How to deal with stress at work when you’re stressed to the max

  • facebook
  • twitter
  • instagram

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She’s also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

How to deal with stress at work when you're stressed to the max

Research has indicated that the percentage of Americans who are stressed at work is high—and it’s only getting higher. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, 29 to 40% of Americans report being “extremely stressed at work.”  

Work stress has significant health consequences that range from relatively benign (like getting more colds and flus) to potentially serious (such as heart disease and metabolic syndrome).  

While stress at work is common, finding a low-stress job is hard (if not impossible). A more realistic approach is to adopt effective coping strategies to reduce stress at your current job. Here are some stress management techniques you can try if you are finding it hard to cope with work stress.

How to deal with stress at work when you're stressed to the max

Start Your Day off Right

After scrambling to get the kids fed and off to school, dodging traffic and combating road rage, and gulping down coffee in lieu of a healthy breakfast, many people arrive to work already stressed. This makes them more reactive to stress in the workplace.

You might be surprised by how affected by workplace stress you are when you have a stressful morning. When you start off the day with planning, good nutrition, and a positive attitude, you might find that the stress of your job rolls off your back more easily.

Be Clear on Requirements

A factor known to contribute to job burnout is unclear requirements for employees. If you don’t know exactly what is expected of you, or if the requirements for your role keep changing with little notice, you might become extremely stressed.

If you find yourself never knowing if what you are doing is enough, it may help to have a talk with your supervisor. You can take the time to go over expectations and discuss strategies for meeting them. This can relieve stress for both of you!

Stay Away From Conflict

Interpersonal conflict takes a toll on your physical and emotional health. Conflict among co-workers can be difficult to escape, so it’s a good idea to avoid conflict at work as much as you can.

Don’t gossip, don’t share too many of your personal opinions about religion and politics, and steer clear of “colorful” office humor.

When possible, try to avoid people who don’t work well with others. If conflict finds you anyway, make sure you know how to handle it appropriately.

Stay Organized

Even if you’re a naturally disorganized person, planning ahead to stay organized can greatly decrease your stress at work. Being organized with your time means less rushing in the morning to avoid being late as well as less hustling to get out at the end of the day.

Keeping yourself organized can also mean avoiding the negative effects of clutter, and being more efficient with your work.

Be Comfortable

Another surprising stressor at work is physical discomfort, often related to where you perform most of your daily tasks (such as your desk).

You might not notice you’re stressed if you’re sitting in an uncomfortable chair for just a few minutes, but if you practically live in that chair when you’re at work, you might have a sore back and be more reactive to stress because of it.

Even small things like office noise can be distracting and cause feelings of low-grade frustration. Do what you can to create a quiet, comfortable, and soothing workspace.

Forget Multitasking

Multitasking was once heralded as a fantastic way to maximize one’s time and get more done in a day. However, people eventually began to realize that if they had a phone to their ear and were making calculations at the same time, their speed and accuracy (not to mention sanity) often suffered.

There is a certain “frazzled” feeling that comes from splitting your focus and it doesn’t work well for most people. Instead of multitasking to stay on top of your tasks, try another cognitive strategy like chunking.

Walk at Lunch

Many people feel the ill effects of leading a sedentary lifestyle. You can combat the physical and mental effects of work stress by getting some exercise on your lunch break.

If your schedule allows for it, you might try taking short exercise breaks throughout the day. This can help you blow off steam, lift your mood, and get into better shape.

Keep Perfectionism in Check

Being a high achiever might make you feel good about yourself and help you excel at work, but being a perfectionist can create problems for you (and those around you).

You might not be able to do everything perfectly, every time—especially in a busy, fast-paced job. A good strategy to avoid the perfectionism trap is always striving to just do your best and making time to congratulate yourself on your efforts. You may find that your results are better and you’ll be much less stressed at work.

Listen to Music on the Drive Home

Listening to music offers many benefits and can be an effective way to relieve stress before, during, and after work. Playing an uplifting song while you make breakfast can help you start the day off feeling better prepared to interact with the people in your life. Likewise, combating the stress of a long day with your favorite music on the drive home can help you wind down and feel less stressed when you get there.

  • facebook
  • twitter
  • instagram

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She’s also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

How to deal with stress at work when you're stressed to the max

Research has indicated that the percentage of Americans who are stressed at work is high—and it’s only getting higher. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, 29 to 40% of Americans report being “extremely stressed at work.”  

