How to Cope With Work-Related Stress: And Not Bring It Home
Most of us have experienced them at some point in our professional lives.
Stress is a natural reaction when challenges and threats arise, and the average workplace has its fair share of testing situations.
But it’s our response to stress that determines its level of impact.
Here, we detail how to cope with work-related stress—including ways to prevent it sneaking past the welcome mat when we arrive home.
Is Stress Ok?
In some instances, yes. There is such a thing as ‘healthy stress’, where the pulse quickens and hormones surge but without threat or fear.
Healthy stress is typically served in small doses, reserved for such occasions as starting a new job, receiving a promotion, buying a home, or having a baby.
And healthy stress can be used as a motivational tool, providing the rush that allows you to achieve positive outcomes, meet deadlines, and perform to a high standard at work.
Excessive or protracted stress—the type that has a profound impact on our moods, sleep patterns, or relationships—is not the healthy type.
That’s when coping mechanisms are required.
What Are the Main Work-Related Stressors?
Before we discuss how to cope with work-related stress, let’s explore some of the events, situations, or environments that can cause it. They commonly include:
- Negative workplace culture
- Poor management practices or changes in management
- Role demands or conflict
- Physical work requirements
- Poor relationships with colleagues and/or management
- Unsupportive environment
What Are Common Causes of Stress at Work?
On top of work-related stressors, key factors that create workplace stress include:
- Long hours or extreme workload
- Boring or unenjoyable work
- Tight deadlines
- Uncertainty about role responsibilities
- Insufficient skills for the job
- Changes to duties
- Job insecurity
- Lack of autonomy
- Insufficient resources or tools or support/mentoring
- Limited promotional opportunities
- Harassment, discrimination, and/or bullying
How to Cope With Work-Related Stress—Top Tips
Now to the crux of the article—how to cope with work-related stress. Here are several ways you can manage stress in your place of employment.
- Be organised
Simple tip, sure. But it’s effective. Stress often manifests from having a million-and-one tasks, not knowing where to start, and allowing the situation to overwhelm you.
Prioritise jobs. Make lists. And schedule the most challenging jobs for when you’re typically at your sharpest.
- Take breaks
With work piling up or deadlines approaching, it often feels that powering through is the best approach. It’s rarely the case, though.
Studies have shown that regular breaks help to prevent fatigue and reset moods, leading to restored or heightened concentration, productivity, and creativity—all of which help to reduce stress. Better yet, avoiding screen time during breaks can amplify their benefits.
- Schedule meetings during core work hours
Optics can be everything, so set the tone by ensuring your own meeting requests fall within regular work hours. Precedence begins with you.
- Limit overtime
Although it’s often easier said than done, restricting the amount of extra hours you put into your job can go a long way to keeping work-related stress at bay.
Sure, there are occasions that you need to go above and beyond to get the job done. Yet setting boundaries helps to ensure overtime is closer to the exception than it is to the rule. Once the expectation is in place, it can be difficult to pull back.
- Call out unrealistic deadlines
If you’re struggling to meet designated deadlines—and it has nothing to do with poor time-management skills or your colleague, Debbie continuously interrupting you to reel off story after story from her Bali holiday—there’s benefit in questioning those targets.
Where applicable, broach the subject with your manager in a positive, proactive, and productive way. Asking questions such as “I have X, Y, and Z to complete—what would you like me to prioritise first?” highlights that you have plenty on your plate without coming across as negative or disorganised.
- Have the courage to say no
If your workload is too demanding, approach your manager or HR representative and discuss your challenges.
If you can’t possibly say no, refer to the point above and seek clarity about which task or tasks are most pressing.
- Take care of yourself
A healthy diet and regular exercise go a long way to alleviating work-related stress—or stress in general. Healthy food helps to boost energy levels and stimulate concentration.
Meanwhile, exercise causes your brain to release ‘feel good’ chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin that brighten moods.
Speaking of chemicals, excessive coffee consumption is not recommended as a stress reliever. While caffeine stimulates the release of dopamine, which can initially heighten your mood, it’s prone to delivering a comedown effect when the positive vibes evaporate.
- Seek professional help
Many organisations offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) or other confidential counselling support and advice services that aim to assist individuals with both work-related and personal problems. These resources are there for a reason, so use them when needed and where available.
Leaving stress at work
Firstly, let’s be clear—this is often easier said than done.
There is no magic bullet to confining work-related stress to your workplace—if you exclude scooping the Powerball jackpot and resigning on the spot—particularly if it’s spiralling out of control. However, there are strategies that can help to minimise the crossover.
Create tomorrow’s to-do list today
This tip is another for the simple but effective pile. Creating tomorrow’s tasklist helps to put a hard stop on that particular day’s activities. It also enables you to be on the front foot when the new day arrives (thanks, past you).
As they say: That’s a problem for tomorrow.
Use your commute as a dividing point
This is especially relevant if your A to B involves public transport or walking. The period presents the perfect opportunity to mentally declutter and leave work behind.
If driving, pull over along the way and find a relaxing spot to give yourself a chance to debrief—even for just a few minutes.
Call a friend if you have to, although be mindful of overburdening them with your problems.
Work from home? Even a quick walk around the block at day’s end does wonders for keeping work life and personal life from getting in each other’s way.
Avoid responding to work outside of office hours
Technology has enabled work to easily creep into the home, so it’s up to you to set expectations about responding to work emails or messages outside of office hours.
Have you ever decided to take a ‘quick look’ at your work emails after hours only to discover a message in your inbox that has ruined your evening?
Delete relevant apps from your phone if you need to avoid the temptation to regularly check in on activity. At the very least, silence notifications.
Create hard deadlines
If you have a lack of commitments that often dictate the end of your workday—i.e. picking up your kids from school or daycare or joining a line-dancing class—set the boundaries yourself.
Need to do some overtime at home? Again, put a time limit on it.
Whatever the case, be transparent with your partner or family about your after-hours activity—and try to be consistent where possible—as this can help to alleviate friction and frustration within the household.
Talk it out, then move on
If you’ve had a nightmare day at work and you simply must vent to your partner, family, or the pet dog, rant quickly.
Being conscious of the time you’re dedicating to work problems restricts their ability to consume you.
Make time for interests and hobbies
We’re taking another dip into the cliche handbook: Work to live, not live to work.
It might be a well-worn phrase, but it’s worth reminding ourselves of this on occasion and helps us to refuse entry to ‘Work Issues’ when it attempts to burst through the front door.
Dedicate time to doing whatever it is that makes you happy. It’s a great way to distract yourself from your job.
‘It’s PR, not ER’ is another excellent saying that aids with providing perspective about your perceived problems… unless you do in fact work in ER!
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Whether it’s personal or business finances that need attention, our expert team is on hand to help. Email [email protected] to start the conversation.