We’ve all heard the statement “change is good,” but the problem is that many people simply don’t believe it. In fact, change can be one of the main causes of intense stress in the workplace, primarily because people often associate change with instability, or a chance they may lose their jobs. If you work in an environment that’s undergoing change, try not to stress, don’t let it get to you. Remember, you simply can’t control everything and some change can be positive.
INTERACTIONS BETWEEN WORK AND HOME STRESS
Increasingly, the demands on the individual in the workplace reach out into the homes and social lives of employees. Long, uncertain or unsocial hours, working away from home, taking work home, high levels of responsibility, job insecurity, and job relocation all may adversely affect family responsibilities and leisure activities. This is likely to undermine a good and relaxing quality of life outside work, which is an important buffer against the stress caused by work. In addition, domestic pressures such as childcare responsibilities, financial worries, bereavement, and housing problems may affect a person’s robustness at work. Thus, a vicious cycle is set up in which the stress caused in either area of one’s life, work or home, spills over and makes coping with the other more difficult.
Effects of Uncontrolled Stress
Unfortunately, work-related stress doesn’t just disappear when you head home for the day. When stress persists, it can take a toll on your health and well-being. In the short term, a stressful work environment can contribute to problems such as headache, stomachache, sleep disturbances, short temper and difficulty concentrating. Chronic stress can result in anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. It can also contribute to health conditions such as depression, obesity and heart disease. Compounding the problem, people who experience excessive stress often deal with it in unhealthy ways such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs and alcohol.
Physical Health Effects
Only some people perform a lot of physical labor on the job. These days, many of us spend all of our days sitting in meetings or behind a desk. But even in these office environments our physical health has a big effect on our work and how we deal with stress.
That’s because eating or drinking the wrong things can affect us at all times, not just when we’re at home. Eating a high-calorie, high-carb lunch could make you tired in the afternoon, leading you to lack focus, energy, and under-perform. At the same time, insufficient rest the night before a work day could leave you feeling tired, groggy, or even physically ill when you get to the office the next day. In every case, struggling with physical health factors can increase workplace stress.
You can’t always avoid the tensions that occur on the job. Yet you can take steps to manage work-related stress.
- Develop healthy responses. Instead of attempting to fight stress with fast food or alcohol, do your best to make healthy choices when you feel the tension rise. Exercise is a great stress-buster. Yoga can be an excellent choice, but any form of physical activity is beneficial. Also make time for hobbies and favorite activities. Whether it’s reading a novel, going to concerts or playing games with your family, make sure to set aside time for the things that bring you pleasure. Getting enough good-quality sleep is also important for effective stress management. Build healthy sleep habits by limiting your caffeine intake late in the day and minimizing stimulating activities, such as computer and television use, at night.
- Take time to recharge. To avoid the negative effects of chronic stress and burnout, we need time to replenish and return to our pre-stress level of functioning. This recovery process requires “switching off” from work by having periods of time when you are neither engaging in work-related activities, nor thinking about work. That’s why it’s critical that you disconnect from time to time, in a way that fits your needs and preferences. Don’t let your vacation days go to waste. When possible, take time off to relax and unwind, so you come back to work feeling reinvigorated and ready to perform at your best. When you’re not able to take time off, get a quick boost by turning off your smartphone and focusing your attention on non-work activities for a while.
- Learn how to relax. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises and mindfulness (a state in which you actively observe present experiences and thoughts without judging them) can help melt away stress. Start by taking a few minutes each day to focus on a simple activity like breathing, walking or enjoying a meal. The skill of being able to focus purposefully on a single activity without distraction will get stronger with practice and you’ll find that you can apply it to many different aspects of your life.
- Talk to your supervisor. Healthy employees are typically more productive, so your boss has an incentive to create a work environment that promotes employee well-being. Start by having an open conversation with your supervisor. The purpose of this isn’t to lay out a list of complaints, but rather to come up with an effective plan for managing the stressors you’ve identified, so you can perform at your best on the job. While some parts of the plan may be designed to help you improve your skills in areas such as time management, other elements might include identifying employer-sponsored wellness resources you can tap into, clarifying what’s expected of you, getting necessary resources or support from colleagues, enriching your job to include more challenging or meaningful tasks, or making changes to your physical workspace to make it more comfortable and reduce strain.
- Get some support. Accepting help from trusted friends and family members can improve your ability to manage stress. Your employer may also have stress management resources available through an employee assistance program (EAP), including online information, available counseling and referral to mental health professionals, if needed. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by work stress, you may want to talk to a psychologist, who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behavior.