Work stress has significant health consequences that range from relatively benign (like getting more colds and flus) to potentially serious (such as heart disease and metabolic syndrome).  

While stress at work is common, finding a low-stress job is hard (if not impossible). A more realistic approach is to adopt effective coping strategies to reduce stress at your current job. Here are some stress management techniques you can try if you are finding it hard to cope with work stress.

How to deal with stress at work when you're stressed to the max

Start Your Day off Right

After scrambling to get the kids fed and off to school, dodging traffic and combating road rage, and gulping down coffee in lieu of a healthy breakfast, many people arrive to work already stressed. This makes them more reactive to stress in the workplace.

You might be surprised by how affected by workplace stress you are when you have a stressful morning. When you start off the day with planning, good nutrition, and a positive attitude, you might find that the stress of your job rolls off your back more easily.

Be Clear on Requirements

A factor known to contribute to job burnout is unclear requirements for employees. If you don’t know exactly what is expected of you, or if the requirements for your role keep changing with little notice, you might become extremely stressed.

If you find yourself never knowing if what you are doing is enough, it may help to have a talk with your supervisor. You can take the time to go over expectations and discuss strategies for meeting them. This can relieve stress for both of you!

Stay Away From Conflict

Interpersonal conflict takes a toll on your physical and emotional health. Conflict among co-workers can be difficult to escape, so it’s a good idea to avoid conflict at work as much as you can.

Don’t gossip, don’t share too many of your personal opinions about religion and politics, and steer clear of “colorful” office humor.

When possible, try to avoid people who don’t work well with others. If conflict finds you anyway, make sure you know how to handle it appropriately.

Stay Organized

Even if you’re a naturally disorganized person, planning ahead to stay organized can greatly decrease your stress at work. Being organized with your time means less rushing in the morning to avoid being late as well as less hustling to get out at the end of the day.

Keeping yourself organized can also mean avoiding the negative effects of clutter, and being more efficient with your work.

Be Comfortable

Another surprising stressor at work is physical discomfort, often related to where you perform most of your daily tasks (such as your desk).

You might not notice you’re stressed if you’re sitting in an uncomfortable chair for just a few minutes, but if you practically live in that chair when you’re at work, you might have a sore back and be more reactive to stress because of it.

Even small things like office noise can be distracting and cause feelings of low-grade frustration. Do what you can to create a quiet, comfortable, and soothing workspace.

Forget Multitasking

Multitasking was once heralded as a fantastic way to maximize one’s time and get more done in a day. However, people eventually began to realize that if they had a phone to their ear and were making calculations at the same time, their speed and accuracy (not to mention sanity) often suffered.

There is a certain “frazzled” feeling that comes from splitting your focus and it doesn’t work well for most people. Instead of multitasking to stay on top of your tasks, try another cognitive strategy like chunking.

Walk at Lunch

Many people feel the ill effects of leading a sedentary lifestyle. You can combat the physical and mental effects of work stress by getting some exercise on your lunch break.

If your schedule allows for it, you might try taking short exercise breaks throughout the day. This can help you blow off steam, lift your mood, and get into better shape.

Keep Perfectionism in Check

Being a high achiever might make you feel good about yourself and help you excel at work, but being a perfectionist can create problems for you (and those around you).

You might not be able to do everything perfectly, every time—especially in a busy, fast-paced job. A good strategy to avoid the perfectionism trap is always striving to just do your best and making time to congratulate yourself on your efforts. You may find that your results are better and you’ll be much less stressed at work.

Listen to Music on the Drive Home

Listening to music offers many benefits and can be an effective way to relieve stress before, during, and after work. Playing an uplifting song while you make breakfast can help you start the day off feeling better prepared to interact with the people in your life. Likewise, combating the stress of a long day with your favorite music on the drive home can help you wind down and feel less stressed when you get there.

How to deal with stress at work when you're stressed to the max

Stress is pretty unavoidable these days. Just turn on the TV, check your voicemail, or take a gander at your inbox and you’ll likely be met with all sorts of stressors. They can get to you mentally, for sure. But too much stress can also affect your body in the form of annoying (and sometimes kinda scary) physical symptoms.

