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Last Updated on January 18, 2021

How to Deal With Work Stress When You’re Stressed to the Max

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How to Deal With Work Stress When You’re Stressed to the Max

Work stress is a modern epidemic. More than one-third of American workers experience chronic work stress. This is estimated to cost American businesses up to $300 billion a year in lost work hours and medical bills[1]. Therefore, it’s important that we start to learn how to deal with stress at work.

Clearly, if you’re suffering from work stress, you’re far from alone. However, this stress isn’t inevitable.

In this article, I’m going to suggest the most suitable ways to cope with stressful situations related to job demands so you can become a happy and productive worker again.

Where Work Stress Comes From

Certain factors tend to go hand-in-hand with work-related stress. The causes of stress include:

Too Much Work

You feel overwhelmed by your work and find yourself saying: “There are not enough hours in the day!” You may be taking on too many projects or staying to work overtime each time your boss asks.

The Job Is Too Easy

If the job doesn’t challenge you with problem solving or inspire you to learn more, you can quickly lose motivation and get stressed, as you feel you’re not growing in the position.

Lack of Social Support

Maybe you feel pressured by coworkers or don’t feel like you’re part of a community at work. Stress increases when we lack positive relationships, even at our job.

Little Praise, Lots of Criticism

A lousy manager uses constant criticism to try to motivate you, but all you really want to hear is “good job.” Even constructive criticism would be a step up.

Very Competitive Work Culture

You may feel like you’re constantly having to compete against your coworkers to get ahead. This can be exhausting and very stressful.

Lack of Control

Your boss or manager likes to micromanage, leaving you with little room to make your own decisions and utilize creativity.

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Aiming for Perfection

While it’s good to do your best, being a perfectionist can be a powerful work stress generator. You may feel like your work is never good enough, which can cause the anxiety you feel while waiting for someone to criticize it.

Low Salary

If you work hard but receive slim financial rewards, you may start to feel unappreciated, frustrated, and stressed.

The Negative Effects of Stress

Chronic stress is bad news for your mental and physical health. These are some health symptoms of stress[2]:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Increased appetite
  • Eye strain
  • Backaches
  • Digestive problems
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia

As one study points out, “chronic life stress has been consistently associated with poorer cognitive function, accelerated cognitive decline, and increased incidence of dementia”[3]. This underlines the importance of avoiding work stress as much as possible[4].

Stress Management at Work

    How to Deal With Stress at Work

    You don’t need to be a victim of work stress. Here’s how to manage stress in the workplace:

    1. Set Aside Some Time for Planning

    If work has become too much for you, and you’re constantly falling behind, it’s time to take a step back. Instead of trying and failing to catch up, you’d be much better off spending some time thinking about your goals and how to prioritize your tasks to improve time management.

    Learn how to set clear goals with this step-by-step guide.

    For instance, if your initial goal is just to get on top of your work (probably for the first time in months), then take 10 minutes to think clearly and deeply about how you can achieve this. Once your goal and tasks are clear in your mind, you’ll be ready for the second step.

    2. Align Your Tasks With Your Goal

    Just knowing your goal and associated tasks is not enough if you want to learn how to deal with stress at work. Many people reach this stage but still fall behind with their work and fail to achieve their goals.

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    The secret is to understand which of your tasks should be high priority, and which ones can be done when you have spare time.

    For example, checking your inbox every 20 minutes may seem to be a productive task for you, but in reality it acts as a constant distraction and a source of stress. Instead, you’d be better off setting aside 30 minutes in the morning and afternoon to check your emails.

    By doing this, you’ll free up the bulk of your day for tasks that can help you reach your goal. These tasks are likely to be things like writing a business proposal, creating a PowerPoint presentation, or finishing an important project.

    These tips on how to prioritize will help you align your tasks with your goals and work 10X more efficiently.

    3. Remove, Change, or Accept the Stressors

    How can you tackle specific work stressors? I recommend the following method that WellCast introduced[5]:

    Take a piece of paper and divide it into three columns. At the top, write remove in the first column, change in the second, and accept in the third.

    Next, think of the sources of work stress that are getting to you the most. Perhaps it’s your paycheck; it might be way smaller than you’d like or feel that you deserve. Don’t worry, this is your chance to break free from the stress surrounding your low pay.

    Which would you prefer?

    • To remove yourself from the company
    • To try to change your salary by asking for a pay rise
    • To accept that your salary is okay for you

    You may be surprised at what thoughts come into your mind. Don’t reject them, but allow yourself time to be clear on how you’d like to proceed.

