While a little workplace stress can be a good thing, too much can be bad for your health. Almost 500,000 people in the UK have experienced work-related stress severe enough to make them feel unwell.
The ways we try to deal with stress aren’t always the healthiest either. A UK survey showed that almost 3 in 5 people drink alcohol after work, while some turned to smoking, sleeping pills and antidepressants to cope.
It may feel like there’s nothing you can do, especially if quitting your job isn’t an option. However, there are steps you can take to learn to manage stress more successfully and perhaps change your work situation for the better.
Sources of stress at work
High expectations can motivate us to perform better, but excessive pressure can lead to stress. Stress at work can be caused by many things, such as:
- being overloaded with work
- having to meet strict deadlines
- uncertainty about your role and what’s expected of you
- having the wrong skill set for your position
- dysfunctional relationships with peers
- workplace bullying
- poor management
- a lack of or limited control over your work
Difficulties in other parts of your life can add to the stress of your job.
How to tell if you’re under too much stress at work
When you’re under a lot of stress at work, you may notice changes in your usual behaviour.
Answer yes or no to the following questions to identify if your job may be making you stressed.
- Do you find you hurry through your tasks too quickly?
- Is your work performance slipping?
- Are you having more disagreements with others in general?
- Do you regularly skip lunch or fail to give yourself breaks?
- Do you feel like you can’t relax?
- Are you withdrawing from your loved ones?
- Do you fail to use all your vacation days?
Everyone responds differently to stress, but if you recognise some of the behavioural signs of work-related stress mentioned above, consider making some changes at work. Speak with a doctor for advice on how to do so.
Long-term effects of stress
Being under too much stress for too long can cause a type of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion called burnout. This can leave you feeling exhausted and unable to do your work. You may no longer get any satisfaction from your job. Burnout can damage your health and work performance, so speak with a doctor for advice on how to address it.
How to deal with stress at work
There are many ways to de-stress at work, including mindfulness, meditation and other relaxation techniques, or simply by taking breaks.
Make sure your lifestyle is as healthy as possible. Try to get regular exercise to help you sleep well, and eat a balanced diet.
Coping mechanisms like drinking, smoking or taking drugs can increase stress and make things worse in the long term. They won’t solve your problems and can even bring their own set of health problems.
How to reduce stress at work
Relaxation techniques and a healthy lifestyle aren’t always enough to prevent stress. Sometimes you need to change your work methods or environment.
Good employers won’t judge you for being stressed, and your company should have policies in place to help you cope. Your manager is responsible for supporting you, so tell them if you’re having trouble. Report any bullying or harassment to your human resources department as they should be equipped to deal with it.
Speak to a doctor if you think work stress is affecting your mental health. Stress can’t be treated with medication, but a doctor can offer guidance on various techniques and therapies to help you manage.