If you’ve ever gotten a headache after a particularly stressful day at work, then you know exactly what I mean. Deal with too much and your bod will be flooded with stress hormones, which create a sort of chain reaction. As Dr. Nikki Martinez says, “Stress leads to physical symptoms because it is your body’s way of letting stress out, instead of shoving it down. [Your] body literally cannot manage the amount of stress it is under, and it starts to come out in visible and physical symptoms.” Cue the aforementioned headache, or shakiness, or sweaty armpits. (You get the idea.)

While short-term stress can cause these symptoms, it’s the long-term stuff you really have to worry about. “Long term stress can lead to to heart issues, breathing issues, and it can increase the symptoms of existing underlying health issues,” Martinez adds. Getting things under control — either by removing stressors, or learning how to cope with them — is a great place to start. Read on for some signs it may be time to do just that.

1. Your Skin Is Breaking Out

During a bout of stress, it’s not uncommon to wake up with a few more zits than usual. This is all thanks to the stress hormone cortisol, and its pesky habit of clogging pores, dermatologist Dhaval G. Bhanusali, MD, tells me. Of course, breakouts can be caused by other things — your diet, PMS, the weather, etc. But if you’ve been feeling extra stressed as of late, then don’t be surprised when it starts to show on your skin.

2. You Keep Turning Red

Ever start sweating at your desk during a busy day, despite the fact you haven’t moved in hours? If you add pink cheeks to the mix, then it may be stress-induced flushing. “It has to do with increased heart rate, respiration, perspiration, and stress,” Martinez says. “This will turn you bright red because the body is not operating at a level of homeostasis, where it is able to cool itself.” (Yikes.)

3. You Feel Tired All The Time

Feeling exhausted after a busy day is one thing. But feeling tired all the damn time, and for no reason at all? Well, that’s something else entirely. This form of unexplained sleepiness may be a sign of adrenal fatigue, which occurs when your adrenal glands become overtaxed with cortisol, Dr. Stephen Wander tells me. The constant stress can cause you to feel worn out, even when you really shouldn’t be that tired.

4. Your Hair Is Starting To Shed

When stress levels become too much, it’s pretty common for your hair to peace on out. You might notice a bit more shedding, say, when you take a shower. Or, you might experience a more severe form of hair loss called telogen effluvium, Bhanuasli tells me. This can cause noticeably thinner hair all over your scalp. But don’t worry — it can all grow back once you deal with your stress.

5. Your Blood Sugar Feels Low

High stress levels can start to affect your blood sugar, leaving you shaky and weak and in dire need of a snack. This awful feeling is usually the result of elevated nighttime or early morning cortisol levels, which can be associated with strong emotional responses, Wander tells me. In other words, if you feel low blood sugar-y, it may be due to all the stressful chaos that’s going on in your life.

6. You Have A Case Of The Shakes

Hand trembling is another physical sign of too much stress, Martinez tells me. So take note if you go to reach for your phone and notice your fingers are trembling. This is due to the pent up stress in your body escaping in the form of jitteriness.

7. You’ve Experienced A Fainting Spell

I know a “fainting spell” sounds like something that only happens in period dramas, but they can and do occur. The scientific term is “syncope,” Martinez tells me, and it happens when blood pressure drops. Stress is tied in here, so don’t be surprised when too much of it leaves you feeling woozy.

8. You Feel Achey And Sore

If you think about how you hold your body when you’re stressed — raised shoulders, clenched jaw, stiff back — then it makes total sense why soreness can occur. This is especially true if you internalize all your stress, Dr. Scott Schreiber tells me. When you do, it can lead to tension headaches and pain in other parts of your body. And, in some cases, may even be a contributing factor for fibromyalgia.

9. You Look A Little Worn Out

I think we can all agree everyone looks better when they’re relaxed. So, of course, the opposite is true, too. If you’ve been hella stressed, it can start to show up on your face in the form of haggardness and wrinkles. This is due to increased inflammation and free radical production, Schreiber tells me, which “exacerbate the aging process.” (Not cool, stress. Not cool.)

10. You Keep Catching Colds

Stress has a way of wearing you down until all your body’s defenses are compromised. This leaves the proverbial door wide open for germs to stroll on in, which is why stressed out folks tend to catch colds more easily. As Dr. Carolyn Dean says in an email to Bustle, “Your resiliency, energy, endurance and your quality of life all depend on your adrenals to properly function.” Reduce your stress, and you should be better able to survive cold season.

