4 July 2022

Adapted from an article posted by TherapyWorks with their permission.

There are times in life when pressure and expectations put on us by others take a heavy toll on us in such a way that we find difficulty coping with life as a whole. While pressure may be positive when it pushes us to reach our goals, it may also lead to stress and too much stress might prove too much for us to handle. The consequences of excessive stress are treated as a major threat to the wellbeing of individuals. Along with personal and family matters, work related stress is one of the main reasons for stress, which is seldom cause for very undesired consequences.  

Obviously, when excessive stress results from work related situations, job satisfaction is the first to take a hit and this impacts performance and productivity. On more personal levels it will cause anxiety, depression, social withdrawal and lack of sleep. It causes personal relationships to deteriorate and even fail. Worse still, excess stress might lead to burnout and suicidal thoughts. Stress does not only cause mental illness but may also lead to other illnesses such as cardiac disease.

Recent studies have shown that the impact of stress related to the workplace makes up for a large number of working days lost. Although stress effects different persons at different levels, work related stress is proving to be very common with a high percentage of adults claiming that they are unable to cope with the pressure at some point or another. A large number of those interviewed also claim to lose sleep over problems of excess pressure at work and unfortunately another large number claim to have been pushed to anxiety and suicidal thoughts due to work related stress issues.

The digital age offers better flexibility when it comes to choosing when and how to work and in some cases even allows us to work from home. This allows us to balance better between our work and personal life. However we must also acknowledge that with the use of electronic means and devices, we have become more reachable and we have therefore been led to never switch off. We receive work related emails, messages and even calls at all times of day, and we tend to reply or answer there and then. I’m sure most of you have had plenty of these situations before and know exactly how easy it is for a call or even a short work related message to ruin our fun when we’re supposed to be enjoying our free time with family or friends. Situations like these dent our work-life balance and add to our stress.

Living in a fast paced world does not help when it comes to reducing our stress. Our quest to achieve more, earn more and be acknowledged more makes us push our levels further and further. Pressure helps to achieve more but it is also the main cause for stress and burnout. We are all at risk of reaching levels of stress which may get out of hand. We always have so much to do, so many tasks, events and commitments we have to attend to. We also tend to postpone other things which might not feel urgent at a particular moment but which accumulate with time and become a cause of more stress since we never manage to find the time to carry them out.

Slowing down is the only answer to reduce stress however even planning to try might be stressful in itself. We must value our time more, create a time niche for ourselves to spend with ourselves and the persons we cherish. This may be a lengthy process but it is essential to achieve the balance and survive. There are certain things we can do to gradually achieve our desired work-life balance, little things which give great results if we make an effort and take the time to do them. These include :

Becoming more assertive when placing limit markers to your workload  :

This is the first important step when trying to reduce your stress levels. It is also the most costly in terms of pride and even achievement. We often accept additional tasks to prove we are worthy of promotion or better acknowledgement even when deep down we know we will need to push harder, perhaps too hard on our limits. When we accept tasks and responsibilities which make our workload unbearable, we find ourselves blinded by the desire to advance our careers and to prove we are essential in our workplace. We forget however that when we try to cope with too many responsibilities, the overall quality of our work decreases, holding us back from maintaining or increasing the level of excellency we have managed to accrue before accepting the new tasks. We must be realistic about what we have time for or have not. Our choices must be centred around our health and happiness rather than around ambition. 

Understand what stresses you and keep a log

You must find the time to sit down and have a good think about what causes you to feel unhappy or anxious at your workplace. It might be an obnoxious workmate, a lazy staff member who holds back and sheds the work load on you and others, being disturbed by your own colleagues. You might also feel that your efforts are not quantified and appreciated by management. It is suggested that after thinking hard, you keep a log of your emotions at work, especially when they change following particular incidents which leave you in a bad mood. When tracing back your log, you will notice common traits and similar incidents. This will help you identify the main causes of stress at your workplace and will give you further incentive to tackle these incidents.

Make your boundaries outside your workplace clear

As mentioned before, we tend to be interrupted by work related calls, messages and emails even when we are on vacation or beyond our working hours. It is important to draw a line between your hours of work and the time you should be spending tending to your personal life situations and to your rest. You may achieve this by putting personal limits on times when you actually choose to bother about these issues. You may choose to physically switch off notifications at a particular time. Nowadays it is even easier to switch all devices off and have a separate phone or personal email account which is known only to persons outside your work circle. This will allow you to keep contact with the persons who really matter to you and also to enjoy the time when you are supposed to unwind and enjoy your family and friends. This is particularly easy to achieve especially if you are not bound by contract to be on call for definite time periods.  

Follow a balanced diet and a healthier lifestyle

In order to reduce stress, we must find ways to unwind and rest. A healthier lifestyle helps in our battle with stress. Drink more water and less coffee. Coffee is a stimulant which may help in keeping you more attentive but may also increase anxiety and make you lose sleep. Find stimulation in other things such as long quiet walks, try meditation, join gym classes, engage in relaxing hobbies. Learn to love yourself more, make more quality time for you. At your workplace, find a few minutes every now and then to look away from the tasks at hand and think positive thoughts. Back home, give your self plenty of reasons to smile about and be strict about the time you get to bed to ensure a good night’s sleep.

Be Polite but Sincere with your management

If you feel you have too much on your plate as regards tasks you are responsible for at your workplace, don’t be nervous about speaking up about your problems. Let your management know that you cannot possibly carry out your tasks within your working hours, be creative and proactive in discussing how your excess workload may be divided efficiently between the rest of the staff. Also do not be afraid to ask about your intended and designated role in the company you work for and how this creates the expectations of your employer about you. You may also discuss better ways to increase your output by eliminating any causes which hinder you. It might be the noisy ambience of your workplace, frequent interruptions, badly placed desks etc. Possible solutions to this are remote working, finding quieter spots in the office space and others which you might ask your management to consider. All of this may help you control stress and increase your productivity in the process.

Seek support

If you decide to ever share your anxiety and stress related issues with your colleagues, you will discover that most of them have the same issues. You may feel comfortable discussing and sharing your experiences with a particular person or a group. Feeling understood relieves stress and receiving support obviously helps even more. You will feel less isolated, more supported and the burdens shared and lighter.

There might be instances where you feel that all the above might not be enough. In these cases it is advisable to seek professional support. There are persons who are especially trained to help you when such need arises. They will help you pinpoint the causes for your anxiety and stress, provide you with solutions and help you cope with similar situations in the future.