Workplace Stress: Coping Strategies

Workplace stress is highly personal. Some people thrive in fast-paced jobs, such as emergency room nurses, police officers and air-traffic controllers. These are stressful jobs where making a mistake can put people’s lives at risk.

Some of us wouldn’t last a day in such high-pressure environments. But that doesn’t mean our jobs are less stressful. Every job has its own kind of stress. There could be short deadlines, endless paperwork or the occasional angry customer. Or there may be meetings that drag on for hours, putting everyone even more behind. All can cause stress.

“It’s not just the job that creates stress,” said Diana Knaebe, system administrator for Memorial Behavioral Health. “It’s also the way a person responds to the pressures and demands of each workplace that makes them stressed. Not surprisingly, people respond to stress differently. Constant stress can affect your emotions and behavior. It can make you grouchy, impatient, less excited about your job and even depressed.”

Short-term physical effects of stress may include headaches, shallow breathing, trouble sleeping, anxiety and upset stomach while long-term effects can include heart disease, back pain, depression, lasting muscle aches and pains or a weakened immune system.

Need coping tips for work-related stress? Consider these:

  • Check reality. When you’re in a high-pressure situation, examine your train of thought to see if it’s adding to the stress you feel. Are you imagining a far worse outcome than is likely? Is the project or situation likely to affect your job approval, reputation or income? Are you really out of your league? Or are the immediate demands really more of a challenge than a disaster in the making?
  • Manage your time. Correct time and priority management can reduce a lot of workplace stress. Start each day by making a to-do list of tasks, calls and emails. Prioritize the list according to tasks you must do, those you would like to do and those that can wait. Don’t schedule too much. And build in time for interruptions.
  • Take a break. Hourly mini-breaks where you stretch your shoulders, back and neck can provide physical stress relief. This can then reduce mental stress. Lunch is often skipped at the expense of more stress. Put your lunch break on the schedule.
  • Be realistic. Avoid promising to do more than you can handle. Try this response, “With the workload I have, I can’t take on more at this time.”
  • Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. A healthy diet rich in whole foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein may reduce stress. Having lots of caffeine, sugar and alcohol can increase it. Many studies have found exercise reduces stress. Aerobic exercise works best for most people. Consider running, swimming or brisk walking. Yoga, Pilates, tai chi or simple stretching can also help by creating a calmer, meditative state.
  • Talk with a family member or friend outside of work about issues that cause your stress at work. Sharing with trusted people can help you put things in perspective. Explore solutions and ways to cope together.
  • Seek help. If you’ve tried these self-help methods but continue to be highly stressed, get help. Talk with a mental health provider who specializes in stress management.