How to minimise stress in the workplace
A degree of stress can be extremely useful, allowing us to perform at our optimum. Unfortunately, however, excess stress dents productivity and engenders a negative working environment. In order to access your full potential, you first need to be in a positive mental space that's conducive to success.
Now that we in the UK are clocking longer office hours than the vast majority of our European counterparts, with stress levels at a maximum, all senior management teams should be prioritising ways of working smarter, not harder. Contrary to popular belief, being productive is not the same as being busy!
Feelings of being anxious and strained can arise from a huge range of concerns; from the fear of being made redundant to nerves over an upcoming presentation. Thankfully, there are a number of steps you can take to help manage these emotions and improve your job satisfaction and general well-being - here are five of them:
1. Don't suffer in silence
A pretty good blanket rule for life is never to keep emotions bottled up for any length of time. Sharing serious concerns or feelings of anxiety might be intimidating at first, for fear of being perceived weak, but in almost every instance it provides instant relief.
You should, however, make a distinction between who you share what information with. Outside the office, feel free to air any grievance, no matter how grave - being a shoulder to cry on is part of the close friend or family job description. Inside the workplace, on the other hand, you'll need to be careful how you couch negative sentiment for risk of being identified as a drain on morale. Rather than blowing off steam by the espresso machine, go through the proper channels to try and resolve your situation, e.g. raising concerns during line-manager meetings. There's always someone willing to listen and speaking out helps, so go and find them.
On a more general note, just having a good rapport with your colleagues helps foster a sense of belonging and alleviate stress, even if it doesn't directly address the cause of your concerns.
2. Don't dwell on negative thoughts
It can sometimes feel good to dwell on negative or sad thoughts as it makes our lives seem slightly larger and more interesting - this is why we all like a good moan! However it only prolongs feelings of mental angst. If your stress originates from one particular part of your job then try instead to focus on all the things you like about your position. If there are none, leave.
Changing the way you think about your job is key to tackling feelings of anxiety and dread. Try and think about things objectively when particularly under pressure or stressed out; isolate negative thoughts as soon as they enter your head, recognise them as unhelpful and expel them.
3. Take care of yourself
Your working day might be slightly chaotic, but never neglect your physical health. As stated by the Mayo Clinic, "Exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever. Being active can boost your feel-good endorphins and distract from daily worries." Doctors advise just under half an hour of exercise each day to stay healthy.
"Being active" doesn't necessarily require you to sign-up to a 30 minute spin class. Just making sure you're taking adequate time away from your desk each day to take in some fresh air can also have a hugely positive impact on your overall mood. Caffeine, nicotine, trans-fats and alcohol will also only exacerbate anxiety and should be consumed in moderation if you want to stay calm and focused in the workplace. Steering clear of these guilty pleasures will have the additional plus effect of helping you obtain a good night's sleep - another key step towards minimising stress.
4. Work smarter, not harder
Stress can originate from feelings towards a certain colleague, project or even your commute, but most of the time it's simply because you're working yourself too hard and are experiencing burnout. Establish an effective way of working smarter, not harder - starting by conducting a full review of how you structure your day and prioritise tasks.
• Are there tasks you dedicate too much time to?
• Are there tasks you could delegate to colleagues or at least get some assistance with?
• Do you schedule your easiest tasks for the post-lunch lull when fatigue usually sets in?
• Do you tackle your most taxing tasks first, putting you on the front foot for the day?
• Are there programs or processes which could help you with certain tasks, e.g. becoming adept with Excel to more efficiently construct timesheets and cost estimates?
It's unlikely that you've streamlined your working day as much as theoretically possible; none of us have. If the above points don't provide any inspiration for how you can work smarter then sit down with your line manager or mentor and work through possible solutions.
5. Establish a clear trajectory for your career
Another principal cause of work-related stress is career confusion. If you feel as though you're not in the right job, that you'd be better off elsewhere or that there isn't sufficient room for growth in your current role, then you're naturally going to feel more stressed: stressed at the prospect of stagnation, stressed at the lack of opportunity, stressed at the fear of poverty.
Putting together a five-year plan, ideally with the help of others, can help bring clarity of purpose to your current career situation. If you know where you want to be and how to get there, then you're less likely to get bogged down by feelings of stress and anxiety - for there is light at the end of the tunnel! If you're struggling to see that light, even after organising a comprehensive career review, then maybe we can help?
Ultimately stressful situations need to be strangled at birth, if not they may spiral out of control and become all-consuming. When confronted with feelings of dread and anxiety ask yourself whether there's anything you can do about it. If there is: great, get on with it. If there's not: why are you worrying?