Endless to-do lists.
Conflicts with colleagues.
Late nights worrying about that next promotion.
Whether we love or loathe our jobs, these experiences are common among working people. According to a 1999 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) publication titled Stress…At Work, 40% of workers reported their jobs to be very or extremely stressful and 25% of workers viewed their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives. These numbers demonstrate that staying calm at work has become a major challenge.
All of the work-related stress plaguing us day after day is devastating to our minds and bodies. The World Health Organization has called stress “the health epidemic of the 21st century.” Thanks in part to the technology-driven workplaces of today, studies have found that 1 in 3 adults suffer from habitual sleep deprivation on a regular basis. Work stress even makes it even harder to relax – even after the workday is complete and we’re ensconced in the safety of our own homes.
But there are ways to help mitigate this encroaching stress by employing tactics to help you stay calm at work, avoid negative thoughts and regain your emotional wellness during your 9-to-5.
WHY IS WORK SO STRESSFUL?
Even though many aspects of modern life are now automated, work seems to be becoming more stressful with time. What exactly is driving the escalation of work stress?
The world of work is changing, and several global trends have contributed to the mounting stress levels at work:
- The economic world is moving towards a single, global marketplace. In response, organizations are downsizing and restructuring to stay competitive – this means more competition for the remaining jobs and more work for those who claim those jobs.
- The rise of the ‘gig’ economy. Firms are needing to become more flexible to compete in today’s global marketplace. As such, more temporary and part-time work opportunities are being offered in place of secure, full-time work. Although the gig economy works well for many people, the uncertainty involved in gig jobs can be stressful for others.
- The rise of the service economy. In developed countries, service-based work for clients is becoming common. Thus, the growing demands and pressures of working with a myriad of demanding clients and customers are affecting more and more people
- The telecommunication revolution. Digital devices seem like a godsend in many ways. It’s now possible to be constantly connected to the people most important to us, to remain apprised of current events, and to stay in touch with friends across the globe. Unfortunately, there’s a dark side to this technology, too: it makes it easy for work to reach us. When we’re always just a quick text or email away, it can be impossible to draw effective boundaries between work life and home life, which interferes with the ability to take any downtime at the end of the day or on days off. The expectation of constant availability can turn ordinary work stress into a chronic problem that’s impossible to escape.
- Interpersonal stress via coworkers. The workplaces of today are diverse. That means working with people that you may not quite get along. It’s just the reality and challenges of working with people different from yourself. Although this is often a personal growth opportunity, this can be an additional challenge and source of stress
- The increasing complexity of work. The globalized marketplace means that workers may be expected to adopt multiple roles, continuously train themselves in new skills, and juggle more tasks than ever before. With these shifts in the basic foundations of the workplace, it’s no surprise that so many of us are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and out of our depth.
With all these factors weighing on our minds, it’s not hard to see how stress can quickly become crippling – even for people who aren’t seriously overworked, have a good degree of self-control, and work in positive environments.
THE SERIOUS HEALTH EFFECTS OF BUILT-UP WORK STRESS
Stress is more than a temporary, fleeting moment while at work. Stressful moments compound and, over time, take a toll on our physical health and mental and emotional wellbeing. If you are unable to stay calm under pressure at work, job stress becomes a chronic condition causing real and severe effects.
Early warning signs of chronic work stress include headaches, muscles pain, and sleep disturbances. As these conditions persist, they can lead to high blood pressure and a weakened immune system, leaving your body more vulnerable to infection. In the long-term, overstressed workers are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and greater general propensity toward illnesses of all kinds. Indeed, researchers estimate that 60% to 80% of visits to a primary care doctor may have a stress-related component. When you are under pressure, stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released, which can have detrimental effects on blood pressure and enhance weight gain.
What affects our bodies also affects our minds. Chronic stress causes many mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. Ironically, these mental health issues cause us to perform worse at work, which in turn may trigger more work stress.
