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Managing Work-Related Stress 

Workplace stress is highly personal. Some people thrive in fast-paced jobs, such as emergency room nurses, police officers, and air-traffic controllers. These are stressful jobs where making a mistake can put people’s lives at risk.

The rest of us likely wouldn’t last a day in such high-pressure environments. But that doesn’t mean our jobs are less stressful. Every job has its own kind of stress. There could be short deadlines, endless paperwork, or the occasional angry customer. Or there may be meetings that drag on for hours, putting everyone even more behind. All can cause stress.

In other words, it’s not just the job that creates stress. It’s also the way a person responds to the pressures and demands of each workplace that makes them stressed.

Not surprisingly, people respond to stress differently. The way they respond depends on their personality and their workplace culture.

Stress effects

Short-term effects of stress include:

  • Headaches

  • Shallow breathing

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Anxiety

  • Upset stomach

Long-term constant stress can increase the risk for:

  • Heart disease

  • Back pain

  • Depression

  • Lasting muscle aches and pains

  • A weakened immune system

Stress also can affect your mind. It can impair your ability to focus and your imagination. Stress also increases the chance you’ll make mistakes because you’re not thinking clearly.

Constant stress can affect your emotions and behavior. It can make you grouchy, impatient, less excited about your job, and even depressed.

What to do about work-related stress

Check reality

When you’re in a high-pressure situation, examine your train of thought to see if it’s adding to the stress you feel.

Are you imagining a far worse outcome than is likely? Is the project or situation likely to affect your job approval, reputation, or income? Are you really out of your league? Or are the immediate demands really more of a challenge than a disaster in the making?

Manage your time

Correct time and priority management can reduce a lot of workplace stress.

Start each day by making a to-do list of tasks, calls to make, and e-mails to write. Prioritize the list according to tasks you must do, those you would like to do, and those that can wait. Don’t schedule too much. And build in time for interruptions.

Take a break

Hourly mini-breaks where you stretch your shoulders, back, and neck can provide physical stress relief. This can then reduce mental stress. Lunch is often skipped at the expense of more stress. Try to take lunch if you can.

Be realistic

Stop promising to do more than you can handle. Be polite as you say, “With the workload I have, I can’t take on more at this time.”

Repeat yourself

Every day, plan to spend some time at rest, but not asleep. Sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, and relax your muscles.

Then focus on breathing regularly as you keep repeating one simple word aloud or silently. This might be a word such as "peace," "relax," or "om." Keep doing this until your muscles and mind are relaxed.

Try muscle relaxation

Try this relaxation exercise:

  • Sit or lie down, if you can, and close your eyes.

  • Starting at your head, tense your face by clenching your teeth and furrowing your brow. Hold the tension for 5 seconds. Then release it.

  • Next, tense your shoulders by bringing them up to your ears. Hold for 5 seconds. Then release.

  • Next, tense your arm muscles. Hold for 5 seconds. Then release.

  • Continue to tighten and release each group of muscles in your body until you reach your toes.

  • Focus on the warmth and heaviness of your body as you relax. Breathe gently for a few moments. Then open your eyes.

Visualize

Sit or lie down and close your eyes. For 5 to 10 minutes, imagine you’re in a place you love. This may be the beach, the mountains, or the house you grew up in. Breathe slowly and deeply as you imagine what you see, feel, hear, taste, and smell in your special place.

Breathe slowly and deeply

Try this:

  • Lie flat on your back with your eyes closed. Place your feet slightly apart.

  • Rest one hand above your belly button. Put the other hand on your chest.

  • Breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth. Do this until you’ve emptied most of the air from your lungs.

  • As you slowly count to 4, gently inhale, making your stomach rise. Pause for 1 second.

  • Then as you slowly count to 4, gently exhale, letting your belly slowly fall. Pause for another second.

  • Repeat these steps 10 times.

Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly

A healthy diet rich in whole foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein may reduce stress. Having lots of caffeine, sugar, and alcohol can increase it.

Many studies have found exercise reduces stress. Aerobic exercise works best for most people. This includes running, swimming, or brisk walking. Yoga, Pilates, tai chi, or simple stretching can also help. They help create a calmer, meditative state.

Communicate

Talking with a family member or friend outside of work about the issues that cause your stress at work can help you put things in perspective. Explore solutions and ways to cope together.

Get help

If you’ve tried these self-help methods but continue to be highly stressed, get help. Talk with a mental health provider who specializes in stress management.

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Paul Ballas MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
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