According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 percent of all employees view their job as the top stressor facing them. Stress is not always bad; it can be a motivator to complete tasks quickly and effectively. However, when stress becomes too great it can adversely impact workplace performance and even seep out into your personal life, impacting friendships, family life and recreation. A stressed out worker is an unhappy worker, and an unhappy worker is an unproductive worker.
It might not be feasible – or even necessary – to change jobs, so what else could you do? Here are a few steps to help you better manage your stress at work.
1. Identify the cause
It may seem simple, but identifying the root cause of your issues will help begin the healing process. According to the American Psychological Association, some common workplace stressors are low salaries, excessive workloads, few opportunities for growth or advancement, work that's uninteresting or that isn't challenging, a lack of social support, and a lack of power over your career.
These issues can have negative physical side effects, long and short term. You may experience headaches, stomachaches or sleep disturbances; have a shorter temper; or have difficulty concentrating. Chronic stress can result in anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system, the APA said. Such stress can also contribute to health conditions, such as depression, obesity and heart disease. Compounding the problem, people who experience excessive stress often deal with it in unhealthy ways such as by overeating, consuming unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes, or abusing drugs and alcohol. Self-awareness enables you to identify the things that trigger stressful states of mind and actively work to find better, healthier ways of coping. [Want to stress less? Try these five scientifically backed ways to reduce work stress.]
2. Assess your communication habits
Once you've identified some of the stress weighing on you, assess the way you're working and interacting with your colleagues. Slight changes to your communication and work style could establish a better connection with those around you and remove some anxiety.
Socialize with your co-workers. Do you have friendly relationships with your peers, or do you duck behind your computer screen and avoid contact? You don't have to be a social butterfly and hit up happy hour every week, but making small talk with your colleagues might actually help you relax. Bring up light, interesting subjects and get a conversation going. This can be beneficial for productivity and stress release, said Austin Paley, executive vice president of marketing at Podible, said.
"You will begin to understand one another on a more individual level and work in a more collaborative environment as a result," he added.
Even just getting to know the people on your immediate team can improve your mood and help you work together better.
Projects "can be very stressful if you're working with people you don't know well," Paley said. "Lead the team you're working with through team-building exercises when you have downtime — whether it's playing a cooperative game, going out for food or just doing something you all love — together in your free time."
Unplug. Being connected via your mobile device 24/7 comes with its own set of stressors. Constant phone calls, texts and email updates have become overwhelming, especially when you're answering messages after clocking out for the evening.
Say yes more often when co-workers offer help on a big project or are willing to collaborate. This will alleviate some workload, and staying organized and on task will make for a more productive workflow.
"While there are undoubtedly instances when staying connected is legitimately necessary, it's rare for a business to require that every team member stay logged on continuously. In fact, it's in a company's interest to allow employees to recover," social psychologist Ron Friedman wrote for Fast Company. "If an associate is frequently working late into the night and through the weekend, she is likely doing so at a cost to long-term engagement."
Keep a handwritten to-do list. Staying on task with a to-do list is essential for success. In the digital age, the notion of writing out your tasks for the day might seem tedious, wasteful and unnecessary. But Paley said that a prioritized, handwritten list of your most important to-do's could help you get a clearer outline of what your day should look like.
"By having a handwritten to-do list, my tasks for the day never get lost amongst all the other things happening on my computer over the course of a day, and I don't stress out over whether or not I'm forgetting any important tasks," Paley said.
"[Writing] the list in the morning helps to outline what the day will look like and make it clearer at the beginning of the day what needs to get done. Additionally, crossing off items of your list physically can be incredibly gratifying and instill a feeling of relief and accomplishment."
3. Do more for yourself
Your day-to-day practices and routines often play a huge role in your stress levels. Breaking bad habits and forging good ones can help you feel more at ease during the workday. Here are some good habits to adopt:
Schedule breaks into your day. If you're glued to your chair for the entire workday and never give yourself any time away from work-related tasks, you're much more likely to be stressed out. Paley advised building designated breaks into your daily schedule, and really sticking to them.
"Go for a walk, grab coffee, or take the time to sit down and have lunch," Paley said. "All of these things give you the time to clear your mind, give your brain a break from whatever you're working on and reduce stress. Breaks lasting no more than an hour won't cut into your productivity and are especially beneficial if you work in a position where creativity is important."
Paley noted that scheduling these breaks at similar times every day helps you train yourself to be prepared for a "brain reset," making you far more productive over the course of a day.
Devote time to physical, mental and emotional self-maintenance. John Koeberer, author of "Green-Lighting Your Future: How to Manifest the Perfect Life" (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013), said a healthy diet and regular exercise, along with a good self-image and spiritual practices, can prepare you to deal with stress successfully.
"Just the knowledge that your mind, body and soul are in sturdy shape is a huge deterrent to stress getting a foothold," Koeberer said.
Be kind to yourself. When you're bogged down with stress-inducing projects and deadlines, it can be difficult to see beyond them. Even long-term assignments end eventually, so you just need to keep going and remember that the challenges you're facing now will seem small and insignificant when you've finally overcome them.
"We can all recollect instances that we thought at the time were real deal-killers, only to have them turn out to be a small anthill," Koeberer said. "Adopt the thought that this, too, shall pass."
It may be impossible to eradicate every stressor from the workplace. You may not even want to do that, as some stress can be healthy and encourage you to meet deadlines and keep your head on straight. But working to eliminate bad stress and making your workplace healthier will change the way you view your job.
Additional reporting by Shannon Gausepohl, Nicole Fallon and Dave Mielach.