More than 11 million working days are lost each year due to work-related stress, according to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). But it’s not always easy to recognise just how stressed you are – until it’s too late.
Signs you may be struggling with workplace stress include:
- Feeling nervous or twitchy
- Losing motivation and/or confidence
- Experiencing mood swings
- Being hyper-sensitive and tearful
- Getting into more arguments – both at work and at home
If that sounds familiar, here are five simple ways to ease the strain and enjoy a calmer, happier, and more productive working life.
1.Organise your day
Planning ahead is one of the best ways to reduce work-related tension.Mornings, for example, can be stressful, especially if you have to get the kids to school and fit in a lengthy commute all before you even sit down at your desk. So why not take the pressure off by getting up a bit earlier and putting the breakfast things out the night before?
“Taking the time to watch the sun rise is the best stress killer I’ve found, especially if you can find the time to watch it set too,” says offshore construction manager Sean McGree.
Once you’re at work, an online calendar such as Google’s are an easy way to stay on top of your appointments. Productivity apps such as Todoist can also help, as can simply writing an old-fashioned to-do list of achievable tasks at the start of your working day.
2. Set boundaries – and stick to them
Knowing when and how to switch off is one of the biggest challenges many workers have faced while working from home due to Covid-19. But when the lines between your work life and your home life become too blurred, it often leads to other issues such as insomnia and relationship problems.
A recent survey by HR software provider CIPHR found that not getting enough sleep is one of the most common causes of stress among UK adults, often because they don’t take the time to “wind down” after a day at work.
Keeping work emails and messages confined to a dedicated device is one way to protect your personal time.
“Don’t have work emails on your phone and turn your laptop off when you have done enough work for one day,” says payroll manager Harry Harris. “No-one’s going to get shot because you leave replying to an email until tomorrow morning.”
Mental health charity Mind also advocates developing end-of-day habits, such as tidying your desk or workspace when you have finished.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
People often feel stressed when they are unsure what is expected of them, or feel the goalposts keep moving. So, if you are unclear about the requirements of your role, or think what is expected of you is unrealistic, it’s important to raise the matter with a supervisor sooner rather than later.
That way you can make sure you are both on the same page, while also discussing potential strategies for meeting your goals, which may prove much more attainable than you thought.
Your employer may also offer counselling services via its Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), while many companies also run mentoring and buddy programmes that can help you do a better job, while keeping stress at bay.
4. Be a team player
Stress can be very isolating, so another way to avoid it all getting too much is to concentrate on forging good working relationships with the rest of your team.
A problem shared is a problem halved, the old adage goes; and that’s certainly true when it comes to letting off some steam with a quick rant about a difficult client or a troublesome piece of software, for example.
When you feel overwhelmed, being better connected to your workmates will also make it easier to ask them for help.
“Delegate both up and down when you need to,” says communications and marketing director Alex Casey. “But be careful to do it in a sensitive way. What one person thinks is a direct approach can come across as a personal attack to someone else.”
5. Prioritise exercise and fresh air
Leading a sedentary lifestyle is not good for us, so when you take a break, try to use it to get some fresh air and exercise. You could, for example, start your day off with an invigorating run or cycle ride, or just go out for a walk on your lunch break.
Even gentle exercise can lift your mood and clear your mind, while helping you to get into better shape at the same time.
“Look after your physical health,” Mind says. “Take short breaks throughout the day, as well as at least half an hour away from your desk at lunch. Spend some time outside if you can.”
Fighting workplace stress doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s mainly about being kind to yourself, for example by:
- Giving your working day a definite beginning and end – even if you are working from home
- Asking for help when you need it – and supporting colleagues when they need assistance
- Staying active – looking after your physical health is one of the best ways to protect your mental health
- Coping with stress when studying for your AAT qualifications
- How to help your employees with their mental health
- 5 ways to be a great manager
Jessica Bown is an award-winning freelance journalist and editor.