One of the leading causes of our stress relates to our working lives, whether it’s having packed schedules that don’t leave a minute for ourselves, heavy workloads that often see us working late, conflict with colleagues that makes us dread going to the office, to job insecurity or financial concerns. Reducing our stress at work isn’t always an easy mission - sure, a bit more money, fewer demands and maybe a 4-day working week could ease it, but that’s not exactly an option, available or even doable for many of us. So how can we reduce our stress, while navigating the terms of our jobs?
When it comes to work-related stress it can often feel like we can do very little to resolve it or reduce it - after all, our jobs aren’t always easy even when we truly love them, we might be a bit bored with our day-to-day activities, we might not really enjoy what we do but aren’t able to leave to find something new - especially during a financial crisis.
Stress at work is inevitable, we can’t always get rid of it, or just not turn up to avoid it, but we can try our best to reduce it. A key part of managing our stress levels is accepting them, and when it comes to our working lives, accepting the stress will be there, we won’t always have productive or positive days, they’ll be colleagues we don’t vibe with and vice versa or days where we get reprimanded by our boss or miss a deadline totally by accident.
Accepting some stress makes it easier to cope with. When we acknowledge things aren’t always breezy we’re better equipped to handle the not-so-breezy because we’ve taken some of the pressure off, the pressure for things to be perfect, to have a great day or even a stress-free job. But accepting some stress doesn’t mean we’re protected from the negative impacts it can have when it builds.
We can always try to live a healthy lifestyle and build habits that protect us against the negative effects of stress - like eating, sleeping and moving well, taking care of our emotional health and thinking abilities. While this won’t necessarily change how much stress we face at work, it will help us, again, feel better able to cope with that stress.
So what can we actually do to reduce our stress levels at work? The most effective way is to get comfortable with boundaries and do what we can to preserve our wellbeing while knowing that some days are still going to be filled with stress from time to time.
Here are 5 ways to reduce stress in the workplace
1. Take your breaks
Stop working through lunch, skipping straight into the next task after you’ve completed another, or arranging back-to-back meetings. Many of us struggle to take breaks during the working day because we often feel like we letting colleagues down, not pulling our weight, or being lazy. Actually, giving yourself a bit of time between meetings to process the information, taking time away from your screen, and going out for lunch - even if it’s just to the car park for some fresh air - can improve our focus and productivity when we return and help the pace of the day feel less rushed or frantic. In turn, this will help reduce our stress levels.
2. End your working day when your working hours finish
(As much as possible.) Many of us feel pressure to work late, stay past our office hours or even take work home answering emails all night. Which prevents us from really switching off and giving ourselves time to focus on other things in our lives - or work is clouding our mind while we’re trying to bathe the kids, eat dinner with our families or hang out with friends. When we successfully switch off from work, we give our brains chance to rest and recover. Of course, there might be times when we have to complete something before a deadline which means we have to work late or we might be eager to gain promotion so spend some time at home preparing for interviews. But where you can avoid working more than necessary to help you reduce your stress levels - prioritising tasks will help here to ensure you’re not feeling panicked when we run out of time or have to pick it up tomorrow (leave the less pressing, so there’s less pressure if we run out of the working day).
3. Organise your workload to stay on top of it
This might mean asking for help when it feels too heavy to successfully manage on your own or saying no to additional tasks or ones outside your role to prevent overloading your to-do list. It can also look like finding methods to organise your daily tasks, either using checklists or schedules to stay on top of things or prioritising important tasks to ensure these are completed in the most timely manner, while the less important or unnecessary tasks can be left for later, delegated to others or simply ruled out for the day. Your management is there to support you in this too, so use them when you need to ask for help, even if it feels hard!
4. Work in ways that suit you best
Where we can, speaking with our managers or those senior roles who can help us figure out the best ways to complete our tasks in ways that help us rather than hinder us. For example, we might work more productively in the afternoons and want to ensure we aren't disturbed or interrupted by communications, discussing this with management and ensuring roles you work closely with all understand might give you that focus time you've been after and can reduce your stress levels. Or you might want to create a hybrid schedule to effectively complete collaborative work and solo tasks in a better way for you. These conversations won't always end with us getting our way - if they did we'd probably all just ask for less workload and more perks - but not asking or seeking that support can see our stress levels rise further and further.
5. Develop your empathy
One of the leading causes of stress at work is conflict or difficult relationships, a group of stressed-out employees don’t exactly make for the most patient or calm interactions with each other. We can’t guarantee we’ll always see eye to eye, even when we’re not feeling frazzled but when we have empathy at work, we’re able to step back during challenging interactions and recognise and manage our emotions and reactions in return. Without empathy, conflicts rise more easily, for example, when our manager comes down on us, as a result of their manager coming down on them - with empathy, we can better recognise this, be more forgiving of their tone and move forward less disgruntled or likely to pass the bad vibes onto someone else. It’s not always easy to forgive difficult interactions, nor is it necessary where they are unreasonable, inappropriate or harassing, but it can make for a less stressful environment when we can approach each other with empathy.
These might seem straightforward, but many of us work through our breaks, work long or late hours and actually find it difficult to stay on top of our workloads - and it can often feel like we have to continue this way. Taking breaks, signing off when you actually finish, and staying organised can make the world of difference to our stress levels, and improve our productivity when we’re actually working.
It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves and manage our wellbeing as best we can, but there is always support available, inside and outside the workplace. It’s important to utilise the resources available to you at work, especially when it comes to work-related stress and conflict. As a society, we need to move away from this hustle culture that puts pressure on all of us and celebrates stress, exhaustion and burnout. If we can move away from this, we will all feel the benefits to our stress levels, reduce the pressure to outperform our wellbeing and feel better able to hold boundaries with less guilt.