Stress is something that will probably touch every office worker in some shape or form at some stage of their career, if not throughout. How you handle that stress can set you apart from your peers in terms of your health and even your career.
In the current economic climate, there can be a lot of change at the workplace. Job losses, budget cuts, process changes and role amalgamations can all lead to fear, uncertainty and stress.
Some work related stress is normal, however excessive stress can impact your productivity and your physical and emotional wellbeing. How you deal with this could be the difference between sinking or swimming.
It’s not an exhaustive list but here are 5 things that I try to do that really help me manage and control stress levels at work:
Take care of yourself
Taking responsibility for improving your physical and emotional well-being is a great first step in combatting stress. If you are happy and healthy then you are a lot more prepared for dealing with stress. The better you feel, the more equipped you are to deal with workplace stresses and strains.
Exercising regularly is a great way to relieve stress. Exercise can help lift your mood, boost your confidence and increase your energy. All great tools for managing stress.
You’ll need to eat well to support yourself during the long and busy days at the office. Healthy food choices at regular intervals throughout the day can provide sufficient amount of slow release energy to keep you focused on the task at hand while avoiding mood swings, irritability and loss of concentration.
Drinking and smoking when anxious may seem like great stress relievers at the time but the opposite is actually the case. Both are stimulants and as the effects wear off the anxiety for another fix increases which could ultimately lead to abuse if not controlled correctly. My advice is to keep alcohol consumption to moderation and avoid smoking completely if at all possible.
Finally it’s important you get sufficient sleep. If you are tired at work you are more vulnerable to stress so try and get the right amount of sleep you need each night. My blog on the subject of sleep goes in to more detail.
Prioritise and organise workload and schedule
Not being in control of your workload is a leading stressor in the workplace. Can you speak to your manager about increasing the say you have in the tasks you’re assigned? Some people can cope with really busy jobs because they control what they do but jobs that have high demand with low control can be extremely stressful. Take control of your workload and follow these steps:
- Write a to-do list at the beginning of each day and each week
- Break projects or larger pieces of work into small steps
- Set realistic deadlines for tasks and prioritise the tasks
- Keep multitasking to a minimum as this reduces productivity
- Review your workload regularly and update deadlines and priorities if necessary
- Plan holidays in advance & schedule your work around this, not the other way around
Proper communication at the workplace can help increase morale, productivity and commitment as well as reducing stress levels. Communicating honestly and regularly with your manager is important if you want to keep stress levels in check. Do you feel you have too much on your plate? Are you being asked to deliver something to an unrealistic schedule? Are you being bullied or treated unfairly at the office?
Some of these questions can be difficult to raise and discuss, that’s why it’s important to be assertive and establish a communication channel with your manager or a member of the Human Resources team that you can rely upon and trust. If you are not happy at work, if you are stressed out, then your manager (or HR) should be the first to know about it and the onus is on them to do something about it for you.
Eliminate bad habits
Have a think about what bad habits at the office stress you out. Are you always running for a bus or struggling to make it in to the office on time in the morning? Are you the person that always turns up late to meetings? Take a look at your time management. Can you give yourself that little bit of extra time in the mornings and before meetings to prepare and be on time?
Don't try to control the uncontrollable. A lot of things at work are outside our control, especially the behavior of others. Instead of stressing out about it, concentrate on the things you can control such as how you decide to react to issues.
Here’s a few more bad habits that you and the office could do without:
- Gossiping about co-workers
- Thinking negatively
- Taking on too much work (learn to say NO!)
- Making rash decisions
Interruptions are a fact of life and for the office worker the number of potential distractions seems to be growing by the day. It is possible however to manage our time and our space so that these interruptions don’t distract us from our priorities and increase our stress levels on a given day. Here’s a reference list with some ideas for times when you want to reduce the interruptions and get some work done in a stress free manner:
- Schedule your time for specific tasks. Even if you are completing a solo piece of work, block out your diary for a set period of time in order to complete that task
- Turn off your phone and email notification
- Don’t let your inbox drive your day. Focus on a specific task and only check email once the task is completed or even better, only check your email at specific times during the day
- Book a meeting room for yourself if you want to get some work done in silence
- Work from home or in a different office if possible. An occasional change of location can sometimes feel like a rest
- Go in to work early or stay later (not on the same day!) to take advantage of times when there are less people around the office
- Pop in some headphones and listen to music. Headphones these days are the equivalent of “Do Not Disturb” signs!
We all deal with stress in different ways. If you find that it’s becoming too much then talk about it, let other people know that you’re struggling. Don’t suffer in silence. There has been a lot of coverage of stress and mental health awareness in the media recently and, while I think there’s still a long way to go for this to be fully de-stigmatised and understood, people and organisations have a lot more knowledge in this area than they did only 5 years ago. Many organisations have mechanisms in place to support employees that are going through a tough time.
The key is to communicate openly, there’s no need to be shy or embarrassed. “It’s ok not to feel ok” as the slogan for the excellent Cycle Against Suicide campaign says and it’s absolutely ok to ask for help.
You can’t control everything at your workplace, but that doesn’t mean you are completely powerless. Finding different ways to manage office stress is not about making big changes or re-thinking your career objectives, but rather about concentrating on the one thing that is always within your control, and that’s you.
Yours in health,
P.S I love talking about wellness so feel free to drop me a line to discuss any of the above. Contact me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Low Down
Brian Crooke is a wellness consultant specialising in the design, improvement and auditing of wellness initiatives for Irish businesses. He is the founder of Office Worker Health, a platform dedicated to promoting health and wellbeing to the working population.
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