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5 Steps to Manage Stress at Work

Updated: Jun 11

A young professional sitting at a desk looking down at their laptop with their hands grasping their head in frustration.

All of us have experienced some sort of workplace change at some point in our career whether it be a corporate reorganization, adapting to working from home, a shift in responsibilities, a transition from military service to the civilian workforce, or any number of other work-related changes.

One of the most important skills that a person can hone is the ability to effectively manage stress and successfully navigate changes in the workplace while maintaining mental and physical health.

Here we’ll discuss five key strategies that will help you take charge of work-related stress.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand the significant detrimental effects of poorly managed stress. The human body reacts to stress in several ways which differ depending on the type and frequency of stress: increased heart rate, respiration, and blood flow to the muscles; immune and nervous system activation; impact to brain-gut communication (much more than just “butterflies in the stomach”); and decreased energy - just to scratch the surface. Prolonged periods of stress and the related physical symptoms can lead to significant health problems. In fact, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “people who are worried about losing their jobs are nearly 20 percent more likely to have heart disease.” [1]

There can also be a psychological cost to unmanaged stress. It is well documented that stress can cause depression and anxiety but what is sometimes overlooked is the considerable detriment to productivity. The Balance Careers notes that workplace stress can, “affect your health, energy, well-being, mental alertness, and personal and professional relationships. It can also cause defensiveness, lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating, accidents, reduced productivity, and interpersonal conflict”. [2]

With this greater understanding of the dangers of allowing workplace stress to go unchecked, we recommend these five techniques to proactively and effectively manage stress.

1. Look Inward

The first step in the process is to discover the ways that you frequently react to stress. Common examples of reactions to stress from the Mayo Clinic are pain (from muscle tension), overeating, unexplained anger, crying and tearfulness, depression, negativity, and smoking. [3]

  • Enlist the assistance of someone who knows you well and sees you often for this step. It is likely that they have observed things in your behavior that you haven’t noticed and can help you identify responses to stress.

  • Focus on identifying the areas where you’d like workplace stress to affect you less; this is not a judgement of character or of how well you’re managing a tough situation.

2. Choose One

Once you’ve identified where stress is affecting your life, write them down so you can refer to them later. Breaking things down into more manageable pieces and having a smaller “to-do” list means a higher likelihood of a successful outcome.

  • Choose one or two issues to keep it manageable and commit to finding ways to better manage your stress in those areas. If you made this original list with a trusted person, share these areas with them - it’s a great way to reinforce your commitment and they will be better able to support you if they know your goals.

  • Come back as you strengthen your stress management skills to address more and more – this is, in fact, the goal!

3. Share It

The next crucial step is to find how others can help you reduce stress. Utilizing the help of others can be vital to reducing stress, especially in the workplace. Delegating is a healthy way to approach work in general and it’s a lifesaver in times of stress.

  • Don’t fall victim to thinking you have to do everything yourself. Delegate what tasks you can to reduce the strain on yourself.

  • Remember that time is your most precious resource (see our article on time management here). More often than not, there are items that can be completed by others and delegating can free up your time for things that are truly essential for you to complete.

4. Reach Out

A lot of people self-isolate in stressful times. Perhaps they don’t want to let their friends or family know about their work insecurities or talk about their concerns. Some have negative associations with the idea of sharing concerns with others. In reality, the people closest to you most likely want to help and will have noticed that you’re stressed.

  • Develop a support network to help you in stressful times. Pushing away the people who care about you won’t make them worry any less, and it won’t help you either.

  • Make time to connect. Even if you are reluctant to talk about your work stress with friends and family, activities like regular catch-up calls, taking a walk with a partner or friend, or relaxing with loved ones can make a world of a difference.

5. Take Care

The value of self-care is impossible to overstate. This is doubly true during times of stress, when we are tempted to put off anything that doesn’t contribute directly to “getting the job done”. Self-care doesn’t have to take a lot of time and money; it can be oftentimes involve free activities and only take a few minutes each day. Ignoring self-care can lead to even more stress and burnout.

  • Don’t neglect simple things like making your bed each morning and dressing for work. Especially for remote workers and job seekers, these activities can also help you feel more in control and prepared for your day (see our work-from-home article here).

  • Take care of your body. Eating well and taking a short walk or engaging in other exercise daily can help reduce stress. According to Harvard Medical School, “exercise reduces levels of the body's stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators.” [4]

Stress is a part of our everyday lives and stress management is paramount to the quality of our lives. Poorly managed stress can lead to a host of problems from physical issues to significant impacts on workplace productivity.

Though workplace stress is inevitable, stress management is an achievable skill.

Build skills and control the effect stress has on your life with these five steps so that the next time you face a change at work, you’ll be better able to navigate it in healthy ways.

Photo by SEO Galaxy on Unsplash


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