Most people face periods of unexpected challenges in the workplace. For example, some weeks, employees are required to work additional hours to meet a deadline. Other weeks, there may be an increasing amount of meetings to attend. Controlling every aspect of a job or an organisation is impossible and unrealistic, but as new challenges arise, it may increase pressure and stress levels.
There is nothing wrong with experiencing some level of stress at work now and again as long as employees have healthy coping strategies in place. However, many people often push themselves too much to secure a job or meet an organisation’s expectations. In turn, it is not uncommon for individuals to cross the line from experiencing moderate stress to feeling overwhelmed.
Unfortunately, increases in stress not only compromises workplace performance; it can also affect physical and mental health.
What Is Stress?
Stress is an everyday part of life. From the moment we are born, we are confronted with things beyond our capacity to control, which may activate our physiological alarm systems. This could feel like an increased heart rate, a sharper focus, a change in metabolism, activation of our immune system, or a fight-flight-freeze response.
Essentially, stress is the body’s reaction to pressure, threats, or unexpected situations. However, these physiological reactions are necessary for survival purposes. Unlike animals that only experience an activation of their alarm system when confronting a predator or a disease, humans have to deal with many stressors in daily life, such as:
- Financial instability
- Family responsibilities
- Increasing workloads
- National conflict
- Personal losses
The human body and mind are equipped to deal with occasional pressure. However, after encountering a stressful situation, the body may need time to relax and restore rather than jumping into another more significant challenge.
When the feeling of tension is permanent or continually rising, there comes the point when physiological systems start to collapse, giving way to a range of physical and psychological health problems.
How Much Stress Is Appropriate?
Chronic stress is detrimental to our health, but living a life free of stress may feel tedious, monotonous, and depressive. Since long ago, researchers have studied the relationship between pressure and performance, called The Yerkes-Dodson Law.
Psychologists Yerkes and Dodson demonstrated that people might become more efficient at completing tasks when they experience moderate amounts of pressure or stress. For example, having a deadline in mind may increase concentration, focus, and sharpen problem-solving skills. On the contrary, without pressure, people may procrastinate and become inefficient.
Some level of stress is good as it can help us flourish in our personal and professional lives. However, there comes the point in which a higher level of stress leads to underperformance. The reason, as mentioned above, is that we may jump from a sharpened focus (moderate stress) to a terrible headache that may compromise our ability to complete a task. In addition, chronic stress may ultimately lead to burnout and more severe health and social issues.
Spotting the Signs of Work Stress
Having a moderate or manageable stress level can be beneficial when it comes to increasing work performance and productivity. But how can we identify if we are on the upper side of the Yerkes-Dodson curve or starting to go down the road of underperformance?
Here are some warning signs of work stress to look out for:
Mental Health Symptoms
- Ongoing negative thoughts about the workplace, colleagues, or managers
- Feelings of worry or anxiety about going to work every day
- Having a negative lens regarding the future in the organisation or company
- Lack of ability to unplug from work-related tasks
- Lack of concentration in the workplace
- Feeling stressed over meeting deadlines
- Experiencing mood swings (i.e., irritability, depression, anxiety, frustration)
- Engaging in substance use to cope with work pressure
- Sleep issues (insomnia, sleep disturbance, nightmares)
- Changes in metabolism and digestion
- Recurrent headaches, back pain, and other body aches
- Weakened immune system (i.e., catching colds, viruses, infections)
- Difficulty balancing personal life and work-related tasks
- Letting stress at work interfere in family dynamics (i.e., continuously complaining or being intolerant towards family members)
- Feeling detached from close friends or loved ones
What Causes Work Stress?
Every person is different, as is our tolerance level to cope with stressful situations at work. Even if a person has the same amount of work as a colleague, life circumstances, background, or personality may add a higher stress level that co-workers may not experience.
Many things can reduce stress and enhance well-being. For example, what may feel like an uncomfortable workspace for one person, may feel fine for another. Before exploring stress-management strategies, it is beneficial to take a few minutes to consider what causes stress at work.
Below is a potential list of stress triggers:
- Working extra hours
- Not having enough personal time
- Not having enough support services in the workplace
- Being unable to take holidays or even a break due to an increasing amount of work
- Difficulties positively relating with other employees
- Inability to talk openly about feelings without fear of reprisals
Managing Stress in the Workplace
If you have been suffering from long-term exposure to workplace stress, there are some helpful strategies you could employ to regain a sense of control and stability.
- Create boundaries. Sometimes we feel the urge to continually prove that we can handle everything when the truth is we cannot. Although we often avoid admitting this, there is nothing wrong with being honest. It is much better to be a satisfied and fulfilled human. Take the time to consider whether working extra hours without breaks or holiday time is helping you or working against you. There are times when it is okay to stop.
- Develop a self-care routine that includes all aspects of your life. Aside from work, we are human beings with physical, mental, social, and spiritual needs. Taking care of these other areas of your life may help you unplug from stress at work. Likewise, it may help you face your current challenges with a more positive mindset.
- Learn stress management techniques. This is especially important when it comes to navigating work-related critical situations. For example, if you know delivering a presentation or talking to your supervisor is not one of your strengths, try to employ relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, or body relaxation, first.
- Reflect on the meaning you are attributing to your work. Work stress often increases when we lose sight of our motivation or the goal behind working in a certain organisation or position. We may feel that we are always giving without receiving anything in return. We may know what we are doing, but we no longer know why we are doing it. In those moments, considering your reasons for remaining in your role may empower you to face your challenges or choose to work somewhere else.
- Seek mental health support. We do not have all the answers, but the good news is that there are people willing to help us navigate our personal and professional trials and challenges. Seeking help when it is needed is an act of courage.
Contact Us Today
At The Revoke Programme, we specialise in providing first-class mental health services to professionals seeking help managing work-related stress. We have a personalised programme flexible enough to provide those in need with a therapeutic space to unwind and restore without affecting their daily routines.
In addition to stress, our therapists are trained in treating other co-occurring mental health conditions triggered by stressful situations, such as anxiety, depression, and addiction.
Whenever you feel ready, you are more than welcome to join our community of like-minded people seeking to find a balance between work and personal life.