It’s perfectly normal to feel stressed at work when faced with an unexpected challenge or tight deadline. Stress is a common reaction to the pressures of a busy job. However, work-related stress occurs when work demands are too much to cope with over a prolonged period. Work stress is a growing problem in the US that affects not only the health and well-being of staff but also the productivity of organizations.
This blog explores the common sources of workplace stress, examines the physical, psychological and behavioral symptoms and suggests strategies for coping with chronic stress at work.
What is stress?
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines chronic stress as “the physiological or psychological response to a prolonged internal or external stressful event (i.e. a stressor) The stressor need not remain physically present to have its effects; recollections of it can substitute for its presence and sustain chronic stress.”
Workplace stress is all too common in the US. In fact, in the APA Stress in America 2021 survey, work is cited as the most significant source of stress among those employed. It was slightly higher in 2021 than before the Covid-19 pandemic: 68% of respondents said that work was a “very/somewhat significant” source of stress in 2021 compared with 64% of respondents in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
Common sources of work-related stress
Every job has different pressures and challenges but some of the factors that commonly cause work stress include:
- Long hours
- Heavy and relentless workload
- Tight/unrealistic deadlines
- Conflicting demands
- Unclear performance expectations
- Job insecurity
- Constant change
- Lack of autonomy
- Monotonous work
- Insufficient skills for the job
- Toxic working environment
- Lack of promotional opportunities
- Conflict with co-workers and/or management.
Impacts of work-related stress
Work-related stress is highly individual – what one person perceives as stressful, someone else may view as a challenge. Similarly, the signs of workplace stress will be different for each person and may include a number of physical, psychological and behavioral symptoms.
Physical symptoms of work stress
Common physical symptoms of work-related stress can include:
- Disturbed sleep and insomnia
- Muscle tension
- Gastrointestinal problems such as constipation or diarrhoea
- Heart palpitations
- High blood pressure
- Weakened immune system
- Lack of energy.
Psychological symptoms of work stress
The psychological impact of work-related stress depends on a number of factors including a person’s life experiences, relationships and mental health:
- Feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope
- Mood swings including irritability, aggression, frustration and impatience
- Difficulty concentrating
- Struggling to make decisions.
Behavioral symptoms of work stress
People who are stressed have a greater tendency to engage in unhealthy behaviors which will not alleviate stress but may cause additional health problems:
- Excessive drinking, smoking and/or substance abuse
- Poor diet – overeating, undereating or eating unhealthy food
- Lack of exercise.
7 strategies for coping with stress at work
It is not always possible to avoid pressure at work, but you can take steps to manage work-related stress. Here are some strategies to help cope with chronic stress:
- Track your stressors
Write down what’s causing the stress at work for a couple of weeks. Make a note of your thoughts and feelings, include the people and circumstances involved, and how you reacted. Tracking your stressors will help you identify triggers and patterns so you can work out how to reduce stress in future.
2. Speak to your manager
It’s not always possible to avoid a stressful project or situation at work but you can try to reduce the stress it’s causing. Talk to your manager and agree a plan of action. It could include prioritizing tasks, delegating responsibilities, getting extra training or changing your workspace.
3. Establish work-life boundaries
Establish some work-life boundaries. This could include turning off your smartphone and not checking work emails between 7pm and 8am. If you work from home, try to stick to a routine with regular breaks, create a dedicated workspace and switch off when the working day is over.
4. Reframe your thinking
Changing how you think about your stressors can make them easier to handle:
- Accept that some situations are outside of your control.
- Consider the worse-case scenario. It probably isn’t as bad as you think.
- Look at the bigger picture and ask yourself how important it is and will it matter in the long run.
- Set realistic expectations of yourself.
5. Relax and recharge
Relaxation will make you better equipped to handle stressful situations. It’s important to use your vacation allowance so you come back to work feeling recharged and re-energised. When you’re unable to take time off, get some immediate respite from work stress by focusing on non-work activities. Try to find something you enjoy and do it every day. Relaxation doesn’t have to be time-consuming. It can include 5-10 minutes of meditation or deep breathing exercises, or watching your favorite TV show for 30 minutes.
6. Make healthy choices
Instead of reaching for fast food or alcohol when you’re stressed at work, start making healthier choices:
- Exercise is a great stress reliever.
- A balanced diet will give you more energy to deal with pressures and challenges.
- Good quality sleep is important for effective stress management.
- Hobbies and activities will give you pleasure and bring a sense of perspective.
- Talking to friends and family about how work can be stressful can improve your resilience to stress.
7. Seek professional support
If you continue to feel overwhelmed by work-related stress, a therapist could help you cope with it more effectively and change unhealthy behaviors. Your employer may have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) available which includes specialist counseling for stress at work.
How to get help for stress at work
At Kindbridge we’re experts in treating work-related stress. Our full-licensed therapists can provide counseling either direct or via an organization’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
Stress therapy direct with Kindbridge
If your employer does not have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), please get in touch to discuss how we can help with your work-related stress. Book your free 30-minute consultation today.
Stress therapy via your Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Many employers recognize the benefits of supporting employees’ mental health – work-related stress and other issues – and offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
At Kindbridge, our EAP program includes:
- Immediate access to highly-trained therapists.
- Four counselling sessions for common types of mental health issues – such as anxiety, stress and depression – as well as more specialist therapy, including digital addiction, gambling addiction and gaming disorder.
- Confidential, online treatment.
- Follow-up support, as needed, to ensure appropriate and effective care.
- Therapy for eligible family members who are being negatively impacted by a loved one’s mental health problems.
Find out more about our Employee Assistance Program (EAP). We can get your organization signed up so your employees can start benefitting straight away.