In today’s troubled economic climate, it’s easy to let workplace stress and pressure get the better of us. Naturally the pressure increases in times of economic crisis. Decreased profits and budget cuts lead to increased fear and uncertainty and higher stress. Higher stress can negatively affect your health and
your productivity – and the productivity of those around you – which in turn can do fatal damage to your business. It’s a vicious circle.
The key is learning how to cope with stress. There are ways to change how you handle and cope with increased pressure at work, without making radical changes to your career objectives. Better managing stress at the office can help you successfully steer your business through tough times. You’ll also positively affect those around you, and be less susceptible to letting their stress negatively affect you.
It’s ‘sink or swim’ in today’s economy. Here are five tips that should help you ‘swim’…
Recognise the warning signs of excessive work stress
Some of the causes of workplace stress are:
- Budget cuts
- Pay cuts
- Redundancies and increased fear of losing your job
- Increased overtime because of staff cutbacks
- Pressure to work harder but with no increase in pay or job satisfaction
The signs and symptoms of excessive job stress are:
- Anxiousness, irritability or depression
- Loss of interest in your work
- Fatigue and problems sleeping
- Headaches and muscle tension
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of sex drive
- Stomach problems
- Increasing reliance on alcohol or drugs
If you recognise that your job stress is increasing due to one or more of the above causes, and that the fear/pressure is negatively affecting your physical, mental or social health, the sooner you can do something about it. Failing to do anything about it will damage your productivity and make you less effective at your job – exasperating the problem you are desperately trying to avoid.
Take care of yourself
You will be stronger and more resilient in the face of office stress and higher pressure if you look after your physical and emotional health. Even small changes can make huge differences to your mood, energy levels and how much you feel in control.
- Exercise: regular exercise is a powerful stress reliever, particularly aerobic exercise – the kind that makes you sweat and increases your heart rate. But for some people, exercise is the last thing they feel like doing, and something they just don’t feel able to make time for. If you think you can commit to regular trips to the gym, great. If you don’t, try and incorporate some regular exercise into your existing day. We all need to get to work, right? Try walking to work. We all have a lunch break, yes? Go for a run or a power walk in your lunch break.
- Better food choices: small but frequent meals helps your body maintain an even blood sugar level. Don’t forget to eat, because low blood sugar leads to increased anxiousness, and don’t eat too much, because that can make you feel lethargic. Small but frequent balanced meals can help keep your energy up.
- Alcohol in moderation: Alcohol can be useful to combat workplace stress, but only in moderation. It temporarily reduces worry and anxiety, but if you drink too much or too frequently or come to rely on it, then it can exasperate the problem. This is because alcohol can cause anxiety when it wears off if your body is starting to depend on it, creating an added health issue.
- Quit smoking: people smoke when they feel overwhelmed, stressed or unhappy. However, while it seems calming, nicotine is a powerful stimulant which actually leads to higher – not lower – levels of anxiety.
- Sleep: Not getting enough sleep can negatively affect your concentration, leading to even more stress. You are also vulnerable to increased pressure if your brain is not on top form because it’s being starved of sleep. You can also get into a cycle, because less sleep can lead to more stress, which can in turn lead to insomnia. Aim for 8 hours of sleep a night, and if you have trouble sleeping, nip it in the bud quickly and see your doctor.
- Support: Talking to your friends or family about your problems is another very powerful stress reliever. Don’t bottle things up. Your friends don’t need to have all the answers; they just need to listen. Sometimes talking through issues face to face with someone – and bouncing ideas off them – can help you to identify solutions on your own.
Prioritise and organise
There are a number of easy ways to better manage an increased workload and regain your self-control…
- Schedules and to-do lists: you’ll be surprised how much more organised you feel just by writing a to-do list. Often you’ll realise that you don’t have as much work to do as you thought you did. Plan your week, and make time for social activities, other daily responsibilities and downtime.
- Prioritise tasks: Ensure that your to-do list is not just a long list of tasks that you need to trawl through. While to-do lists are great organisers, long lists that you’re trying to get done all at once, or all in one week, can be intimidating, and do little to alleviate your stress levels. Mark on your list what the deadlines are for each task, and which tasks take priority. If something can wait for a few weeks, let it wait. If something needs to be done today, put it at the top of the list. Everything else can wait. If you have a few priority items, get the most boring/unpleasant ones out of the way early, or split them up with more interesting tasks. Don’t over-commit yourself, and avoid trying to do too much in one day.
- Try to leave a little earlier in the morning: Running late can make you stressed before your day has even begun. Try to leave 10 minutes earlier so that you don’t have to frantically rush to your desk, and so that you can ease into your day at a more relaxed pace.
- Delegate: You don’t have to try and handle everything yourself. If other people are qualified and able to handle the task, let them.
- Have regular breaks: Avoid the urge to glue yourself to your desk so that you can get something done. When you reach a natural break in your flow, get up, stretch your legs, make a coffee or chat to someone. It doesn’t have to be for long. Drink plenty of water. And always make sure you have a lunch break, in order to keep your energy levels at their optimum.
Improve your emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage and utilise your emotions in positive, productive and constructive ways. Largely stemming from social and self-awareness, emotional intelligence is about how you communicate with others, manage conflicts and deal with criticism, differences of opinion and other personal tensions.
You can raise your emotional intelligence by:
- realising when you’re stressed and making positive steps to deal with it
- paying attention to your emotions and factoring them into your decision-making
- recognising and using body language effectively, including eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, posture, gesture and touch
- meeting challenges with a sense of humour; if it seems like things are endlessly going wrong, laugh about it – nothing reduces stress quicker
- being positive in the face of conflict – disregard resentments and underlying issues and stay focussed in the present and on what’s important. Agree to disagree if that is the best way forward.
Break bad habits
You don’t need to be a perfectionist. Recognise that not everything has to be perfect and don’t set unrealistic goals. Don’t try and do too much. Recognise how long something takes you and just do your best.
Get organised. If you have a habit of running late, set your clocks fast and give yourself some extra time. If your desk is a mess, take a moment to clear away the clutter. If you’re forgetting tasks because you have too many, or because you feel inundated, make a to-do list and mark tasks as priorities
Recognise that some things are out of your control. Focus on the things you do have the power to control.
What other tips can you think of to help manage stress at the office?