Many people experience stress in their jobs. It might be temporarily because of a project deadline or because of seasonal fluctuations in your workload. Or you might experience long-term stress due to the nature of your role, because of a difficult boss or co-worker, or because of office politics. So, how do you maintain your professionalism, composure and workplace relationships? The answer is by managing your stress levels and by learning to survive and thrive in a stressful role. Job stress has many negative consequences. If you leave it unmanaged, it can affect your health, productivity, well-being and career. Unmanaged stress can lead to a number of psychological conditions, such as anxiety or depression and may also cause relationship problems with co-workers.
How to Identify Your Current Stress Levels
Physical symptoms of stress include frequent headaches or muscle tension, persistent sleeplessness and stomach upsets. You may also experience significant changes in your weight. Psychologically, you may be irritable, depressed and experience prolonged difficulty in concentrating. If continuous stress starts to cause burnout, you may also find that you lose interest in your work and hobbies and become socially withdrawn.
How to Manage a Stressful Job
Before you can manage stress, you first have to know what causes it. Common causes of workplace stress can be grouped according to four main underlying causes:
Time stress develops from a fast-paced working environment with unrealistic deadlines. When you’re suffering from this type of stress productivity, relationships and well-being start to suffer.
Anticipatory stress is stress about the future. It may be due to a specific event, such as a presentation that you’re scheduled to give. Or you may experience a more general fear about the future. Many people suffer anticipatory stress about their employment security.
Situational stress is caused by situations over which you feel you have no control. These may be acute incidents, such as a sudden failure of a supply line, or longer-term issues, such as the feeling that you have no autonomy or purpose in your work. Unreasonably heavy workloads also come into this category.
Encounter stress derives from interaction with other people. Poor management, bullying, and having to deal with angry or difficult people can all be sources of encounter stress.
Find Ways to Stay Calm
Stress can often cause you to stop breathing for several seconds, even though you may not realize it. When you’re feeling stressed, practice deep breathing exercises. Deep, slow breathing floods your body with oxygen, slowing your heart rate, relaxing your muscles and helping you to focus. You might also want to practice yoga or meditation after work; both are effective methods of managing stress.
Frequent daily breaks and regular vacations are also important for reducing work stress. Even a long weekend can help you to de-stress after a tough week. When you do take a break or go on vacation, leave work at work. Taking a “working vacation” (or constantly checking your emails and messages while you’re gone) won’t give you the time that you need to rest and recharge.
Manage Your Time
If you’re struggling with a heavy workload or project deadlines, you can lower your stress levels and improve productivity by managing your time more effectively. Distractions in the office can also be a major source of stress. These distractions can come from well-meaning colleagues, from constant phone calls or emails, or from general office noise. Minimize distractions by closing your office door for short periods of time, by turning off your phone, or by listening to music or white noise to drown out people’s conversations.
Increase Your Autonomy
Autonomy is the freedom to decide how to accomplish your work. Professionals who work in roles with low autonomy often experience more stress and dissatisfaction than those with greater autonomy. Speak with your manager about your current goals or projects. Where appropriate, ask for the freedom to choose how you accomplish these goals. This could include working from home or choosing who you want to work with on your next project. Use job crafting strategies to reshape your role and to better use your strengths and interests. This can lead to greater productivity and less stress. You might also find that job crafting adds interest and meaning to your work.
Manage Your Priorities
Conflicting priorities can be a major source of workplace stress, especially when you feel like you’re constantly “fire fighting.” Learn how to focus on what’s important, not just urgent. If you’re working on a project that seems overwhelming, break it into smaller steps. This allows you to accomplish one thing at a time, instead of trying to take everything on at once.
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to manage a stressful job. Daily exercise helps you to cope with stress, and it can also help to boost your memory, creativity, IQ and productivity. Wake up slightly earlier and exercise before work, take a walk on your lunch break or use a standing desk while you’re at work. Take frequent breaks to move around and let your mind rest. Try taking several five- or 10-minute walks during the day. It might not sound like much, but this exercise and fresh air will give you time to rest and recharge. Remember, any additional movement will help you to manage stress and live a healthier life.
Your attitude plays a major role in your level of stress, no matter what kind of work you do. You can choose to approach tasks, responsibilities and people with a negative attitude, or you can choose to approach your work and relationships with a positive mindset. Although the amount of work is the same, the impact on your health and well-being is profound. Whenever you catch yourself slipping into a negative frame of mind, make an effort to challenge your conceptions and to think positively instead. Challenge your negative thoughts with rational, fact-based thinking, and consider using affirmations to boost your self-confidence.
Assess Your Skills and Resources
Look at the work that you do. What are your biggest frustrations? Where are you most inefficient? Where are your bottlenecks? These situations often point to a lack of tools, resources, skills development or help – all of which can contribute to workplace stress. You need to keep your skill set under continual review, particularly if your organization is developing new ways of working. You also need to have the right equipment and know how to use it. Make a list of what you need. Let your boss know what you’re lacking and explain how these items will improve your productivity and effectiveness.
Find Meaning in Your Job
What do you love most about your job? What gives your work meaning and purpose? These questions might sound simple, but they’re important. If you know what gives your work meaning, you’re more likely to be able to develop intrinsic motivation. This motivation comes from knowing that what you do has value in its own right. It can help you to manage the stress that goes along with the work you do, and to build resilience when you’re feeling down.
Everyone experiences stress at work from time to time. However, if your job is consistently stressful, it’s essential to find ways to manage that stress.
Start by identifying what causes your stress. Next, confirm that you’re handling your priorities and time effectively. Get regular exercise, and make sure that you have the tools and resources you need to do your job.
Talk to your manager about developing more autonomy in your role and assess what it is that gives your work purpose and meaning. This will help you to improve your self-motivation and resilience.