Conflicts with co-workers. Increasing workload. Fear of losing the job. Poor salary. Fewer benefits.
These are some of the factors that are causing stress in the American workplace to be on the rise. In fact, several recent studies have found that the workplace is the leading cause of stress for American adults.
The third annual Harris Work Stress Survey, conducted by Harris Interactive for Everest College, polled 1,019 American workers and 83 percent said they were stressed at work, a jump from 73 percent the year before. Only 17 percent of those polled workers said that their jobs did not cause them any stress.
And lest you think that the younger you are, the more carefree you are, the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in American survey last year showed that Millennial respondents (ages 18 to 29) were more stressed about work than any other age group.
Stress on the job is thought to be a leading contributor to increased rates of heart attack, hypertension and other disorders. According to a 2012 University College London, job stress is also linked with an accelerated aging process and an increase in the risk of diabetes.
Other than landing a great-paying job with a cushy corner office, what can you do to reduce workplace stress in your own life? Here are steps to stay calm in a stressful workplace situation.
Steps to deal with Workplace Stress
Know your stress signals. We all get stressed about different things. One of your co-workers may get energized by working under a tight deadline, for instance, but it might push you over the edge mentally. Learn to recognize your individual triggers by noticing behaviors or symptoms that signal you are under stress. Here a few common examples:
- muscle tension
- lack of energy
- eating poorly
- lack of patience or flashes of uncharacteristic temper
- less focus or concentration
- increased tendency to smoke or drink alcohol
Take a break. When these symptoms develop, take them seriously and find a way to take a short break from work. If you are able to physically move away from your workplace for a short walk, do so. If not, take a shorter break by standing, stretching and breathing deeply for a few minutes to clear your head.
If your work centers on technology – i.e. you are working at a screen most of the day — can you unplug for a little while? Set periods of time when you silence your cell phone and turn off your laptop so that you can engage your mind in something else. By doing so, you can let technology work for you, rather than the other way around.
Find a way to vent your frustration. No one wants to have Debbie Downer at the office water cooler, but you can think of ways to discuss your frustrations that are healthy. It could be as simple as writing down a list of what is causing you problems and brainstorming ideas on how to handle it. Or you could arrange to meet a friend or family member to get an objective perspective on the situation. Be sure to let that person know if you don’t want advice but just want a listening ear.
Other factors that contribute to workplace stress are noise, poor lighting, lack of privacy, poor ventilation, inadequate heating or cooling. If the problem is a big one, your employer may have a system in place to help you. An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) may include online information, counseling or a referral to mental health professionals, if needed.
Take care of yourself. Eating well, getting enough rest and exercising regularly can help cut down on the symptoms of stress. Other ways to de-stress are by taking time to something that relaxes you such as listening to music or reading a book or magazine. Here are a few other ideas:
- Aromatherapy can decrease stress levels. Discover what scents appeal to you and keep that essential oil in your desk drawer.
- Get your C. Keep a fresh orange handy or have fresh slices or lemon in your water. Vitamin C is a known stress-reducer.
- Grab a power nap. A survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that about 30 percent of workers are allowed to take a nap at work, and some employers even provide a place for employees to nap. Plan to sleep for just 15 minutes for optimal stress reduction. Since it takes many of us 10 minutes to fall asleep, you may want to set your alarm for 25 minutes. Sleep experts say you can train your body to expect a nap during a certain time and, therefore, with practice, you will have an easier time falling asleep.
According to the APA, much of workplace stress – and in fact, stress in general — is caused by a feeling of powerlessness. This type of stress is often felt acutely by workers in service jobs and jobs that require you to respond to other people’s needs, such as secretaries, waiters, police officers, nurses, editors and middle managers. Common complaints of service-type jobs that cause stress are “too much responsibility” combined with “too little authority.”
If you find that none of these tips help and that you are continually stressed at work, it may be time to find another job. Most of us will spend about a fourth of our lives working, and that is too much time to spend in a stressful situation. Unrelieved stress can take its toll on our minds and bodies.