11. Your Jaw Has Seen Better Days

If you’re clenching up due to stress, then your back, neck, and shoulders will most definitely feel sore. But it can also affect your jaw, too. “Stress can manifest itself in the form of clenching or grinding (bruxing) your teeth,” says cosmetic dentist Mark Helm, DDS, in an email to Bustle. Besides ruining your dental health, clenching can lead to jaw pain. And that’s no fun at all.

And neither are any of these other symptoms. If you think stress is wrecking your body, then make it a point to get things under control. Remove yourself from toxic situations, plan some stress-reducing activities into your day, and remember to take care of yourself. Hopefully you’ll be able to relax before your stress-related symptoms get out of hand.

Stress and pressure seem to be ever-present these days. And when you work in a fast-paced work environment like Octopus, finding ways to survive and thrive under pressure is essential.

We’re currently using behavioural science to help our employees deal with pressure and stress at work more effectively, with the aim of producing sustained benefits to health, wellbeing and performance.

Rob Archer is a Chartered Psychologist who specialises in resilience training, working with business executives, front line staff and sportspeople across the world. Rob has been brought in to help Octopus employees manage their performance at work, recognise the triggers that cause stress, and to develop more positive ways of dealing with it.

‘Good’ vs ‘bad’ stress

For most of us, pressure and stress are largely helpful for both health and performance. If you think about the best moments of your life (passing exams, getting married, having children, for example), many are bound up with an element of pressure or stress. The stress response is a useful and reliable way of galvanising us into action and it has played a big part in our survival for millennia. So, we’re well-equipped to deal with short-term (acute) stress.

However, we’re much less capable of coping with prolonged or chronic stress; the type which is lower level but more persistent. Many people today find themselves experiencing chronic stress at work due to workload, home pressures, or an inability to switch off. Some also experience chronic stress because they feel conflicted or guilty about taking time to recover.

Stress, therefore, is not the problem as such. Chronic stress is the problem. If we don’t address the causes of chronic stress it has profound effects for health, wellbeing, and our ability to perform at our best.

What are some of the most recognisable responses to stress at work?

  • Losing focus on tasks and becoming overwhelmed by competing priorities.
  • Inability to solve problems, even relatively simple ones.
  • Instantly reacting and making poor decisions as a result.
  • Thinking rigidly, for example over-generalising or becoming overly pessimistic.
  • Passing on your stress to others – either by lashing out or ‘clamming up’.

There are also issues that stem from the ways we try to cope with stress, such as reaching for ‘quick fixes’ like sugar or caffeine, staying static for too long at our desks, sleeping less, doing too many things at once (studies show that multitasking is far less efficient and uses far more energy than focusing on single tasks) and working longer hours – with fewer breaks – to make up for the loss in performance.

The problem is that these responses put us at risk of increasing our stress levels still further. Performance inevitably suffers and there can be a tendency under pressure to ‘just plough on’ and ignore the early symptoms. But this rapidly impairs cognitive performance, so we find ourselves working harder for the same results.

Beware rigid thinking

One of the most damaging characteristics of chronic stress is that it changes the way we think. We become more rigid in our thinking and increasingly fail to notice other perspectives. In many cases, the mental shortcuts that we use to make decisions start to generalise. We start to ‘fuse’ with our thoughts, and eventually this leads to much less flexible responding and narrow, rigid behaviour responses.

Look out for ‘mind traps’

Mind traps are common examples of mental shortcuts that can be helpful in some scenarios, but which become less helpful when they becomes fixed or rigid. Here are some examples:

  • Focusing on the ‘worst case scenario’ in most situations.
  • Thinking that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you personally.
  • Getting upset that life is not how you believe it should be, or where your demands are not being met.
  • Thinking that you already know what others are thinking and feeling, without them saying so. Also expecting others to know how you feel, without you communicating with them.
  • Expecting or demanding perfection (from yourself or other people around you) and seeing it as a total failure if falling short.

None of these ways of thinking is ‘wrong’, but if we fuse to them too rigidly they can start to drive counterproductive behaviour. The best defence against mind traps is to be aware of them and in particular to notice when they start to drag you into unhelpful behaviours.