    If the status quo feels good to you, then write “paycheck” in the accept column. If you decide you want to increase your salary but stay in the same company, write “paycheck” in the change column. And finally, if you decide the time is right to seek a new opportunity at a different organization, then write “paycheck” in the remove column.

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    By being decisive in this way, you’ll immediately feel a sense of control, and your stress levels will begin to decrease. All that remains is to set yourself a clear goal.

    Of course, if you have multiple work stressors, then use your remove, change, or accept sheet to work through all of them to reduce stress. It will be time VERY well spent.

    4. Create Positive Relationships at Work

    One key when learning how to deal with stress at work is being able to accept help outside of friends and family. Not only does it alleviate negative circumstances by creating a buffer between daily tasks and their negative connection, but it will provide a sense of support and relief in your personal life.

     

    Make an effort to create friendships with your colleagues. Go to the after-work happy hour, or just ask a colleague out for coffee at lunchtime. Not only will you have someone to confide in, but you will start to associate positive feelings to work.

    Forming a healthy relationship with your manager or supervisor is also a good way to alleviate stress. Positive, two-way conversations about where you stand in your job, being honest about how you feel, and working together to make a plan of action in terms of improved work conditions and expectations are paramount.

    This will lead to opening up and receiving the necessary resources you need to support or help you.

    5. Take Time for Yourself

    Anyone can get overwhelmed when stress occurs at work, and this can spill into other areas of your life. This is why it’s important to clock out mentally from your job and focus on stress management from time to time.

    Take time off to relax and unwind in order to regain your energy and come back to work invigorated. Make sure you actually do something you enjoy, like spending time with your kids or partner, or visit that city you’ve always wanted to explore.

    If taking time off work isn’t possible in the midst of your stress, take scheduled breaks throughout your day. Sit quietly somewhere, or do some stretches to get your blood flowing.

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    6. Take Mindful Action Towards Your Health

    The irony of work stress is that your healthy habits can take a backseat, which can increase levels of stress. Maintaining and even improving your physical and mental health will keep your stress under control.

    Eat Healthy Foods

    Make sure your diet is full of foods that provide your body with sufficient nutrients. Eat more fruits and green vegetables, whole foods, omega-3 rich fish, and seeds such as flax, chia, and hemp. These types of food ensure your body is working optimally to cope with its stress mechanisms.

    Avoid Unhealthy Foods

    This is obvious, but it’s these kinds of foods you reach for in times of stress and negativity. High-fat foods, such as cheese and red meat, cause sluggishness and tiredness. Foods high in refined sugars, like cookies, chocolate bars, and bread, can be convenient snacks, but they cause you to crash and burn.

    Exercise Regularly

    Endorphins are great for counteracting stress, and you can get more of them through exercise. Exercise creates a distraction and helps you get your thoughts back together in an orderly way. Start exercising today to improve your physical and emotional health!

    Get Enough Sleep

    Make getting 8 hours sleep a priority to help diminish work stress. When we’re stressed it can sometimes feel hard to get to sleep, but sleep deprivation only exaggerates our current stress.

    Final Thoughts

    Everyone encounters work stress. It’s a natural and normal human reaction. The difference between letting the stress overcome you and coping with it is getting a head start by creating a positive environment and lifestyle.

    Learning how to deal with work stress is both an inside and outside job. Focusing on improving your health will create a positive mind that’s able to react better. Forming positive relationships with certain people around you will give you emotional support.

    Beat stress with the right mindset!

    More Tips on Dealing With Stress

    Featured photo credit: whoislimos via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on September 23, 2021

    Overwhelmed at Work? 17 Ways to Manage Work Anxiety

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    Overwhelmed at Work? 17 Ways to Manage Work Anxiety

    Sadly, being overwhelmed at work has become commonplace in many industries in the United States, with an astounding 83% of US workers reporting that they are suffering from work-related stress. The US has been deemed the most overworked developed nation on the planet.[1]

    Some of you are nodding your head knowingly, while others might be doing a questioning head tilt right now. Here’s the deal—data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the average productivity of American workers has increased since 1950.[2] Unfortunately, since that time real wages have remained largely unchanged (adjusted for cost of living and inflation), meaning that to earn the same amount that we did in 1950, we have to work approximately an extra 11 hours each week—and an unthinkable 572 hours a year. Sounds a little bit stressful, doestn’ it?

