Stress at work is one of the more common reasons for presenting to a psychologist. If you think about it, we spend about a third of our time awake at work. Therefore it makes sense that work can play a significant part in our mental well-being. There are a range of work pressures that can lead to stress including:
workplace culture expectations of working long hours or working through breaks
excessive or unrealistic targets
overwork or underwork
poor communication from colleagues or superiors
These are just a sample of the common types of work stress that I hear from clients who are experiencing stress at work. In the short-term, most people can manage with a reasonable amount of stress, particularly if there is an end-point to the stress. For example, where a colleague may be on leave for a week meaning an increase in the workload for a week, most people can rationalise that they can cope for the week knowing their colleague will be back the following week. However, ongoing or excessive stress, or when there is no clear end to the source of the stress can lead to significant health issues including:
illness or sick days
over-thinking about work or work problems
reduced interest in activities outside of work
Typically when we feel out of control, for example when we are stressed at work and have too much work to do, we seek out gaining control by taking on more work. Unfortunately, this can lead to a vicious cycle.
So how can we manage our stress at work? Here are five strategies to help manage stress and achieve a healthy mental well-being
1. Clear your desk at the end of the day
Your desk or work-space often reflects the level of stress you are feeling. If you desk or work station is piling up with notes, unfinished jobs, or is generally untidy, that could be a clue you are starting to feel overwhelmed. At the end of each working day, take some time to clear your desk. Put everything away so that you are ready to start afresh in the morning. Write a list of "to-do's" for tasks that you haven't been able to complete. This will help you to clear your mind later and not expend mental energy on holding on a mental list of tasks to follow up.
2. Check your emails twice a day
Modern organisations use email to communicate with their employees and a lot of our day at work can be consumed with reading and responding to emails. If you work at your desk, there is a chance you can get distracted by the influx of emails throughout the day, particularly in large organisations. Work out a schedule of when to check your emails - it might be once or three times a day, and set times to check and respond to emails. It will also help to turn off notifications of received emails and set-up filters so that you only receive emails that are directly relevant to you.
3. Delegate or collaborate
Are you holding onto tasks because it is easier if you just do them? Or do you hold onto tasks because no-one else can (or will) do the task or up to your standard? Maybe the answer is yes, however, long-term this is not a sustainable solution. Can you delegate some of your tasks to other members of your team? Can you collaborate with colleagues to achieve the goals? You may need to learn how to let go and accept the feeling of being out of control in order to manage your own stress. Remember, you are no help to anyone if you are too stressed to work because you can't delegate or collaborate.
4. Leaving on time and taking breaks
This can be a very difficult goal to achieve, and when I say leave on time, I don't mean as soon as the clock ticks 5pm you walk out the door no matter what is happening in the workplace. What I mean is that you leave as close to your official finishing time as possible. Set a time when you would like to be leaving the office and stick to it. If you need a few minutes to finish a last email do it - but sometimes there will be unfinished work at the end of the day. Remember point 1 and make a list for the following list. It's also vitally important that you take the breaks that are allocated to you. If you are provided 30 minutes for lunch - take it! Furthermore, take your lunch away from your workstation. Sit in the lunch room, or outside; talk to your colleagues about non-work issues. This will help you reset for the afternoon as well as increasing the support you have with your colleagues. I would also suggest that once a fortnight or once a month aim to finish early (e.g. on time) no matter what. You'll be amazed at how it changes your outlook for the day as you look forward to leaving on time and doing activities outside of work.
5. Separating from work
It can be very easy to fall into a routine of sleep, work, sleep and repeat. To help maintain a healthy well-being, incorporate an activity that helps you separate mentally from work. This could be as simple as going for a walk, to taking up a hobby or sport. Change your clothes from work-clothes to after work clothes. Talk to your friends and family.
Sometimes, despite all the efforts you have tried, the stress continues or you continue to experience symptoms of stress. If this occurs, I would encourage you to see your doctor or talk to a psychologist to help identify the source of the stress and a more tailor-made solution for managing or resolving the stress.