Work-related stress can get the best of us all. Emails, Slack messages, phones ringing off the hook, your co-worker dropping by for an impromptu meeting — it’s enough to make anyone frazzled. Feeling some tension is normal, especially if you’re facing a looming deadline or challenging assignment. But when work stress becomes chronic, it can end up affecting both your physical and emotional well-being. Experiencing work strain is unavoidable — even if you love what you do — but there are steps you can take to keep job stress to a minimum.
Be aware of the effects
This might sound overly simple, but it’s easy to underestimate how much stress can affect you. Take note if you find yourself emotionally exhausted and pessimistic by the end of the day. Long-term exposure to unmanaged stress can take a toll on your body and mental health and potentially linked to burnout, depression and anxiety. Here’s a look at some of the subtler signs of stress:
low energy or fatigue
changes in appetite
rapid heart rate
loss of sex drive
Write down your stressors
Identifying and recording stressful situations can help you understand what’s bothering you. Some of these can be subtle sources of tension, such as an uncomfortable workspace or a long commute. Keep a journal for 1 week to track your stress triggers and your reactions to them. Make sure to include the people, places, and events that gave you a physical, mental, or emotional response. As you write, ask yourself:
- How did this make me feel? (Afraid, angry, hurt?)
- What was my reaction? (Did I visit the vending machine afterward or go for a walk?)
- What are some ways of resolving it? (How can I find solutions to this stressor?)
Take time to re-charge
Taking even a few minutes of personal time during a busy day can help prevent burnout. Listening to an interesting podcast in between meetings or watching a funny Youtube video can give you relaxing pauses throughout the day. It’s also important to take breaks from thinking about your job by not checking work-related emails on your time off or disconnecting from your phone in the evenings.
Time management skills
Sometimes, feeling overwhelmed by work comes down to how organized you are. Try setting up a priority list at the beginning of your work week by preparing tasks and ranking them according to importance. You can also beat procrastination by setting aside specific time blocks for deep concentration work.
Work life balance
Being available around the clock will easily burn you out. It’s important to create clear boundaries between your work and home life to help you avoid potential stress. Part of this means setting aside time for socializing and establishing rules for when you’ll check emails or take phone calls.
Re-evaluate negative thoughts
When you’ve experienced worry and chronic stress for an extended period of time, your mind may tend to jump to conclusions and read into every situation with a negative lens. For example, if your boss doesn’t say hi to you first thing in the morning, you might react thinking “they’re mad at me.” Instead of making automatic judgements, try distancing yourself from your negative thoughts and simply observe.
Keep in touch with trusted friends and family members to help cope with stressful work situations. If you’re struggling with an especially challenging work week, try asking parent friends if they can help out with carpooling your kids to school on certain days. Having people you can rely on during the tough times can alleviate some of the built-up tension.
Take care of yourself
Setting aside time for self-care is a must if you regularly find yourself feeling overwhelmed by work. This means prioritizing sleep, setting aside time for fun, and making sure you’re eating throughout the day. Keep in mind that you’ll likely be able to tackle work issues more effectively when your core needs are being met.
Purposefully slowing down and being conscious of your surroundings can keep you relaxed throughout the week. Meditation, deep breathing and mindfulness exercises, all work to calm your anxiety. Start by taking a few minutes each day to focus on being present and enjoying a simple activity — whether that’s a short walk around the park or appreciating a meal at your desk.
Make it a habit
Here are a few other ways to build mindfulness into your daily routine:
Pause for a few moments before starting your workday and set your intention.
Download a meditation app you can use when feeling excessive pressure at work or during your commute.
Schedule in a 5-minute break to try breathing exercises.
Avoid office gossip
Workplace conflict can take a major toll on your emotional well-being. Try to avoid participating in gossipy situations. If you know that one of your colleagues is especially prone to gossip, find a way to spend less time with them or steer the conversation to safer topics. Some other strategies for staying out of the fray include:
- emphasizing the positive (“Tom has been juggling a lot lately and handling it really well.”)
- ignoring the conversation and changing the subject to something unrelated
- walking away (“Sorry, I have a huge deadline due after lunch and can’t stay and chat.”)
Let go of perfectionism
If you need to get that presentation just right or find yourself working extra hours perfecting a report you finished days ago, it may be time to take a step back and reflect. While perfectionism has some positive benefits, it can also be highly stressful and lead to burnout. Try to keep your high standards in check by focusing on the effort you put into a project and not personalizing failure when you make a mistake.
Take a break
Being able to disconnect or “switch off” from responsibilities and job-related activities can help you relax and unwind like no other. You don’t have to jet set across the world, either. A work-free staycation or trip a few hours out of town can still help you reset.
Chat with your manager
Getting support from your boss can significantly alleviate feelings of burnout. Set up a quiet time to talk with them and calmly discuss feeling overwhelmed by challenging tasks. Approach the conversation from a place of problem solving, rather than listing out complaints. For example, you could say that you want to revisit what’s expected of you outside of working hours because things feel a bit overwhelming right now. The point is to find a resolution that helps reduce strain.