Workplace stress

Stress in the workplace is one of the most common causes of decreased work efficiency. In turn, stress comes from many sources, most of which can be controlled. Finding out the source of your work stress is the first step towards solving this problem.

Before enumerating the strategies for managing stress in the workplace, we’d like to emphasize that stress has long ago become the basic part of our careers and life in general. It’s important to realize that there is no way to stay absolutely “stress-free” in a highly competitive, demanding, and fast-changing work environment. It is highly probable that some people have work-related problems because they think that one must always be efficient and unaffected by stress- once they encounter stress-evoking situations, they are prone to exaggerate the problem.

In the vocabulary of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, this is called intolerance to frustration. Later in the text, we’ll see how this source of excessive work stress is dealt with.

Another important term for our present discussion comes from Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, which is a specific therapy within a CBT framework. Albert Ellis, the founder of this therapy, postulated unconditional acceptance of oneself, others, and the world, as one of the most important criteria of mental health. A person who wants to learn how to deal with stress at the workplace first has to accept her own vulnerability, occasional emotional instability, and other common flaws. The truth is, we are all vulnerable and prone to the detrimental influence of various factors that might impede our efficiency. To put it differently, you can learn all the strategies for managing stress, but they will be efficient only once you accept that you’re just a normal human being who sometimes feels negative emotions.

To some, these precautionary statements may seem irrelevant, and even misleading. But the necessity of emphasizing the importance of the unconditional acceptance of oneself becomes evident once we consider how one might react when there is a significant lack of such acceptance. Let’s say that you’re having this irrational belief: “I must always be efficient and resistant to stress. A person who is sometimes unable to manage stress in the workplace is an incapable, unprofessional, and irresponsible individual.”. We cannot emphasize enough just how negative these kinds of beliefs are, and how they get in the way of normal coping with stress at work. Individuals with such irrational beliefs are often very good learners- they will learn and implement all the strategies for managing stress- and may even start to feel less stressed out. However, the very instant their new coping strategies start to backfire, everything starts to crumble. Even if there were any kind of progress before, it will pale when faced with new challenges in dealing with stress.

Let’s see how this person would have reacted had she possessed a healthier belief, for instance: “ Although I started learning all these strategies for coping with workplace stress, this doesn’t mean that I am immune to stress altogether. Just as I might get the flu once in a while, so can my immunity to stress decrease every now and then. Just because I failed to cope with stress at my workplace once doesn’t mean that all the previous work is worthless. This simply means that I am a normal person who is sometimes more vulnerable.”

This kind of thinking will then help you pinpoint the specific factors that might increase your vulnerability, and in turn, decrease the efficiency of ways to relieve stress.

 Common Sources and Reasons of Workplace Stress

According to the American Psychological Association, there are numerous factors that may contribute to the onset of work-related stress. It is important to note that the nature of strategies to manage workplace stress depends on the type of the source:

  1. Feeling that you’re not paid enough
  2. Lack of control over job decisions
  3. No opportunities for advancement 
  4. Having to face conflicting demands
  5. Having no social support
  6. Too much work
  7. Not liking the job

Thus, in order to find a solution to your problems you’ll have to be able to pinpoint the cause and source of workplace-related issues. For instance, if you have too much work, the simplest solution will revolve around decreasing your workload. On the other hand, it may not be that easy to get over the fact that you simply don’t like your job.

Unfortunately, there are no straightforward solutions that are linked to specific sources of stress. While assertiveness may be the key to getting a better salary, being more assertive might also be a good way to gain more control over job-related decisions. On the other hand, for some individuals, being assertive might not be as helpful.

In other words, getting acquainted with the most general strategies to manage workplace stress is a must if you want to be able to learn how to deal with stress in a wide array of situations.

How To Combat Workplace Stress

Once again, APA offered a set of effective ways to combat these issues:

Knowing your stressors

Stay vigilant and keep track of the things that agitate you. You can simply write your thought down, recording the most important aspects of stressful work situations- context, “actors”, and things that happened. You should also write down the way you reacted and the way you felt after everything had finished. Thanks to this procedure, you’ll be able to amass a good deal of data, and see the typical situation that “gets you going”. Also, by writing down your emotional, cognitive, and behavioral reactions to adverse situations, it will be easier to come up with coping strategies. For instance, a person who has mainly bad behavioral reactions (e.g. becoming excessively angry, impulsive, and irritable) can learn various anger management strategies, while a person who mostly feel anxious (adverse emotional reaction) can employ various relaxation exercises.

Changing the way you respond

Developing a set of healthy reactions is the next step, which comes after you’ve identified the most problematic sources of workplace-related stress. APA mentions exercise as a good way to battle unwanted reactions to problematic contexts. A good thing is- any kind of exercise is good. Yoga, jogging, or gym training, anything will do.

Setting clear boundaries

The boundary between private life and professional life has long ago become blurry and obscure. And with our new technological gadgets, we’re practically available 24/7. If you’ve noticed that the pressure of always being available started to take its tall, try to make some very specific rules like, for instance: “don’t check phone during dinner”, or “don’t read e-mails while in bed”. Needless to say, it would be best if your business partners knew about these decisions, so they are aware that you won’t be available during certain time periods.

Learn relaxation techniques

If you feel excessive worry, anxiety, or even guilt, getting relaxed is the first step towards solving your problems. People often have a lot of unhealthy ways to relax- drinking, using drugs, etc. The truth is, you can relax with the help of various exercises that were developed by the most eminent psychologists and therapists. For instance, Progressive Muscle Relaxation might be a good choice for people who have mainly physical signs of stress. With the help of this technique, you’ll learn how to progressively relax all parts of your body (hence the name).

Talk to your boss

This is where assertive communication will show its effectiveness. More specifically, whatever you have in mind, you should be clear about it, even when you’re talking with your direct superior. However, it is not simply enough to communicate your thoughts and feelings- you also have to do it in an assertive way. We’ve described what assertiveness is in some other texts, and here we’ll only briefly enumerate the most important characteristics of assertive demeanor:

  • Rationality
  • Control
  • An assertive person is not overwhelmed by emotions
  • An assertive person is neither passive nor aggressive

Getting professional support

There are so many psychotherapies (psychoanalysis, CBT, Gestalt, etc.) and sometimes it may be hard to choose the right one. When it comes to getting rid of stress, we think that CBT therapies are much more efficient thanks to their focus on practical problems. The so-called “third way” of cognitive-behavioral therapies might be particularly efficient for people who want to learn about stress management strategies at work. Why? Because these therapies teach us that acceptance of negative experiences that cannot be avoided is an essential part of mental health. Moreover, these therapies incorporate various techniques that help you accept and overcome the hardships you face in the present moments. In the next section, we will describe these guided imagination techniques, which have been proven to significantly relieve negative experiences coming from all spheres of life.

What to Do If You Are Overwhelmed by Stress At The Workplace?

As implied above, we would advise you to employ an imagination coping technique, which will help you anchor yourself in the present moment, refrain from making hasty, far-fetched conclusions, thus helping you stay nice and calm. You can improve this skill by meditating regularly, it develops your mental strength and ability to stay focused but relaxed at the same time. There are also additional skills that are so important to master to be able to manage stress: assertiveness, being confident about yourself, looking rationally at yourself and being able to pause before any hasty decisions could be made. We hope you’d find more resources in our Library to develop these skills and achieve a lasting peace of mind.