Research has indicated that the percentage of Americans who are stressed at work is high—and it’s only getting higher. According to a survey of more than 2,000 full-time U.S. employees, ages 18-79, more than half of employees find themselves stressed during at least 60 percent of the workweek.
Work stress has significant health consequences that range from relatively benign (like getting more colds and flus) to potentially serious (such as heart disease and metabolic syndrome).
While stress at work is common, finding a low-stress job is hard (if not impossible). A more realistic approach is to adopt effective coping strategies to reduce stress at your current job. Here are some stress management techniques you can try if you are finding it hard to cope with work stress.
Start Your Day off Right
After scrambling to get the kids fed and off to school, dodging traffic and combating road rage, and gulping down coffee in lieu of a healthy breakfast, many people arrive to work already stressed. This makes them more reactive to stress in the workplace.
You might be surprised by how affected by workplace stress you are when you have a stressful morning. When you start off the day with planning, good nutrition, and a positive attitude, you might find that the stress of your job rolls off your back more easily.
Be Clear on Requirements
A factor known to contribute to job burnout is unclear requirements for employees. If you don’t know exactly what is expected of you, or if the requirements for your role keep changing with little notice, you might become extremely stressed.
If you find yourself never knowing if what you are doing is enough, it may help to have a talk with your supervisor. You can take the time to go over expectations and discuss strategies for meeting them. This can relieve stress for both of you!
Stay Away From Conflict
Interpersonal conflict takes a toll on your physical and emotional health. Conflict among co-workers can be difficult to escape, so it’s a good idea to avoid conflict at work as much as you can.
When possible, try to avoid people who don’t work well with others. If conflict finds you anyway, make sure you know how to handle it appropriately.
Even if you’re a naturally disorganized person, planning ahead to stay organized can greatly decrease your stress at work. Being organized with your time means less rushing in the morning to avoid being late as well as less hustling to get out at the end of the day.
Keeping yourself organized can also mean avoiding the negative effects of clutter, and being more efficient with your work.
Another surprising stressor at work is physical discomfort, often related to where you perform most of your daily tasks (such as your desk).
You might not notice you’re stressed if you’re sitting in an uncomfortable chair for just a few minutes, but if you practically live in that chair when you’re at work, you might have a sore back and be more reactive to stress because of it.
Even small things like office noise can be distracting and cause feelings of low-grade frustration. Do what you can to create a quiet, comfortable, and soothing workspace.
Multitasking was once heralded as a fantastic way to maximize one’s time and get more done in a day. However, people eventually began to realize that if they had a phone to their ear and were making calculations at the same time, their speed and accuracy (not to mention sanity) often suffered.
There is a certain “frazzled” feeling that comes from splitting your focus and it doesn’t work well for most people. Instead of multitasking to stay on top of your tasks, try another cognitive strategy like chunking.
Walk at Lunch
Many people feel the ill effects of leading a sedentary lifestyle. You can combat the physical and mental effects of work stress by getting some exercise on your lunch break.
If your schedule allows for it, you might try taking short exercise breaks throughout the day. This can help you blow off steam, lift your mood, and get into better shape.
Keep Perfectionism in Check
Being a high achiever might make you feel good about yourself and help you excel at work, but being a perfectionist can create problems for you (and those around you).
You might not be able to do everything perfectly, every time—especially in a busy, fast-paced job. A good strategy to avoid the perfectionism trap is always striving to just do your best and making time to congratulate yourself on your efforts. You may find that your results are better and you’ll be much less stressed at work.
Listen to Music on the Drive Home
Listening to music offers many benefits and can be an effective way to relieve stress before, during, and after work. Playing an uplifting song while you make breakfast can help you start the day off feeling better prepared to interact with the people in your life. Likewise, combating the stress of a long day with your favorite music on the drive home can help you wind down and feel less stressed when you get there.
By Elizabeth Scott, PhD