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Managing Stress at Work

Managing Stress at Work

Employee stress is a growing concern for businesses today. According to the American Institute of Stress, stress in the workplace can lead to: 

  • Mistakes and lack of concentration 
  • Decreased productivity, especially with absenteeism and “presenteeism” 
  • Disengagement and turnover 
  • Inflammation and chronic disease

There is a lot that business owners and managers can do to help address stress in the workplace, but don’t wait for your employer to tackle it. Take your mental health into your own hands. 

Vacation

First, take your vacation! According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the US has the lowest number of vacation days in the world (and some of the highest stress levels, according to a Gallup World Poll),

and we don’t even use all of our vacation.   How many of us carry over vacation days? Or worse, have colleagues who brag about how little vacation they have used? It might end up impacting their health and well being. 

Recovery for Peak Performance 

Still not convinced to take that vacation time? Even top athletes know that peak performance is based on using periods of rest and recovery to counter the days they exert more (aka stress).  Recovery is an important element of peak performance. Vacation days are part of that recovery.     

Self-care is also part of building in that recovery day in and day out. Running back-to-back meetings can leave you frazzled and drained at the end of the workday. We need recovery time during the workday, too, for better innovation and problem solving – something most employers desire.  

  • Take time to build self care activities into your day to ensure you are getting in some recovery time. 
  • Be defensive with your calendar. 
  • Build in time for recovery and flip your phone over to limit distractions.  
  • Take time to eat your lunch – don’t work through lunch.  
  • Build in a break and go for a walk to get to your 10,000 steps each day. 

Take back control of unproductive habits. We’ve grown towards the tendency to respond to emails ASAP, but not every email requires a response, let alone an immediate response. 

  • Be more selective about which emails you respond to and when. 
  • Block out time during the day to specifically handle emails. 
  • You can even set up an automated response to let senders know that you will only be responding during certain hours of the day.   

Similarly, how many of us have sat through a meeting that could have very easily been an email? While you may not be able to prevent others from setting up such meetings, you can commit to yourself that you will be more selective about the meetings you schedule, and the meetings that you attend. You just need to practice the diligence to adhere to it.   As I said, it’s about being defensive – your time is precious, zealously protect it! 

Focus on your wellbeing 

Wellbeing comes down to the quality of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy.  Influencing one affects the other. Improving your physical energy can help improve how you respond to stress. This can be done by focusing on proper nutrition and physical activity. Sometimes these aren’t prioritized as they should be when we are under stress. 

What’s worse, stress can also lead to emotional eating or drinking as coping methods, according to the American Psychological Association.

We abandon our usual good food habits and give into cravings.  Just stopping the cycle of turning to comfort food, or ordering take-out due to the work stress, can improve your nutrition, which impacts how you feel, thereby affecting your response to stress. Taking a break for some physical activity can give you a needed energy boost.   

Both nutrition and physical activity  can also go a long way to combatting some of the medical issues stress creates. 

Mindfulness 

Incorporating mindfulness practices into you day can help you manage stress at work. Mindfulness is ultimately about creating awareness, which over time can help you react differently to circumstances, which ultimately reduces your stress.   While we often think of mindfulness as a formal meditation that takes time, it doesn’t have to be, and you can build up to it over time.    

A little mindfulness is better than no mindfulness. Try sitting for two minutes each day – just sit without any agenda, and breathe.  It sounds simple, but just focusing on your breath for a few breaths can help you calm down. 

Which of these suggestions resonate with you?  Which do you think you can try?  What do you do to try and reduce stress in the workplace?   Whether it is as an employer or as an employee, we all have a role in managing stress in the workplace. We can’t afford to ignore it.

If you want to learn more about mental health and how to help a person who may be experiencing a mental health related crisis or problem, Mental Health First Aid is a course that teaches you how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders in your community.

About the Author

Betsy Leahy is a Coach, Speaker and Facilitator who specializes on the intersection of work, wellness, and travel.

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