Everyone who has ever held a job has, at some point, felt the pressure of work-related stress. Any job can have stressful elements, even if you love what you do. In the short-term, you may experience pressure to meet a deadline or to fulfil a challenging obligation. But when work stress becomes chronic, it can be overwhelming — and harmful to both physical and emotional health. It can at extreme cases even lead to chronic depression, psychiatric disorders and even suicides.
Unfortunately such long-term stress is all too common. 46% of the workforce in India suffers from some sort or the other form of stress. It can adversely affect emotional health and employee productivity and researchers at Harvard Business School and Stanford University say it’s “as bad as second hand smoke”.
Common Sources of Work Stress
- Unrealistic deadlines, far too many goals and not a single end in sight.
- Not being given one’s due in the team, especially when it’s a team of equal players.
- Over multitasking, which causes chaos.
- Too much email and other pending correspondence to deal with.
- Lack of good opportunities to facilitate ideas.
- Fear of being fired.
- Harassment or bullying from colleagues.
Effects of Uncontrolled Stress
In the short term, a stressful work environment can contribute to problems such as headache, stomachache, sleep disturbances, short temper and difficulty in concentrating. Chronic stress can result in anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. It can also contribute to health conditions such as depression, obesity, heart disease and can even lead to suicides. Compounding the problem, people who experience excessive stress often deal with it in unhealthy ways such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs and alcohol.
Taking Steps to Manage Stress
- Track your stressors. Keep a journal for a week or two to identify which situations create the most stress and how you respond to them. Record your thoughts, feelings and information about the environment, including the people and circumstances involved, the physical setting and how you reacted. Did you raise your voice? Get a snack from the vending machine? Go for a walk? Taking notes can help you find patterns among your stressors and your reactions to them.
- Develop healthy responses. Instead of attempting to fight stress with fast food or alcohol, do your best to make healthy choices when you feel the tension rise. Exercise is a great stress-buster. Yoga can be an excellent choice, but any form of physical activity is beneficial. Also make time for hobbies and favourite activities. Whether it’s reading a novel, going to concerts or playing games with your family, make sure to set aside time for the things that bring you pleasure. Getting enough good-quality sleep is also important for effective stress management.
- Establish boundaries. In today’s digital world, it’s easy to feel pressure to be available 24 hours a day. Establish some work-life boundaries for yourself. That might mean making a rule not to check email from home in the evening, or not answering the phone during dinner. Although people have different preferences when it comes to how much they blend their work and home life, creating some clear boundaries between these realms can reduce the potential for work-life conflict and the stress that goes with it.
- Take time to recharge. To avoid the negative effects of chronic stress and burnout, we need time to replenish and return to our pre-stress level of functioning. This recovery process requires “switching off” from work by having periods of time when you are neither engaging in work-related activities, nor thinking about work. That’s why it’s critical that you disconnect from time to time, in a way that fits your needs and preferences. Don’t let your vacation days go to waste. When possible, take time off to relax and unwind, so you come back to work feeling reinvigorated and ready to perform at your best.
- Learn how to relax. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises and mindfulness can help melt away stress. Start by taking a few minutes each day to focus on a simple activity like breathing, walking or enjoying a meal.
- Talk to your supervisor. Start by having an open conversation with your supervisor. While some parts of the plan may be designed to help you improve your skills in areas such as time management, other elements might include identifying employer-sponsored wellness resources you can tap into, clarifying what’s expected of you, getting necessary resources or support from colleagues, enriching your job to include more challenging or meaningful tasks, or making changes to your physical workspace to make it more comfortable and reduce strain.
- Get some support. Accepting help from trusted friends and family members can improve your ability to manage stress. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by work stress, you may want to talk to a psychologist, who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviour.