Stress in the workplace is common and with the ever-increasing prevalence of burnout – a form of chronic stress – the number of people dealing with workplace stress is only getting worse...

According to a study conducted by Medibank, stress-related presenteeism is responsible for 3.2 days lost per worker per year. The cost of these lost days to Australian employers is estimated to be $10.11 billion each year.

Work stress has significant consequences in the short and long term. Stress can impact decision-making, fuel anger, and impact sleep quality. Over time, stress can have significant physical 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 job with low to no stress job is hard — if not impossible. In fact, it’s beneficial for a job to have a degree of stress and pressure attached to it, because this can help boost productivity, drive and purpose in a role. So, a more realistic approach is to adopt effective coping strategies to reduce stress in your current job.

What is workplace stress?

Businesswoman get stressed and headache while having a problem at work in office

Workplace stress is the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demands placed on them at work. The stress is exacerbated when the individual feels they don’t have the resources (physical, financial, practical or emotional) to cope with these demands.

It’s important to understand the difference between pressure and stress. It’s healthy and essential that people experience challenges within their working lives that cause levels of pressure, for example, the need to make decisions quickly or meet a deadline. While pressure can cause a degree of stress, it’s when these pressures become excessive, and/or continues for an extended period of time, that it becomes harmful to health.

Workplace stress can be caused by numerous factors in the office environment, but it can also be impacted by non-work factors. Some of the main causes are:

  1. Workloads/volume of work.
  2. Relationship or family issues.
  3. Management style.
  4. Personal illness or health issues.
  5. New work-related demands or challenges such as hybrid working.
  6. Poor work-life balance.
How to cope with stress at work

People shout at meditating worker in office.

Dealing with stress in the workplace can depend on what’s causing it. However, there are a number of strategies you can implement that include personal growth and reflection, and more practical approaches.

1) Personal growth and reflection

There are a variety of things you can do at a personal level that will not only help you de-stress, but help you better deal with stressful periods in the future.

  1. Understand more about stress — You’ll be better equipped to deal with something you have an understanding of. Recognise the signs of stress and learn more about the causes of stress before you make a personal plan.
  2. Figure out what you find stressful — Part of that research should include some personal reflection on what specific things you find stressful.
  3. Learn different coping techniques — Everyone deals with stress differently, so find a technique that works for you. If the de-stressing strategy isn’t working, that’s okay! Try something else that may be more effective for you.
  4. Practice mindfulness — Whether it’s breathing exercises or meditation, practicing mindfulness helps you focus on the here and now and might help you find calmness in moments of stress.
  5. Look after your physical health — Stress can impact dietary habits. Ensure you are eating a well-balanced diet with the vitamins and minerals you need to live a healthy life. Complement this with an active lifestyle, whether that’s jogging regularly or doing chair-based exercise — find something that works for you.
2) Practical approaches

While the above strategies will help you de-stress, it may also prove beneficial in alleviating some of the root causes of your personal workplace stressors. This can involve some practical action that will alter your working patterns and safeguard your mental health in the process.

Excessive workload
If the main causation of your workplace stress is related to workload, begin by reaching out to your manager. Talk to them about setting realistic targets and about how you can solve the issues you’re having. In the meantime, think about managing your own time better. For example, you may be switching between too many different tasks and, therefore, taking longer to complete your work. When you’ve finished a task, reward yourself by taking a short break before moving on to your next task. This could be chatting with co-workers, stepping out for a coffee, or taking a moment to read something non-work-related. Finally, don’t put yourself under too much pressure! You might find that you’re being more critical of your own work than you need to be. Work within your limitations and try to be kind to yourself.

Work-life balance
Often, workplace stress can be caused by a poor work-life balance. For good mental health it’s imperative that you make an effort to separate work and leisure, and find time to switch off. You can do this by taking short breaks throughout the day, including at least half an hour away from your desk at lunch. Spend some time outside if you can. At the end of the day, develop some habits that can help your mind make the transition from work to home life. Tidy your workspace, or make a to-do list for the next day so you’re not worrying about it overnight. When you’re out of office hours, ensure you are focusing on your relationships and personal life. This may include developing skills that you don’t use in your job or spending time with friends or family. Lastly, if things are getting too much, taking a few days of annual leave can help you feel refreshed. However, this only works if you’re truly switching off from work! So, set up your out-of-office replies and turn off that work phone!

Lack of support
Ultimately, taking these steps can be futile if you don’t feel your workplace is supporting you. You should be able to discuss this with your manager, but if you feel you can’t talk to them, contact someone else like your human resources department. This is where a network of trusted colleagues can be beneficial to provide sound advice.

In some cases, you may have access to an employee assistance program (EAP) without realising it. Your EAP can offer you free advice and counselling to not only deal with your stress, but set up bespoke strategies to help you deal with future issues. Contact one of our friendly team on 1300 687 327 to get in contact with a mental health professional.

Converge International – FREE – Confidential Counselling – 1300 687 327