Managing Stress at Work

Illustration depicting multiple women multitasking at work, representing stress at work.

In planning this piece for Stress Awareness Month, I found myself getting stressed over the small stuff. Is my tone right, will I get this finished in time, does any of this make sense? 

But I wasn’t so stressed that I couldn’t complete it. In Everything you need to know about Stress, the Healthline states that stress isn’t always a bad thing. 

Everyone gets stressed and sometimes it’s good, it can spur you on to complete things early and be hyper-motivated. But, as Healthline points out, ‘stress should be temporary’. 

Mark Hauser, Applied Behavioural Scientist at The Team notes that ‘bad stress tends to be when the demands on us feel too difficult (or sometimes impossible) to meet.’ 

Bad stress can become all-consuming and ongoing and cause mental and physical harm. 

Since 1992, April has been Stress Awareness Month. Its aim is to help identify what stress and anxiety look like so we can spot the warning signs and prevent burn out.  

According to Mind, stress can manifest physically in panic attacks, sleep problems and nausea. Mentally it can cause low mood, anxiety and a short temper, to name just a few in a much larger list of symptoms. 

illustration depicting stress levels

Stressed at work, in a bad way? 

Sometimes we don’t realise how much we are being negatively affected by our stress levels, or how we are affecting others. 

If your work colleague is stressed, then you might feel stressed. If your manager is stressed, you may be stressed too. Then before you know it, dreaded domino effect kicks in and everyone in the office is stressed. 

In Kristi Hedges article ‘Making Sure Your Stress isn’t Contagious’, she notes that stress is a bit like the plague, it spreads.  

How do we manage stress?  

Here are a few top tips from Hedges article, alongside other research: 

  • Keep a stress journal. At the end of the day, identify what it was that made you stressed and patterns will start to emerge
  • If you know a stressful period is coming up at work, plan for it. Put some focus time in your diary and say no to meetings that you don’t have to be at. 
  • Let people know if you’re feeling stressed and what you’re doing to manage it.  That way you can share tips and tricks with your work pals. Sharing is caring after all.
  • Start practising breathing exercises- breath control connects us with our body, lowers our heart rate in times of stress, and helps us to feel calmer and in control of the situation. There is an excellent book on the art of breathing, by James Nestor.
  • Researchers at Stanford University suggests taking microbreaks- short breaks to stretch, walk to the printer, stare out the window, eat a biscuit, walk up the stairs and to just avoid screens. 

When stress gets out of control, it can be debilitating. It feels as if there is no way out, and you can find yourself stressing about stressing.  

But there are ways to help yourself.

What does your specific type of stress look and feel like? 

When I am stressed, I find it hard to focus on tasks. But it might be different for someone else, you may have more physical effects than mental. Or perhaps a mix of both. 

It’s also important not to blame yourself. Or panic. Finding out what works for you is the first step. Try out the stress journal, if it doesn’t capture your heart then something else might. 

So what’s the solution? 

Like most things, stress can be good in moderation. It becomes bad when it’s constant and you feel out of control.  

The first step is acknowledging it. 

Managing stress is very important and can really make a difference to your day-to-day. If you are struggling with bad stress or if you are trying to avoid it, try to integrate these tips into your routine.  

More resources: 

A Simple Way to Combat Chronic Stress by Alexander Caillet, Jeremy Hirshberg and Stefano Petti 

If You’re Overworked, Learn Which Tasks to Hand Off by Sabina Nawaz  

Why Talented People Fail Under Pressure by Sian Beilock