The causes of workplace stress are wide ranging, and a level of pressure that feels healthy to one person can feel unbearable for another. Nevertheless, here is our guide to understanding stress at work, and how you can combat it.
Why do people get stressed at work?
Simply having too much work on your plate can be a cause of unpleasant stress. If you have more deadlines than time, for example, or if you are expected to work at an impossibly high level, the unrealistic expectations placed upon you could lead to symptoms of stress and pressure. Budget cuts and layoffs can also introduce stress into a person’s work life, increasing the expectations that bosses have on the people who remain.
Difficult relationships at work can also cause stress. Combative colleagues or unsupportive managers can lead to a lack of motivation among members of staff, which may result in high levels of stress at work. At its most extreme, workplace bullying is an issue, and specific solutions may be required to resolve the problem to everybody’s satisfaction.
What are the symptoms of stress?
When experiencing work-related stress, people can experience a wide range of unpleasant symptoms. They may develop headaches and feel their heart pounding in their chest, they may lose their appetite, get aches and pains, and possibly develop symptoms such as dry mouth. Fatigue and loss of focus are also common symptoms of stress.
The result of this stress can cause problems within the workplace. If somebody is excessively tired or loses focus, their quality of work may decline, and reduce their productivity. This can spread to other employees, who start to respond to their colleague’s stress with their own sense of pressure.
How do I manage work stress through natural methods?
Unfortunately, many people turn to unhealthy behaviours when they are experiencing stress. Increased alcohol and cigarette intake can feel like they help to reduce the pressure but, in the long run, they do not help to resolve the problem. They are knee-jerk reactions that do nothing to improve your situation; they may, in fact, make it worse — and potentially cause other health problems at the same time.
Taking a more positive approach to stress management, therefore, is a much better solution. Firstly, look at your situation realistically. Are you being given more work than you are capable of completing? Or do you feel inadequately trained for some of the work you do?
Asking for help, for example, can be a positive move. Speak to your manager and ask about sharing your workload with your colleagues, or seek additional training to boost your skillset. Learning to say ‘no’ when approached with even more pressure is an important skill that can relieve your workload when you’re stressed. Do so professionally and don’t leave your colleagues with more than they can handle, but do set your own limits and stick to them.
This improvement in communication will help both business owners and employees in the long term. As well as assisting stress related problems, it also serves a role in many different scenarios.
Another useful skill in times of stress is being able to prioritise your workload. Do you know how best to use your time? Do you feel more confident with some tasks than others? Arrange your day so that you do your hardest tasks at the time you are the most alert — which can differ from person to person.
Pay attention to your body’s signals, and try to spot any signs of stress early. It is much easier to manage a stressful situation when you are prepared, so aim to abate early symptoms rather than deal with a stress induced breakdown further down the line.
Do take care of yourself in stressful situations. Looking at your overall wellbeing, such as your diet, sleep, and fluid intake, can equip you mentally to deal with difficult stressful situations. When you’re in a better position to cope, you will work more effectively, too.
There are also alternative approaches to stress management that some people find effective. Valerian root, for example, can be taken in tea or capsule form and has been traditionally used to manage insomnia, anxiety, and stress, and B-vitamins can be useful to nerve function and balancing emotions. In the workplace, some employees may find that taking these supplements before a difficult day, or regularly at night to help with sleep, will help them to cope.
Advice for business owners
Business owners play an important role in helping employees to manage their stress levels. Keeping lines of communication open can help members of staff to speak out when they feel under pressure, and encourage employees to stay calm on how to cope with their workload through advice in a friendly and open working environment.
It’s worthwhile training your managers in this type of skillset, too. They can work with their team members to deal with stress more effectively by, for example, encouraging them to speak out about their experiences, and offer training on planning and organisation. Setting goals or creating an action plan with a member of staff will assist them to deal with their pressure in a productive way.
If workplace bullying is a problem, the business owner is also under an obligation to resolve this. Speaking to the instigator of the bullying, using disciplinary procedures if necessary, and organising mediation can all help with situations where somebody is being bullied at work — this is a problem that should never be ignored.
Philippa Willitts is an expert health writer and journalist, with a special interest in health at work, disability, and women’s issues.