“A quick and easy way to move from unhelpful, emotion-focused mind traps into more helpful solution-focused thinking is to practice perspective-taking.”
Rob Archer, Chartered Psychologist

When you find yourself feeling stressed, try to notice whether you have fallen into a mind trap. You can then get some perspective on your situation by asking yourself:

  • Is there another way of looking at the situation?
  • Is this thought helpful to your long-term objective?
  • What you would you tell a close friend if they were in your situation?
  • And finally, what do you choose to do next?

Choosing the best way forward

The key to stressful events is to remember that you always have a choice; not necessarily over how you react with your thoughts and emotions, but how you respond with your actions.

“A ‘positive attitude’ does not necessarily involve being or feeling positive. It means developing the ability to choose our response to stressful situations.”
Rob Archer, Chartered Psychologist

Manage the instant reaction and consciously choose your response

In the US military they have a saying: “slow is smooth, smooth is fast”. Resisting the temptation to react quickly and consciously choosing your response means you’re giving yourself the time to come up with better alternatives that could help you to achieve a more positive outcome.

Try to bring your attention back to your response to the situation. You might not be able to control everything in the situation or make any big changes immediately. But see if you can identify small, achievable changes which will help give you a small payoff and some sense of control. We tend to overestimate the need for big changes and underestimate the surprising power of these behavioural ‘marginal gains’. By making small changes, most people feel this also frees up energy for further changes down the line.

Instead of the vicious circle of chronic stress, we start to reconnect to a more natural and sustainable model of high performance under pressure.

Everyone deals with stress, but managers tend to deal with an exceptional amount. Whether you’re managing employees, a property, a financial portfolio, or just your daily bills and chores, the process of management demands focus, accountability, and adaptation to factors beyond your control. All contribute to increased stress.

The dangers of excessive stress are well-documented, ranging from mental symptoms such as increased anxiety and depression to physical ones such as high blood pressure and heart disease. It’s impossible to eliminate stress entirely, but with the proper techniques and attention, you can manage your stress and prevent it from taking over your life. Try adopting these seven tactics to relieve and mitigate stress in your managerial role:

  1. Identify your stress triggers. According to Mayo Clinic, one of the first steps to successful stress management is identifying the triggers that introduce the most stress into your life. Pay attention to the fluctuations of your stress level throughout the day. Are there moments when you feel more irritable, less patient, more excited, more anxious, or more tense? If so, take note, and see if you can figure out the root cause for those feelings. If you notice that certain people or certain situations stress you out more than others, work to avoid those situations, or experiment with new ways of dealing with them.
  2. Find activities that counteract stress. When confronted with a stressful situation, rely on specific activities that help you relieve stress. There’s no right or wrong way to relieve stress, though some activities have more evidence behind them as effective stress management tools. For example, mindfulness meditation is useful to clear your head and help you feel more relaxed. Physical exercise, listening to music, and deep breathing also are common choices.
  3. Overcome your desire for perfection. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to make sure things go right. When you continually strive for excellence, it’s easy to strive for perfection, but striving for perfection can be a bad thing.

Perfectionism leads to an “all or nothing” mentality that makes anything less than 100 percent complete and error-free unacceptable. Nothing is perfect. Refocus your priorities by establishing more reasonable expectations for yourself and your team.

Talk to people. Burying your stress is a bad idea. If you try to ignore the problem, it’s only going to become more severe. Instead, reach out to the people who care about you, and talk to them about your stress. Find friends, family members, or coworkers, and describe your stress levels, including your major sources of stress.

You may find that just talking about your stress makes you feel better, and makes incoming stress feel more manageable. If that’s not the case, your loved one may be able to make recommendations about how to deal with your stress in a healthier way, or offer support in other ways. Either way, it’s better than merely internalizing your sentiments.

  • Lead a healthier lifestyle. This bit of advice is helpful for anyone, not just managers. According to the American Psychological Association, one of the best things you can do to manage stress is to lead a healthy lifestyle. This includes, but is not limited to, getting enough quality sleep every night, eating appropriately portioned, healthy meals throughout the day, drinking plenty of water, and getting enough physical exercise. Cumulatively, these activities will increase your overall health, improve your mood, and make you more resistant to certain forms of stress. It takes time to incorporate these habits into your life, but is well worth the effort.
  • Be less of a manager. According to Peter Gloor of the Ivey Business Journal, all those typical managerial duties aren’t just unhelpful in many cases, they’re unnecessary. Think of all your strictly managerial responsibilities. You might have adopted a hands-on or hands-off approach, but you still likely consider it your job to interfere with various processes to make sure your work is executed in the best possible way.

