According to the American Psychological Association, work is one of the top three causes of stress for Americans.
Many of us are spending 40+ hours a week at work (or working from home). Our jobs are a substantial piece of how we spend our time. Work is often accompanied by stress, which makes sense given how much space work takes up in our lives. The problem is, when stress isn’t acknowledged and tended to, it can grow into burnout, it can manifest as physical symptoms or illness, or both!
In the same study, the APA found that while stress levels of Americans on average hadn’t changed significantly between 2016 and 2017, Americans were more likely to report feeling symptoms (anxiety, anger, fatigue) of stress.
Other symptoms of stress can include:
- Digestive issues
- Lack of appetite
- Drastic mood changes
In 2020 we’re facing all kinds of new stress, and many of us are conducting our work in ways we never have before–remotely, away from coworkers, possibly limited by the tools available and constraints of virtual connections.
So what can you do?
Here are some of our favorite strategies to help manage stress levels in the workplace. It’s important to think about prevention as well as responses to stress at work!
Tips to get ahead of stress:
Set standards for clear communication:
Did you know that in 2019 80% of workers reported their stress as coming from ineffective company communication?
While you can’t control how everyone communicates with you, you can demonstrate through your own behavior and then–the hardest part–communicating with your colleagues clearly when you need something else from them.
Be clear about boundaries:
Part of clear communication is deciding on what your workplace boundaries are, and communicating them to your colleagues. Will you not answer emails on weekends? Put up an out of office message that lets them know when you’ll get back to them. Are you going out of town and will only be available for emergencies? Make sure you let everyone know that. If there is something you’re not able or willing to be flexible on, don’t waffle around it–be clear.
Setting boundaries with coworkers can be uncomfortable. We have worked hard to create positive relationships, either in person or virtually, and there can be fear of damaging those relationships if we don’t live up to expectations. This fear can stop us from setting and communicating our boundaries. But remember that letting someone know your own boundaries can also be an opportunity to open the conversation up to them in return. And remember that respecting your colleagues’ boundaries is just as important as them respecting yours.
Consider your environment:
Humans aren’t meant to be inside all of the time. And when you add on top of that the fact that many of us are not only indoors, but indoors staring at screens all day, it’s easy to see how that can impact our mood, energy levels, and productivity. Unfortunately, many of us can’t just pull our desk outside and work there. But you could bring a little nature into your workplace. One study reports workers who cared for a small desk plant felt less stressed and anxious than those without one. It also said:
“The participants in the study gazed at their own plant for 3 min when they felt fatigue. This behavior provided the time to divert their attention away from office tasks and toward the living plant. Cited in the literature review are studies documenting a reduction of perceived stress during periods of soft fascination nature viewing. Our findings in the workplace support, and are supported by, these studies. The results suggest that if employers would provide active encouragement for workers to take 3-min “nature breaks,” the mental health of their employees would improve.”
If you don’t have a natural green thumb, don’t write this one off just yet! Today.com put together a list of 15 easiest indoor house (or office!) plants to take care of.
Tips to deal with stress as it comes up:
Sometimes stress becomes so overwhelming that we feel like our emotions are just about to spin out of our control. If you find yourself this stressed, it’s time to take some immediate action to ground yourself and calm yourself down! Here are ten deep breathing exercises to try. While it won’t remove all of your stress, it will help calm down that feeling of being overwhelmed and ground you back into the present before your stress spirals out of control.
Another technique to release that tension of built-up stress is to just move your body. Working from home you might have a few more options for this than working in an office, but you can keep it as simple as you want. Whether you walk around the block, roll out a yoga mat, or turn on some music and dance around your living room, moving your body around is a great stress reliever.
Express the stress:
Stress can get out of control fast if we don’t acknowledge it. One minute you’re stressed that one thing is taking you slightly longer than expected, and the next you’re spiraling out of control, worried that you don’t have enough time to do anything you need to, spiraling further into “I can’t do this, I can’t do anything, I’m bad at my job, I’m going to lose my job” etc.
So before it gets out of control, take some time to face it head on. Try journaling about your stress. What’s causing you stress? How is it making you feel? Give yourself space first just to vent (or vent to a friend) before you try to problem solve. Does it feel like the end of the world? Say that! Once you get it out you can start to focus on the reality of the situation, instead of the emotional reaction to the situation.
Ask for help:
You might be stressed because you just have too much on your plate. It can be hard, but asking for support can be the best solution to unmanageable stress. The people you work with might even have some ideas for workplace support, or tips on how they deal with stress. Opening up that line of communication can help you manage your stress not only in the moment, but also with the support of a team in the future.