5 Ways to Cope with Stress at Work

By Dr Sagar Patel (General Practioner)

How to Manage Stress at Work

Whether it is because of work, relationships or family issues, everyone experiences stress at varying points in their life. Stress from work is a common trigger that affects those across varying sectors and careers. While some office stress is normal, excessive stress can impact your mental health and work-life balance. Stress at work can be caused by a number of factors, including financial stress, excessive workloads and unusual hours, deadlines, discrimination and expectations, as well as your working environment, culture, and job security. Alarmingly, 60% of employees are overworking by at least 6.3 hours per week, and according to a recent study from Harvard, a stressful work environment can take up to 33 years off your life.

Symptoms of work-related stress

While work-related stress is very common, the symptoms you might experience can vary significantly depending on your character, coping mechanisms, and the primary stressor. You may experience physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, muscular pain, palpitations, an upset stomach or nausea. Many people may also experience mental health difficulties such as depression, anxiety, mood swings, and compulsive or addictive behaviour.

Work stress can translate to a difficulty in decision making or concentration, a strain on colleague relationships and only amplifies your existing pressures. Once you enter into a cycle of stress at work, this can begin to impact your ability to switch off and relax at home, losing interest in hobbies or interests and can put undue strain on personal relationships.

When does stress become a problem and when should you reach out for help?

A little stress can be helpful, however, work-related stress can quickly become a problem when it negatively affects your wellbeing, productivity, personal life and relationships.

Stress is the most common cause of sickness in the workplace with nearly 600,000 people suffering from work-related stress or burnout syndrome in the UK every year. Stress can also increase your risk of other health issues such as heart disease, stroke or diabetes in the long run and impact your immune system making it harder for you to fight off common illnesses such as the flu, stomach bugs, and chest infections.

There are several ways that you can help reduce your stress at work. Here are our top 5 tips to cope with stress in a professional environment.

  1. Setting clear work-life boundaries and organising time for work and time for yourself. Spending time with friends and family and self-caring is essential to help you unwind and help make stress at work more manageable.
  2. Having a walk at lunch, or engaging in some physical activity before or after work can help boost your energy levels and lift your mood through the beneficial release of endorphins.
  3. Taking long deep breaths intermittently during the day. A few moments on focussed breathing allows your body to calm down and release negative energy.
  4. Seeking help and support from people you trust, colleagues or your line manager at an early stage. Talking about what is causing you to feel stressed can help you find solutions and having the opportunity to voice your feelings will itself make you feel better. Raising concerns early gives you the best opportunity of resolution before you burnout.
  5. Save some time every day for self-care. Doing something that you like even for 10 minutes at the end of a day has huge personal benefits to your overall wellbeing.

While personal change is critical, there are plenty of ways employers can also help create a less stressful work environment and support their employees. Helping to prioritise workloads and deadlines can increase productivity to achieve more. Training management on how to recognise signs of stress and how best to support their colleagues would be an incredibly positive step as well. Some companies have gone a step further from trialling 4-day working weeks and half-day breaks to yoga and meditation classes.

Approaching your employer for help

If you are struggling with stress at work, it can be understandably difficult to approach your employer about how you are feeling and asking for help. Here are a few things you can try if you’d like to approach your employer about your work environment.

  1. Speak to someone you trust at work about how you are feeling and get their advice and support before approaching your line manager. Others in the workplace would have gone through the same issues you have.
  2. If you are part of a union, you can speak directly to a union representative who is specifically trained to support people who are over-stressed at work and gain their support and advice.
  3. When speaking to your supervisor, let them know how you are feeling, why you are feeling it and what triggers you feel are contributing to this from the work environment. Consider these questions before your discussions.
  4. If you can, it is always helpful to try and consider what changes you feel are needed to bring about change. Suggesting solutions is a great way of gaining quick support from your supervisors who may not know themselves what you need.
  5. If things still aren’t improving despite changes, speak to your supervisors again or refer yourself to the HR department (if applicable) to discuss your concerns and gain more help.

Alongside speaking to your supervisors and managers, if your job is significantly impacting your mental and physical health, don’t forget that sometimes seeking medical support is required, whether to gain independent advice or perhaps even authorised time off work. Speak to your local GP who can assess you for the above but also help signpost you to local services for further support. The Samaritans on 116 123 is another independent resource for support.