Workplace stress

Crazy demands from the boss, tight deadlines and long working hours can leave even the most stoic of us pulling out our hair.

In fact, according to research commissioned by mental health charity, Mind, work is the most stressful factor in people’s lives.

Mind surveyed over 2000 people and found that one in three people (34%) found their working lives either very or quite stressful, with work causing more stress to people than debt or financial problems (30%) or health (17%).

A certain amount of pressure at work can be a good thing, it helps to keep you motivated, energised and productive.

However, when there is too much pressure, stress can become a real problem, potentially affecting your mental health, leading to depression and anxiety.

Of course, some stress is difficult to avoid, but here are some things you can do to reduce stress levels in the workplace.

Stay organised

Even if you are a naturally disorganised person, forward planning and staying organised can greatly decrease stress at work. Make a ‘to-do’ list to help you prioritise your daily tasks and work out how long it will take to complete each one. If you have a large task to complete, try breaking it up into smaller tasks to make it easier to tackle. You’ll get a greater sense of accomplishment as you complete each task and hopefully feel more on top of things.

Try to keep your workspace organised, too. Cluttered spaces can have negative effects on our stress and anxiety levels, as well as our ability to focus, our eating choices, and even our sleep.

Furthermore, a study on the effects of clutter in the home found that individuals who felt overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff” in their homes were more likely to procrastinate. While it’s not certain if this generalises to the workplace, it’s possible that cluttered workspaces may produce the same negative effects, and the more you put off doing your work, the more stressed you’re likely to feel.

Set some boundaries

Research from global health service company Cigna reveals that 87% of managers admit to having their work phone on them outside of office hours and when on annual leave, setting an unhealthy precedent for staff.

Living in a digital age, it’s very easy for us to think that we need to be available 24 hours a day, but this could quickly cause you to burnout. It’s important to set some work-life boundaries for yourself. Set a cut-off time, and after this time switch off your work phone so you’re not tempted to check work emails or take any business calls.

Check out our blog for some more tips on switching off from work while away from the office.

Take a break

Taking regular breaks and getting away from your desk throughout the working day can improve your productivity and help reduce stress. When drowning in work, it may seem counterproductive to abandon your desk and take a breather, but you may find you return re-energised and ready to take on that big project.

Why not try the Pomodoro technique to break up your working day? The Pomodoro technique is a time management tool developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by a 3 to 5-minute break. Each 25-minute period is known as a ‘pomodoro’. After you have completed 4 pomodoro periods, you then take a longer break of 15-30 minutes.

The idea behind the technique is that by having short bursts of focused work, you can reduce the impact of internal and external interruptions on focus and flow. You may find the Pomodoro technique helps you feel more organised and less stressed.

Avoid unhealthy habits

Nearly three in five people (57%) say they drink alcohol after work and one in seven (14%) even drink during the working day to cope with stress and pressure at work. However, unhealthy behaviours like drinking alcohol can exacerbate our feelings of stress.

Eva Cyhlarova from The Mental Health Foundation explains: "Over time, heavy drinking interferes with the neurotransmitters in the brain that are needed for good mental health. So, while alcohol may help deal with stress in the short term, in the long run it can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety and make stress harder to deal with.”

Mental health charity Mind also found that 28 percent of people use smoking cigarettes as a coping mechanism for stress.

Many smokers believe that cigarettes help them to relax. However, stress levels can increase once the initial effects of nicotine wear off and smokers are more likely than non-smokers to suffer from depression and anxiety.

Take time to recharge

77% of employees fail to use their full holiday allowance, according to a survey conducted by BrightHR. Yet, taking time off work has been shown to have mental health benefits.

A study released in 2017 by the American Psychological Association concluded that time away from work helps to reduce stress by removing people from the activities and environments that they associate with stress and anxiety.

To avoid the negative effects of chronic stress, it’s important to switch off from the daily grind from time to time. Take advantage of your holiday allowance and take time off to pursue your hobbies or spend time with family and friends. You may find you come back to work feeling invigorated and ready to perform at your best.

Get moving

Working up a sweat can help manage physical and mental stress by increasing concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress.

Exercise can sharpen your focus and lift your mood, making tackling a stressful situation seem less daunting. If you struggle to make time for the gym, try squeezing in some exercise during your lunch break. This could be as simple as a ten-minute brisk walk. This can help you to blow off some steam and get those endorphins flowing.

For extra stress busting benefit, try taking your exercise outdoors. A study by experts at the University of Roehampton has shown that nature has a calming effect on us when it comes to exercising.

The team asked 140 people to report on their mood, stress levels, and feeling of anxiety before and after exercise and discovered that those who exercised in green outdoor spaces were less stressed than those who exercised indoors.

Speak out

Inform your manager and let them know that you are struggling. Be honest and let them know what the issues are, they may be able to help and prevent the situation from getting any worse. If you don’t tell them, how can they help?

If your stress has got so bad that it’s become a serious mental health problem, you may find you need to speak to your manager if you need certain adjustments to be made or you need to take time off to recuperate.

For some advice on how to talk to your employer about a mental health problem, read this guide from mental health charity, Mind.