Knowledge is power. Power is Knowledge. Whatever school of thought you subscribe to, there is one thing on which we can all agree – once we identify our triggers, we can then know how to best manage them to live a relatively untriggered life – no matter what challenges lie ahead.
Even if you love what you do, stress is inevitable. Whether it is the pressure to meet a deadline, fulfilling a challenging obligation, not receiving the expected raise or promotion, a client turning a productive meeting sour, stress inducing situations in the work place are plenty. While certain amount of stress is normal and even good to keep the employee at task, when work stress becomes chronic, it can be overwhelming and harmful to both our physical and emotional well-being.
According to the 2012, American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America Survey, sixty five per cent of Americans cited work as a top source of stress. Only thirty seven per cent of those surveyed said they were doing an excellent or very good job managing stress. A similar 2013 survey by American Psychological Association’s Centre for Organisational Excellence found that job-related stress is a serious issue, with more than one-third of working Americans experiencing chronic work stress. What is even more concerning is that according to the survey, only thirty six per cent, a significantly low percentage of Americans who were surveyed, said that their organisations provide sufficient resources to help employees manage the stress.
According to Safe Work Australia, stress is costing the country’s business sector more than AUD 10 billion every year, a number that has taken a big leap since 2010 statistics when stress-related predicaments in offices cost the country’s business segment a relatively more conservative, AUD 730 million. Numbers from the American Institute of Stress also shows that stress costs the American industry more that USD 300 billion annually.
It is no surprise that a huge amount of research is being carried out to study the effects of work stress on parameters such as job satisfaction, life satisfaction, productivity, mental and physical wellbeing.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health: “Fact Sheet on Stress”, Forty-three per cent of all adults suffer adverse effects from stress and that seventy five per cent to ninety per cent of all doctor visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
Chronic stress plays part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, asthma, skin conditions, arthritis, depression and anxiety.
Results from the Attitudes in the American Workplace VII survey of the American Institute of Stress (2001), highlight that eighty per cent of workers feel stress on the job, where nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress and forty-two per cent say their co-workers need such help. The survey also reported that fourteen per cent of respondents had felt like striking a co-worker in the past year, but didn’t, and twenty-five per cent have felt like screaming or shouting because of job stress. Ten per cent of the respondents also expressed concerns about an individual at work they fear could become violent and nine per cent reported being aware of an assault or violent act in their workplace.
Essentially, an individual’s personality, experiences and other unique characteristics play a crucial role in determining their response to stress and overall coping mechanisms. It is due to this individual uniqueness that explains why certain events and situations are distressing for some and not for the others.
By and large an individual’s unique characteristics also determine which coping mechanism works best for them. While deciding what works and what doesn’t, it is also beneficial to remember that effective stress management is not easy and requires time and practice. Patience and persistence are the keys to developing stress management skills that are imperative to an individual’s overall health and wellbeing.
We’ve put together a few stress-busting strategies to keep your cool at work:
First step to combating stress is learning to identify individual stress triggers. This involves observing your own behaviour and reactions. Reflecting on your reaction as it is (what), reasons for reaction (why) and your individual feelings (how) is the key to identifying and analysing individual work-related fears and stresses. Using introspection to evaluate your triggers helps in keeping track of your own thoughts, feelings and information from the environment, including people and circumstances involved, physical setting and your own reactions, to understand patterns of behaviour.
Next, have perspective. Developing an understanding of your own-self goes a long way in knowing how to keep perspective. Having an understanding the triggers and reactions, helps an individual stay on track and manage feelings better. When feelings are in control, getting your own point across and getting the other’s point of view, even in a high-intensity situation, becomes easy. Another way to maintain perspective is finding someone to talk to. Be it a colleague, manager or a counsellor. Talking with a trusted person about the work-issue may provide valuable insights and offers ways for coping. If nothing else, sometimes simply talking about a stressor can provide relief.
Another way to beat stress is by lowering expectations and setting realistic goals. Scheduling more than one can handle is a great stressor. It is important to work with leaders to set realistic expectations and deadlines and discuss any experience of overload. Learning to say, ‘No’ to eliminate any activities which one cannot take up or do and carefully consider any time-based commitment before making, are ways to keep expectations clear. It is also important to set regular progress reviews with leaders and adjust individual goals whenever required.
Next, in today’s digitalised work world, creating clear boundaries between personal and work-life is extremely important to keep stress at bay. This might involve making a rule not to check emails from home in the evening, or not answering the phone during dinner. Whatever be the boundaries, setting them and if need be communicating them to those at work and at home, is important to maintain peace.
Moving on, another way to beat stress is by bettering your time management skills. Pressures at work are abundant and the fact of the matter is time doesn’t stop for anyone. Prioritising work and working with To-do lists are effective strategies to keep one-self from feeling pressured and overwhelmed at work. Using electronic planners to schedule appointments, goals and activities to carry out goes a long way in accomplishing more through the work-day.
Next, as much as planning work is important taking a break to unwind and caring for one-self is equally important to prevent stress related break-downs. Even on the busiest days at work, it is important to stop, pause and refresh one-self. Step out for a quick walk to breathe in some fresh air or share a quick joke over coffee with a work- friend to prevent burnout.
Also, periodically, taking time to ‘switch- off’ from work by having periods of time when one is neither engaging in work-related activities, nor thinking about work helps prevent stress related breakdowns or burnout. Taking a trip to some place nice or just engaging in activities that one enjoys helps avoid the negative effects of stress.
Exercising, practicing meditation, staying away from alcohol, drugs and caffeine are also ways in which one can take care and fight stress. Including some physical activity in your daily life and eating a healthy, junk-free diet helps balance those stress hormones. Getting enough quality sleep is also important for effective stress management. Another very important stress management technique is learning how practice deep breathing. Deep breathing helps instantly lower the heightened blood pressure, thereby reducing the stress one is experiences after a long hectic day or a heated client meeting.
Finally, when nothing works and managing your emotions and reactions becomes an overwhelming task, seek professional help. A mental health professional will help you hone your coping skills and unlearn unhealthy behavioural responses to deal with stress effectively.