from the professional services firm Towers Watson: 

Bev Flaxington/Piktochart
Source: Bev Flaxington/Piktochart

As reported in the third annual Work Stress Survey, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Everest College, an incredible 83% of employees in America are stressed at work. These results reflect a 10% increase in the number of strained employees, compared to the previous year. Several years after the recession, people are still coping with its aftermath, as low wages and job insecurity cause employees to feel anxious and pressured.

While job security is certainly a critical factor in influencing the levels of work-related stress, there are many more determinants that can affect employee productivity, effectiveness and commitment. Different types of jobs have their unique set of stress-inducing aspects but, in general, the following stressors are most frequently cited by the laborers of all professions:

  • Work overload
  • Long hours
  • Impossible deadlines and nonsensical expectations
  • Financial compensation
  • Management pressure
  • Unjust treatment and lack of recognition
  • Co-worker harassment 
  • Incompetent colleagues and/or management
  • Job dissatisfaction

If any of these factors are affecting your work, you may want to consider the following five different options to take charge of your life at work. Doing nothing is not an option, so take some steps to alleviate the stress today.

  1. Identify stress factors you can control or influence. Avoid unnecessary stress—don’t get fixated on the obstacles and elements of your life that are outside your span of control. Your stressing about them, realistically, won’t change anything, so why spend your nerve cells—and remember those are irreplaceable—on constant worrying. Instead of feeling like Chicken Little and worrying about the sky that you can’t control, find those things you can control and can influence that are in your way. Take charge of the pieces that you can manage differently and, for now, ignore those that you can’t.
  2. Practice the “this too shall pass” mantra. Nothing is really permanent, and your life is too short to be spent fuming over or worrying about irksome co-workers and ignorant bosses. Remember that your job doesn’t equate to your life; your life is much more than that. One day things you can’t control will also change, and old problems will get resolved or replaced with new ones. Truthfully, your life will never be completely stress-free, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on living it. Realize how impermanent life really is. It can be helpful to think back on something you once worried about that never came to fruition. Worry really is the interest we pay on a debt that may never come due. Realize that life is changing every single minute and while your situation may seem interminable, it really isn’t. It all passes, one way or another.
  3. Get organized—both physically and mentally. Clutter, whether it’s in your mind, on your desk or in your life, can make the problems you are dealing with seem blown out of proportion. It can make you feel trapped or running in loops, unable to cope with what’s on your plate. Getting some structure to your life will help you feel, and more importantly be, more in control of it. Have a written schedule and make sure to follow it. Get your priorities straight and don’t be afraid to delegate responsibilities, if possible and appropriate. Don’t overestimate your abilities, either; allot enough time for each task, and add breaks in between, to balance out your work and social life ratio.
  4. Adopt a positive attitude towards challenges. Even when it isn’t going the way you might hope it would, keep in mind that all work is “paid learning”. Whatever it is you are doing day-to-day or facing at work, it’s a learning experience no one can take away from you. And while you should strive for excellence at whatever your chosen work is, most undoubtedly, there are going to be some ups and downs along the way. A positive outlook on work and life challenges will make you more resilient to stress and help you manage it in a calm and collected way. Accept that no human being is perfect. Instead, face your shortcomings with an open mind, reflect on them and move on.
  5. Watch your self-talk. Be nice to yourself! Be positive. Diminishing your own worth is the most degrading thing you can do to yourself. There probably are plenty of other people who are able and willing to put you down, if you are going to treat yourself with so much scorn, you won’t have the energy you need to deal with those difficult people or problems! If you find it’s disingenuous to be “positive”, be at least rational towards yourself—don’t run yourself down or blow things up.

Remember, you are not powerless, and the biggest changes in life can sprout from a small change in self.