Depression and anxiety can leave you feeling unmotivated, unable to focus, irritable and angry. Instead of meeting important deadlines, you may feel too paralyzed by your workload and mental exhaustion to begin an assignment. Your negative mental state can make you more prone to distraction, seeking release from stress.
Depression has been shown to increase workplace absenteeism and reduce productivity.
Just think about the last time that you’ve worked with someone who is stressed and unable to remain calm. They may have acted in a way that is rude or irritable, or have retreated to their desk with the intention of ignoring you (and the project) – and, predictably, they may not have come through with their share of the work. As chronic stress and burnout spreads through offices like wildfire, workplaces are being increasingly negative, unproductive environments.
But they don’t have to be. There are ways we can return workplaces to spaces of positive, productive energy.
5 STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO RECLAIM YOUR PEACE OF MIND
Staying calm at work is important to performing well at work. When thinking clearly, the mind can come up with some of its best ideas. A calm mind allows us to make new connections and between very different concepts to create something novel.
This aside from the positive effects that staying calm will have on your overall health – after all, work isn’t everything. Being filled with calm and positive emotions at work, and in life, is associated with a longer, happier life, and reduced instance of disease.
Here are effective ways of achieving this positive, calm state of mind at work.
1. SET BOUNDARIES
The first, most important thing you can do to control stress is to set boundaries. This can involve making it known that we’re not available outside working hours (and sticking to it), but it can also manifest in other areas. For example, decline to take on a new project if you know you don’t have the time. Request that deadlines be pushed back or changed when you have too much on your plate. Setting limits with demanding coworkers can also help.
You might be thinking: “All of this is easier said than done.”
We say: that’s fair.
Start with small requests and build the skill from there (yes, setting boundaries is a skill that must be learned like any other!). You’ll find that the people around you are more understanding than you might think. Especially as you become more productive in your increasingly positive and energetic mental state, boundaries will be easier to set.
2. LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE
Deal with stress and anxiety at work by looking at the big picture. When having a hard time staying calm, assess the work situation with a different perspective. What’s the worst that can happen if a deadline needs to be adjusted? Is telling a coworker “no” to a request so bad? Look back to past experience: was denying a request ever so bad?
Chances are that it’s not going to be the end of your career, let alone the world. In fact, many will appreciate that you’re setting clear expectations and not making promises you can’t deliver on.
3. STAY FOCUSED ON SOLUTIONS, NOT PROBLEMS
When pressure is mounting, it can help to stay focused on solutions, not problems. Keep your eye on the bigger goals, and don’t get caught up in the hurdles along the way. When you are confident that you’ll achieve the goal despite the drawbacks, calm naturally settles in.
4. THE PARETO PRINCIPLE
If you are sweating at work, make sure you aren’t sweating the small stuff. The Pareto principle (also called the “80/20 rule”) is about finding the 20% of the tasks you do throughout the day that produce 80% of your results. Focus on those instead of the small, thankless tasks that don’t matter very much.
5. BREATHE THROUGH THE STRESS
The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation, take a moment to breathe and set your state of mind before you jump in.
It’s a quick and easy adjustment that resets your state of mind going into a project, and that different state of mind can positively affect your performance and throughout the lifecycle of the project. Just perform the following steps:
- Take five deep breaths in and out. Focus on ‘deep breathing through your belly’ – filling your belly up with breath first, and then your chest.
- As you breathe out, imagine all the stress in your body leaving.
- Smile gently. Don’t worry about how you might feel. Smiling has a positive effect on our moods.
6. STOP DEMANDING PERFECTION
Finally, stop demanding perfection of yourself. You’re not perfect and that’s okay. We all fail sometimes, and no one expects us to get things right 100% of the time. Whatever you think you may have done wrong at work, it’s not worth the negative lasting on your health and emotional well-being.
Stress can make success and productivity in the workplace challenging, but it doesn’t have to rule our lives. When we are mindful and take steps to keep calm at work, we can easily manage it, and be more creative, productive, and happy at work every day. With the multitude of impacts work stress has on the rest of our lives, it’s well worth a try.
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