    No one formula can handle every problem. The best managers aren’t the ones who actively manage individual workers, tasks, and items. Instead, they’re the ones who engage with and collaborate with their associates, and flexibly adapt to new situations. Think of yourself as a creative collaborator rather than a manager, and you’ll stop stressing yourself out as much about the little things.

  • Seek outside help to manage your workload. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge when you need help. Our work culture demands that we take on as much work as possible, but taking on too much can be destructive in more than one way. For example, if you’re an independent property manager, consider enlisting the help of a property management team. If you’ve got a team of employees working under you, consider delegating some of your less important tasks to one of your least busy team members. You don’t have to do everything by yourself, so stop trying to!
  • Whether or not we like it, stress is a part of our day-to-day lives. It’s important to know how to relieve stress so that it doesn’t take a toll on your mental health.

    The Effects of Stress

    Stress manifests differently for each person. Some people may experience primarily physical symptoms (such as headaches and stomach pain), while others may have more emotional symptoms (like difficulty focusing and mood swings). Without proper management, stress can even lead to longer term mental health issues, such as:

    • Depression: stress causes lower mood, which can increase the risk of developing depression
    • Panic Attacks: stress leads to higher levels of the neurotransmitter epinephrine, which can trigger the fight-or-flight response responsible for panic attacks
    • Insomnia: stress can manifest as physical tension and racing thoughts, which in turn can make sleeping difficult

    Tips for Stress Relief

    If you’re feeling stressed out, we get it. Here are nine stress relief tips.

    1. Clear your schedule. When we’re experiencing stress, it can be easy to feel like we’re struggling to keep up. If stress is getting to you, work on cutting down the commitments in your life. Making space in your schedule will make things feel less rushed and give back your sense of control.
    2. Incorporate some mindfulness. If you’re not able to clear your schedule, find ways to take mental breaks during your day. Breathing techniques and mindfulness exercises are an easy way to relieve your stress, even if you’re sitting at a desk.
    3. Lean into your physical health. According to The American Institute for Stress, 77% of people experience regular physical symptoms related to stress. Physical activity is a great method of stress relief. Simple activities like taking a ten minute walk can make a huge difference.
    4. Reach into your self-care kit. Ideally, self care should be part of your regular mental health routine. But when you’re feeling stressed out, self care is even more important. Be extra aggressive about utilizing your self care toolkit in order to relieve your stress. Not sure where to start? Check out selfcareday.com.
    5. Get enough sleep. Sleep is one of the building blocks for maintaining our physical and mental health. Protect your sleep when you’re feeling stressed. If you’re having trouble sleeping, there are great online tools like white noise and sleep podcasts that you can try out for free.
    6. Connect with family and friends. Social supports can make a big difference on how we handle stress. Fifty-seven percent of people turn to friends or family to help them manage their stress, according to the American Psychological Association. Lean into the important people in your life and ask for help when you need it.
    7. Cut back on unhealthy coping mechanisms. We all have guilty pleasures that we indulge in occasionally. But when we need stress relief, it’s crucial to focus on healthy coping mechanisms.
    8. Invest in some new hobbies. Channel your stress and worry into learning a new activity or hobby. Even if it just acts as a distraction, a hobby can be a great way to spend the free time that you might have spent worrying.
    9. Get help from an expert. If stress is starting to interfere with your day-to-day life, it might be time to seek out medical advice. Talk to a general practitioner or a mental health professional. For other resources, check out Crisis Text Line’s referrals.

    Stress will always be a part of our lives. With some work, we can manage it and make sure it doesn’t take over our lives.

    Working hard should not be confused with overworking at the expense of relationships and physical health.

    • Stress
    • Healthy Workplaces

    How to deal with stress at work when you're stressed to the max

    Everyone who has ever held a job has, at some point, felt the pressure of work-related stress. Any job can have stressful elements, even if you love what you do. In the short-term, you may experience pressure to meet a deadline or to fulfill a challenging obligation. But when work stress becomes chronic, it can be overwhelming—and harmful to both physical and emotional health.