    To put things into perspective, here are a few statistics to chew on:[3]

    • People are so overwhelmed at work that it’s costing American companies over 300 billion dollars a year and over $190 billion in healthcare costs.[4] This is partly because feeling overwhelmed at work manifests itself in increased sick days, decreased productivity, poor mental and physical health, more errors on the job, and increased turnover.
    • Moreover, stress at work is not just costing us money but also our lives. With a staggering 120,000 deaths annually attributed to work stress, something needs to change.

    If the external demands are not enough to raise your blood pressure, we are also unwittingly making our situations more challenging by perpetuating an ideology that would stress out even the coolest cucumber. Let me explain.

    The idea that’s been drilled into us for most of our American lives has been this: hard work and working hard is to be admired while admitting something is too much is being a lazy wimp. This underlying attitude we’ve all been spoon-fed is called Internalized Capitalism. According to Anders Hayden, a political science professor at Dal Housie University in Nova Scotia,[5]

    “Internalized capitalism is this idea that our self-worth is directly linked to our productivity.”

    Someone struggling with internalized capitalism might look like any or all of the following:

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    • Putting work before their health and well-being.
    • Feeling guilty when resting or participating in a leisure activity.
    • Feeling lazy and/or anxious when sick, hurt, or otherwise dealing with personal or physical adversity that delays them from doing their job.
    • Feeling that whatever they do it’s never enough.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, it is admirable to be a hard worker. But here’s the caveat—when our self-worth and lives suffer because of the overwhelming and relentless demand for productivity, profit, and performance, we need to start reconsidering what’s going on. And here’s the real kicker: this attitude plays right into the hands of the few who are profiting from the many. It’s almost like we have been brainwashed to police ourselves against our self-interest.

    Now that we are all on the same page about how we got here, the question is this: How can we overcome a difficult system and dysfunctional thinking?

    Honestly, we didn’t get here overnight, and there is not a magic wand to wave that will change things for the better instantly. True change will occur with a blend of systemic and individual tweaks—or overhauls. Okay, it’s really “overhauls” that we need, but I didn’t want to scare anyone so I said “tweaks.”

    Let’s start by taking a look at some of the solutions and changes we can make as individuals. Let’s just be frank and put it out there that these problems won’t be fixed only by reminding people to take better care of themselves. Taking personal responsibility for your self-care is part of it, yes, but this runs much deeper than that. We are talking about undoing deeply held beliefs that govern our self-esteem and self-worth.

    1. Process Your Emotions

    “So, if you’re mad, get mad!” Isn’t that how the song goes? (I’ll Stand by You by the Pretenders.) Finding healthy outlets for our emotions is a key aspect of processing and being able to truly move on.

    “Name it to tame it,” is a phrase coined by Dr. Dan Siegel about the power of labeling an emotion to reduce its impact. Examples of this could be journaling or talking things out with someone. Honestly, this step really needs to come first as it is extremely difficult to think clearly when we are feeling very emotional.[6]

    2. Be Aware of Negative and Judgmental Self-Talk

    Are you staying late at the office and missing time with friends (or your dog) because your internal critic is telling you that if you don’t get this project done, you are a lazy, underperforming blob of an employee? This type of self-talk is not productive or healthy.

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    You can overcome this by becoming aware of the story you are telling yourself and the judgment that accompanies it. This is the most important step by far. These stories and criticisms we tell ourselves that keep us working crazy hours and provoke toxic anxiety are the same cockamamie stories that prevent us from taking the time we need to take care of ourselves.

    3. Question Your Beliefs

    Once you notice the narrative you are telling yourself, take a step back and try to see it for what it is. “Is this really true? Why do I believe that? Is there any evidence to the contrary?”

    4. Make New Beliefs

    Rewrite your story with what feels right to you. Luckily, we are our own authors, and we get to choose the things we tell ourselves. It doesn’t sound like much, but the power of perspective and authentic positive thinking can be monumental. It’s healthy to evaluate our internal beliefs and self-talk from time to time.

    5. Be Clear on What You Want

    Be clear on what you want and how you’d like things to be different. Do I want to work a zillion hours a week and then be too tired/anxious/grumpy to do anything else in my life? What are my priorities and does my situation now reflect that?

    6. Talk to Your Supervisor

    Talk to your supervisor to clarify expectations. Are you holding yourself to implied or self-imposed expectations? Or have they explicitly been set by your employer?

    7. Have a Solid Support System

    Having a solid support system helps prevent you from being overwhelmed by work anxiety. They can be your friends, family, life coach, psychologist, teammates, social groups—whoever feels supportive, positive, and encouraging.

