Stress is something we all experience at least once in our lifetime. Even for the luckiest of us, stress can be a problem that complicates our work, social, and family lives.
Stress is loosely defined as your body’s reaction to a perceived threat or danger. Stress can also be understood as the human’s fight-or-flight response – a perfectly natural response to an external situation that threatens your survival. In nature, when presented with a threat, a creature’s normal instinct is either to fight and destroy the threat, or engage in flight and escape from the threat.
Stress becomes a problem when it strikes at a time when there’s no apparent danger. It can manifest itself in several ways:
- Stress can afflict the mind with worry and paranoia.
- Anxiety can grow into panic, which can cause physical symptoms like sweating and an increased heart rate.
- Irrational fears can cause you to avoid or flee from situations that pose no real threat.
Stress in the workplace
One of the most common causes of stress in the modern world is work. Since work is the backbone of most modernized Westerners’ survival, it makes sense that a threat to your job security could spur severe anxiety.
Work means deadlines and responsibilities. Completing your duties successfully is what leads to you getting paid and, ultimately, your survival. Naturally, people tend to link stable employment with stability in their lives in general, so if their job is threatened, they feel that their very life is threatened. Enter the fight-or-flight response.
The problem here is that our instinctual response serves very little purpose in a work environment. Fight-or-flight would help you confront a dangerous animal, but panicking when you’re in trouble at work just makes you liable to make even more mistakes, which contribute to more stress, and so the cycle continues.
Fortunately, there are techniques you can use to help manage stressful situations and, if you employ them diligently, to avoid stress entirely.
1. Practise breathing exercises
Breathing exercises are something simple that you can do anytime, anywhere.
Breathing exercises have been used as a reliable method of reducing stress since time immemorial. Breath is the most stable link between body and mind, and directing your focus to your breath prevents you from concentrating on whatever is causing you stress and anxiety.
Breathing exercises can be complex or simple. Complex breathing techniques are suitable for those who are familiar with meditation and other holistic practices; other exercises are very simple indeed.
The most simple breathing technique is to count each breath:
- Inhale slowly from the base of your diaphragm.
- A lot of people go through their lives without learning how to breathe properly. The chest cavity begins to feel full about halfway through a complete breath and this is when most people begin to exhale.
- Continue breathing beyond this point and you’ll notice that your lungs are far from full. Your abdomen – as well as your chest – should fill up before you exhale, though don’t inhale to the point of pain or discomfort.
- Follow a complete breath with a slow and complete exhale. This sequence counts as one full breath.
- Count each breath – you could try slowly extending the number of the breath during the inhale, continuing with the word “and” during the exhale, to create a smooth rhythm.
- Make sure your breaths are slow, steady, and, most importantly, intentional. Putting intent into your breaths allows you to direct more focus to your breathing.
One … and … two … and …
Our article on breathing exercises can give you more ideas on how to use your breath to reduce stress.
2. Improve communication
A lot of stress in the workplace is caused by poor communication.
Communication is the backbone of any functional social system – family, friendship, and work. Poor communication can lead to a whole lot of problems:
- A lack of communication can make it difficult for you to understand your duties at work. If your duties aren’t communicated properly, you won’t be able to finish them, which might get you into trouble.
- Poor communication can cause misunderstandings, which can lead to hurt feelings or errors of judgment.
There are several things you can do to improve communication in the workplace:
- Make sure your co-workers and employers are on the same page as you. Ask them if you’re stepping out of line, if everything’s getting done, and if there’s anything you can do to help them.
- Consider getting a communication board for everyone to write down their thoughts about the work environment anonymously.
3. Make sure you’re not overworking yourself
This may seem like common sense, but a lot of people unwillingly overwork themselves.
Your job description should list the requirements of your job, including anything physically demanding. Make sure that the work you’re doing isn’t more demanding than the work you agreed to do! Many people find themselves in difficult and stressful situations because their employers, knowingly or unknowingly, subject them to bigger workloads than they agreed to.
4. Keep your brain healthy
Stress is a physical response to a mental trigger, and it can induce sweating, tremors, a fast heartbeat, and high blood pressure.
Keeping your mind strong and healthy can help to limit the frequency of stress responses. Since stress is a form of panic or anxiety, it makes sense that having a well-protected brain decreases the chances having a stress reaction:
- Make sure you have a healthy diet. Ensuring that you get a proper balance of vitamins and minerals is the best way to make sure your brain is in tip-top shape.
- Get enough sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll find yourself more susceptible to irrational emotional outbursts, particularly at times of stress.
5. Enjoy your job
This is easier said than done for a lot of people. Sometimes you can’t help but get stuck in a job you don’t enjoy. Staying in a terrible job can be horrific for someone hoping to maintain a positive state of mind, and the prospect of having to return to an unpleasant work environment can be a huge stressor.
If you don’t like your job and none of the techniques above help you to enjoy your time in the workplace more, you might want to consider looking for a new job. Try not to leave spontaneously – this could leave you broke, hungry, and even more stressed! – but take some time during your days off to look for a different place of employment.
Pretty much everyone finds their workplace stressful at some point, whether they work in a busy kitchen or organize documents in their home office.
Fortunately, there are plenty of methods to help you manage the stress you encounter at work. These methods have proven effective for countless people, so hopefully they can help you, too!