    Unfortunately, such long-term stress is all too common. In fact, APA’s annual Stress in America survey has consistently found that work is cited as a significant source of stress by a majority of Americans. You can’t always avoid the tensions that occur on the job. Yet you can take steps to manage work-related stress.

    Common sources of work stress

    Certain factors tend to go hand-in-hand with work-related stress. Some common workplace stressors are:

    • Low salaries
    • Excessive workloads
    • Few opportunities for growth or advancement
    • Work that isn’t engaging or challenging
    • Lack of social support
    • Not having enough control over job-related decisions
    • Conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations

    Effects of uncontrolled stress

    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.

    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.

    Taking steps to manage stress

    • Track your stressors. Keep a journal for a week or two to identify which situations create the most stress and how you respond to them. Record your thoughts, feelings, and information about the environment, including the people and circumstances involved, the physical setting, and how you reacted. Did you raise your voice? Get a snack from the vending machine? Go for a walk? Taking notes can help you find patterns among your stressors and your reactions to them.
    • 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.
    • Establish boundaries. In today’s digital world, it’s easy to feel pressure to be available 24 hours a day. Establish some work-life boundaries for yourself. That might mean making a rule not to check email from home in the evening, or not answering the phone during dinner. Although people have different preferences when it comes to how much they blend their work and home life, creating some clear boundaries between these realms can reduce the potential for work-life conflict and the stress that goes with it.
    • 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 nonwork 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. Employee health has been linked to productivity at work, 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, 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.

    The full text of articles from APA Help Center may be reproduced and distributed for noncommercial purposes with credit given to the American Psychological Association. Any electronic reproductions must link to the original article on the APA Help Center. Any exceptions to this, including excerpting, paraphrasing or reproduction in a commercial work, must be presented in writing to the APA. Images from the APA Help Center may not be reproduced.

    • How to deal with stress at work when you're stressed to the max

    When you’re living with a mental health problem, or supporting someone who is, access to the right information is vital.

    How to deal with stress at work when you're stressed to the max

    If you’re finding things hard emotionally right now, you’re not alone. We’re here to provide information and support.

    • How to deal with stress at work when you're stressed to the max

    We won’t give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets support and respect.

    How to deal with stress at work when you're stressed to the max

    Together with our 20 local Minds in Wales we’re committed to improving mental health in this country. Together we’re Mind in Wales.

    • News
    • News
    • Legal news
    • Mind’s media office
    • Our campaigns
    • Campaigns
    • Mind Cymru Campaigns
    • Our events
    • Mind Media Awards
    • Peerfest

    • How to deal with stress at work when you're stressed to the max

    There are lots of different ways that you can support us. We’re a charity and we couldn’t continue our work without your help.

    How to deal with stress at work when you're stressed to the max

    We’re taking the nation’s craftiest fundraiser online.

    • How to deal with stress at work when you're stressed to the max

    How to deal with stress at work when you're stressed to the max

    Tips, guidance and blogs to support your organisation.

    Coronavirus:

    • Home
    • >
    • Information & Support
    • >
    • Tips for everyday living
    • >
    • View this information as a PDF (new window)
    • Work and mental health
    • Types of work
    • Work and stress
    • Difficult work relations
    • Getting support at work
    • Returning to work
    • Useful contacts
    • Work and mental health
    • Types of work
    • Work and stress
    • Difficult work relations
    • Getting support at work
    • Returning to work
    • Useful contacts

    Work and stress

    It’s helpful to learn how to manage stress caused by work. If you often experience feelings of stress, you might be at risk of developing a mental health problem like depression or anxiety.

    Stress can also make your existing mental health problems feel worse.

    How to cope with stress at work

    You don’t need to cope with stress at work alone. Here are some general ideas you can try to help you manage:

    • Understand more about stress. Recognising the signs of stress and learning about the causes of stress is good place to start.
    • Figure out what you find stressful and helpful. You could make a Wellness Action Plan to map out what causes you stress and what keeps you well. Once you know what’s best, talk to your employer. They may be able to make some changes to help you.
    • Learn different coping techniques. Everyone deals with stress differently, so take time to find methods that work for you. Use them as soon as you start to feel pressure building. Check out the guides from the Stress Management Society for ideas.
    • Try practising mindfulness. This practice is about focusing on the here and now. It might help you to find calmness and clarity to respond to stressful situations. See our pages on mindfulness to learn more.
    • Look after your physical health. Eat well and try a gentle activity like going for a walk or doing a chair-based exercise. Our pages on physical activity and food and mood have more details on how this can help your mental health.