    8. Brutally Assess What You Can and Can’t Control.

    This step is important as it dictates the actions you have to choose to move forward. I used to wish I would win the lottery, but the time and energy spent on that didn’t get me anywhere. Changing my work hours, taking some classes, and cutting back some expenses did.

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    9. Develop an Action Plan

    Develop an action plan based on your findings in #8. It’s not all going to change at once. Start with one small thing, and keep chipping away until you get wherever you want to go.

    10. Talk to Someone in HR

    Talk to your supervisor or someone from HR about your concerns and struggles. Find out about your options and any assistance they may be able to offer.

    11. Set Boundaries and Limitations.

    Just because you can work from home and check your email at 2 am doesn’t mean that you should. Learn to set your boundaries. Limit digital contact. Limit work to work hours and stick to it.

    12. Complete One Thing at a Time

    We are only neurologically capable of doing one thing at a time. Multitasking is a myth and, when attempted, has been shown to take up to 40% longer to complete a task.[7] Don’t waste your precious time and energy doing many things at once. Instead, focus on one task at a time.

    13. Be Organized and Timely But Also Realistic

    Don’t set yourself up for increased stress and overwhelming work anxiety by putting an unreasonable amount of things on your “to-do” list over a short period of time. Prioritize what needs to be done, and set realistic time frames for completion.

    14. Good Enough Is Sometimes Good Enough

    Don’t get bogged down in the minutia and cost yourself hours of needless work by re-reading an email 14 times before sending it. Read through it twice and hit send.

    15. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

    There is a saying I like: “Comparison is the thief of happiness.” I have no idea who originally said it, but they are brilliant, and most of all, correct. Wasting time and energy comparing ourselves never leads us to a good place. Instead, ask yourself if you are doing the best you can given your own set of circumstances.

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    16. Take Time to Fill Your Tank

    Meditation, yoga, quiet time, exercise, breaks, breathing, quality sleep, good nutrition, and hydration—just to name a few—are all scientifically proven ways to reduce our internal stress and better manage our energy.[8] On top of good self-care habits, taking the time to do whatever it is that fills your individual tank is crucial to feeling less overwhelmed with work anxiety. I frequently ask my clients which car will make it on a cross-country trip: the car you stop and put gas in, checking the oil and tires intermittently, or the car that you just keep driving?

    17. Reframe Your Perspective

    We all get caught in the habit of seeing things from only one perspective. A friend of mine used to always tell me, “there are three sides to every story: yours, theirs and something in the middle.” She was right, and honestly, there are many more sides than that.

    Critical coaching moment here: Take a step back and try to think outside the box to see the vast expanse of options available to you. Try not to discount them right off the bat as they might not readily fit into the narrow view or expectation that you previously held. Allow your mind to run free, be creative, and find solutions.

    What Organizations Can Do About It

    As we mentioned earlier, this problem of being overwhelmed with work anxiety is not one-dimensional. Much of the onus falls on the system itself. Not ready to make the full commitment necessary, many organizations encourage their employees to “take care of themselves” or “prioritize work-life balance” while, at the same time, covertly/overtly making unrealistic demands in workload and time.

    The positive side is that there are companies who have truly taken the task of supporting their employees as people with personal and professional lives to heart.[9] These organizations stand at the forefront with fair wages, employing enough staff, and setting realistic work expectations, boundaries, and goals. Some top organizations employ life coaches, psychologists, and other support staff, offer employee wellness programs, encourage good nutrition through free healthy meals at work, provide access to fitness and game rooms, and provide unlimited paid time off, flexible schedules, the ability to work remotely, as well as resources to assist with daycare, legal issues, and in-home care to name a few.

    Lastly, solid training for managers and HR in addressing employees as “whole” people and taking some of the onus off of the employee to find their own solutions to problems that stem from the workplace is another critical component to successfully supporting employees.[10]

    Final Thoughts

    Improving support for people in the workplace is good for everyone. It’s better for people’s health and well-being, it’s better for productivity and making fewer errors, it’s more cost-effective for companies and our healthcare system, and it increases the bottom line for companies.

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    As we discussed earlier, the big picture will not change overnight. For now, take control of what you can and evaluate ways to better manage your end of things. If these changes are not enough to make the difference you are looking for, then a change of environment or to a company that holds the same beliefs that you do may be in order.

    More Tips on How to Manage Work Anxiety

    Featured photo credit: Elisa Ventur via unsplash.com

    Reference

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