Whether we are stay-at-home parents, busy executives, or part of today’s business world on overdrive, we’re silently dealing with mental and physical exhaustion and burnout. Sometimes it feels as if there’s no way out.
What’s more, we’re also being told we need to lean in while simultaneously appearing as though we have this whole ‘work-life balance’ thing sorted out.
But the reality is that the demands of our work and interpersonal issues are the leading sources of workplace stress.
Suicides related to workplace issues are also rising. In 2013, the most recent available statistics, 270 U.S. employees completed suicide at work — a 12 percent increase over 2012. Workplace stress is believed to be the leading factor in suicides when workers experience little or no control over high job demands.
If we look at this over a generation, a government report found that the number of hours worked increased 8 percent in one generation to an average 47 hrs/week with 20 percent working 49 hrs/week.
In addition to the increase in workload, we need to take into consideration today’s economic upheavals, downsizing, layoffs and bankruptcies. This has cost hundreds of thousands of employees their positions. Millions more sense upheaval and change in their roles and wonder how much longer they’ll be employed.
As a result, the fiscal and physical consequences on both individuals and corporations appears to be worsening.
Some Scientific Background On Stress
Before turning to some strategies and coping techniques, it’s first important to understand what stress is and how occupational stress is defined in the modern era.
The founding father of stress theory remains, undoubtedly, Dr. Hans Selye, who distinguished between internal and external stressors. Selye coined the word, “stress,” back in 1936.
Dr. Selye advanced the theory that stress plays a role in every disease and that failure to cope with or adapt to stressors can produce “diseases of adaptation”, including hypertension, heart attacks, high blood pressure and ulcers. He called his theory the “General Adaptation Syndrome.”
According to Selye, the human body developed its natural response on account of our ancestors having to survive dangerous encounters with predators (or with one another).
This response demanded the introduction of adrenaline into the bloodstream alongside cortisol to induce the flight-or-fight response.
Here’s a reminder on what stress is:
Stress is the body’s reaction to dealing with any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger, real or imagined, the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction or the ‘stress response.’
This positive response to danger serves us well when confronted with a harrowing situation. But in the case of stress, too much of a good thing is a problem in modern day society.
The Effects of Chronic Stress
Your nervous system isn’t good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats. If you’re stressed over planning an event, a deadline, or an argument, your body reacts just as strongly as if you’re facing a life-or-death situation.
Selye went out to detail this ‘tipping point’ from eustress to distress which we know as chronic stress. A person’s ability to perform begins to diminish. They may experience exhaustion, ill health. And, eventually, the individual succumbs to either an emotional, physical, mental, or complete breakdown.
Work-related stress doesn’t disappear when you return home. When stress persists, it can take a toll on your health and well-being. Here are some key strategies for nipping stress in the bud once and for all.
How to Handle Stress at Work: Before, During and After
Survival Strategy 1: Before Work
Identify exactly why you might be stressed at work. Consider reflecting, either meditatively or by keeping a journal, about what upsets you most. Then dive deeply into the following 3 techniques so as to find the one that works best.
- Stressbuster 1: If you didn’t pick up on our first tip above, then grab a pen and a pad of paper (or Post-Its from the always-filled office cupboard). Take notes on what stresses you out on a daily basis. Record your thoughts or feelings about a situation.
- Stressbuster 2: Once you know your triggers, or stressors and take them into account before work, you can dispel ill feelings or emotions before sitting in front of your desk. By coming to work aware of what might cause you distress, you’re more likely to perform optimally. Being emotionally aware may help you better deal with situations or persons who send your heart rate through the roof and your health into the danger zone.
- Stressbuster 3: We encourage overworked workers to try to get 8 or more hours of sleep. You should also reduce caffeine throughout the day and stop drinking caffeine by 2pm. Otherwise it remains in your system when you’re attempting to sleep.
Survival Strategy 2: During Work
- Stressbuster 4: Avoid office politics and toxic situations. We know, this is hard. But behind our workload, the leading cause of workplace stress is interpersonal conflict. It was the second most widely reported issue at between 13 and 28 percent of all those who suffer from it. If you’re in the midst of continuous conflict, you can’t let it continue. Meet with HR and you can take the necessary steps to organize a meeting to address your concerns and find a solution. This alone might remove a huge weight off your shoulders.
- Stressbuster 5: Take a break from the constant interruptions and go for a walk outside. Physical movement is known to improve concentration, reduce muscle tension, and improve your creativity.
- Stressbuster 6: Speak up if you need help. Is there an inner critic pushing you to work beyond your means? Are you becoming your own worst enemy? Or is your manager simply unaware of how stressed you are with the amount of work they’ve given you? If that’s the case, stop multitasking and trying to be perfect. If you’re overwhelmed with your workload but you haven’t spoken up, speak to your manager about delegating (see above) if you are overscheduled.
Survival Strategy 3: After work.
Assuming you’ve made it through your day, now it’s on to the drive home, dinner and getting ready for the next day.
- Stressbuster 7: Look after your body and exercise regularly. Physical activity releases feel-good, stress-relieving chemicals. Every time you find your stress level on the rise, get up and move. Walk around the building to stretch your legs. Does your work offer a jogging club? Or do they have a gym? The better your fitness, the healthier you are and the better you are to deal with stress.
- Stressbuster 8: Reflect on whether you’re in the right job. Perhaps you’ve tried all the above strategies, but nothing seems to have changed. In that case, spend some time really thinking about what you want to leave and what you want to gain with your next employer. Career counseling and coaching is another way of making sure you reach your goals in the long term.
Where Do I Get Help From Here? Resources That Will Help
Whatever the source of your stress, speak to your manager or someone in your organisation that you feel comfortable talking to. Or get outside help. Employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees.
- Sign up for updates on World Suicide Prevention Day 2019 and the International Association for Suicide Prevention.
- Find a crisis centre in your province or territory.
- ementalhealth.ca to find mental health services, and support in your community.
- Canadian Mental Health Association – find your local CMHA office to access support and resources.
- ConnexOntario to find services for drug and alcohol, gambling or mental health issues.
- Transgender Crisis Line: 1-877-330-6366.
- Find a therapist in your local area (a global resource).
- How to find a psychologist.
- YouthSpace (30 Years of Age and Under) Youthspace.ca is made up of a community of volunteers to support anyone they can. Text 778-783-0177 (6pm – 12am PST)
- Local crisis centre.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to be directed to a crisis centre closest to you.
- National Hopeline – call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) to speak to a crisis counsellor.
- The Trevor Project – provides crisis and suicide support for LGBTQ youth, 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386).
- Find a therapist in your local area.
- HelpPRO therapist finder
Resources outside Canada and the United States
All Photos From Shutterstock