    “I try to keep each task short and clear, take breaks when getting tired and be polite, honest and empathic with the people I work with.”

    How to deal with stress at work when you're stressed to the max

    How to deal with stress at work when you're stressed to the max

    How to deal with stress at work when you're stressed to the max

    If you’re currently working, you probably know what it feels like to be stressed on the job. A must-do project arrives without warning. Three emails stack up for each one you delete. Phones ring, meetings are scheduled, a coworker drops the ball on a shared assignment.

    How does your body react to work stress?

    Imagine for a moment that your boss has emailed you about an unfinished assignment (a stressor). Your body and mind instantly respond, activating a physical reaction called the fight-or-flight response. Your heart beats faster, your breath quickens, and your muscles tense. At the same time you might say to yourself, “I’m going to get fired if I don’t finish this.” Then to manage your anxiety and negative self-talk, you work late into the night to complete the task.

    Over the course of our evolutionary history, humans developed this coordinated fear response to protect against dangers in our environment. For example, a faster heart rate and tense muscles would help us escape from predators. In the modern era, fear continues to serve an important function. After all, the fight-or-flight response can provide the necessary energy to pull an all-nighter and keep your job.

    But what happens if you encounter stressful experiences at work every day? Over time, chronic work stress can lead to a psychological syndrome known as burnout. Warning signs of burnout are overwhelming exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of inefficacy. Certain work-related stressors are closely linked with burnout. Examples are having too much work or too little independence, inadequate pay, lack of community between coworkers, unfairness or disrespect, and a mismatch between workplace and personal values.

    How can work stress affect well-being?

    Long-term exposure to work-related stressors like these can affect mental health. Research links burnout with symptoms of anxiety and depression. In some cases, this sets the stage for serious mental health problems. Indeed, one study shows younger people who routinely face heavy workloads and extreme time pressure on the job are more likely to experience major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

    High levels of stress at work –– and outside of it –– can affect physical health, too. Repeated activation of the fight-or-flight response can disrupt bodily systems and increase susceptibility to disease. For example, repeated release of the stress hormone cortisol can disturb the immune system, and raise the likelihood of developing autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic stress can also affect health by interfering with healthy behaviors, such as exercise, balanced eating, and sleep.

    Work stress can also harm companies or organizations. Burnout reduces job productivity and boosts absenteeism and job turnover, and also leads to conflict between coworkers, causing stress to spread within a workplace.

    How can you cope with work stress?

    All of us can benefit by learning skills to manage fear and anxiety on the job. Several skills taught in cognitive behavioral therapy may help, including these:

    • Relaxation strategies. Relaxation helps counter the physiological effects of the fight-or-flight response. For example, progressive muscle relaxation helps reduce muscle tension associated with anxiety. To practice this skill, sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Working from your legs upward, systematically tense and relax each major muscle groups. Hold the tension for 10 seconds; release tension for 20 seconds. Each time you release muscle tension, think “relax” to yourself. This skill and many other relaxation strategies can help reduce symptoms of anxiety.
    • Problem-solving. Problem-solving is an active coping strategy that involves teaching people to take specific steps when approaching a roadblock or challenge. These steps include defining the problem, brainstorming potential solutions, ranking the solutions, developing an action plan, and testing the chosen solution.
    • Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to the present moment with curiosity, openness, and acceptance. Stress can be exacerbated when we spend time ruminating about the past, worrying about the future, or engaging in self-criticism. Mindfulness helps to train the brain to break these harmful habits. You can cultivate mindfulness skills through formal practice (like guided meditation) and informal exercises (like mindful walking), or try mindfulness apps or classes. Mindfulness-based therapies are effective for reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
    • Reappraising negative thoughts. Chronic stress and worry can lead people to develop a mental filter in which they automatically interpret situations through a negative lens. A person might jump to negative conclusions with little or no evidence (“my boss thinks I’m incompetent”) and doubt their ability to cope with stressors (“I’ll be devastated if I don’t get the promotion”). To reappraise negative thoughts, treat them as hypotheses instead of facts and consider other possibilities. Regularly practicing this skill can help people reduce negative emotions in response to stressors.