Raise your hand if you’ve ever claimed to thrive under pressure. We know that stress isn’t always a bad thing. It can help you stay alert and focused. Not to mention that it challenges you to step outside your comfort zone, especially at work.
But swift changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have transformed the way we work, and not always for the better. Working longer hours and off-hours are becoming hallmarks of the modern workplace, with many people dragging work into the evenings. This is particularly true for remote workers. In fact, research by KPMG reveals that employee anxiety has risen by 55% over the past 18 months. So what does workplace stress look like?
Signs and symptoms of workplace stress
Each person's ability to tolerate stress is different, but an accumulation of stressors can cause stress to become unmanageable. If you’re constantly experiencing long work hours, heavy workloads, job insecurity, lack of autonomy, challenging relationships with co-workers and leaders, or other workplace issues, pay attention to these signs of stress:
- Tension in the body
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased heart rate
- Anxiety or depression
You may also notice changes in your behaviour at work:
- Tense relationships with co-workers and managers
- Feeling isolated from your team
- Lack of creativity and sense of initiative
- Lack of patience when working with others
- Drop in performance and loss of interest
Here are six ways to be proactive about stress management and prevention.
1. Schedule time for focus
Learning how to organize your day can make all the difference. Take a look at your tasks and slot them into your calendar at the beginning of the week. Turn off email and chat notifications for an hour or two while you work on these tasks. It will be hard not to peek at your messages at first, but over time it can help you stay productive without getting overwhelmed.
A scheduled 10-minute wrap-up at the end of your day is also a powerful tool to help you de-stress and set yourself up for productivity the next day. Your wrap-up ritual is unique to you, but it can include reviewing the tasks you completed, creating a to-do list for the next day, and closing all the browser tabs you won’t need tomorrow. Once you’ve wrapped up, it’s time to disconnect completely.
2. Communicate your boundaries
Requests pop up, and sometimes they’re urgent. Most of the time, they can wait. The negative impact of setting poor boundaries include deteriorating relationships with colleagues and burnout. Not sure how to set strong boundaries you can stick to? Try these steps:
- Be straightforward: Avoid saying things like “maybe” or “let me think about it”. This sets the wrong intention and can lead your colleague to think you have the bandwidth to support them.
- Explain yourself, but keep it simple: If you don’t have the capacity to help someone, let them know why briefly. It’s ok to say “I’m very busy with my own tasks right now” or “I have another priority I need to complete first”, but you don’t need to go into the nitty-gritty.
- Provide an alternate solution: If you struggle to say no, then try giving other options. Maybe you’re too busy to help today, but you will have more time at the end of the week.
If you struggle to communicate your boundaries, here are some easy ways to say “no”:
- Unfortunately, I have too much to do today. I can help you another time.
- I would love to help, but I'm feeling a little overwhelmed with work right now.
- I can’t take on any extra work right now. Maybe check with _____?
- The timing right now isn't good. Can you keep me in mind for next time?
- Let me get back to you, but I'm not confident I’ll have the time to help.
3. Focus on your breathing
A common symptom of stress and anxiety is increased heart rate. Prioritizing slow, deep, and meaningful breathing can calm your mind and body. Take a look at how breathing techniques help you manage stress and how you can incorporate them into daily life.
4. Pay attention to your body
Healthy movement boosts the brain’s feel-good hormones, like dopamine and serotonin. Sitting at a desk all day can have an adverse effect, and increase lethargy, sleep issues, and stress. Schedule five-minute breaks every half-hour to stand, stretch, and take your eyes off the computer screen. Discover some easy ways to incorporate exercise into your day.
5. Develop healthy eating and sleep habits
Unfortunately, having great habits from 9 to 5 just won’t cut it. What you do before and after work has an effect on how you feel during work. Make sure you're getting enough sleep so your brain and body have enough time to recover. In addition, learning how to fuel your body with nutritious meals that meet your needs will help keep your energy levels consistent throughout the day. Staying alert and motivated are key to managing workplace stress.
6. Seek support from someone you trust
Despite our efforts, stress sometimes gets the best of us. Reaching out to a colleague, a leader, a friend, or a family member can help alleviate anxiety and make us feel less alone. And while loved ones offer great support, knowing when to seek help from a qualified specialist is also crucial. Find out how our multidisciplinary team of counsellors can help.
Stress and anxiety tend to creep up on us. Oftentimes, an accumulation of various factors is what causes it to become unmanageable. Learning how to prioritize well-being through small actions every day can keep stress under control.
Stress and anxiety are tough to manage alone. Our team is here to help.