No matter how you work – from home, on-site, in a team, by yourself, for a large business, or as a freelancer – you can go through periods of stress.
You’ve probably experienced stress at work before, but perhaps it’s not always been easy to pin down exactly what caused it or what it meant to you. You might’ve said things like ‘work is really stressful’ or ‘this task is stressing me out’ but did you actually think about why you felt like this or what caused it?
What can cause stress at work?
Nerve-wracking situations or events that put pressure on us can cause us to feel stressed or out of control. Our reactions to such events are placed under pressure – and feelings arise that we feel uncomfortable with or find hard to deal with.
Stress can cause mental health issues or make existing problems worse. But on the other hand, existing mental health issues can make stress seem worse than it is.
The most common culprits of stress at work are excessive workloads, frustrations with management, lack of support or training, long hours, a threat of redundancy, and unrealistic targets. Sometimes a combination of all of these together.
Stress at work can also greatly affect your personal life. It can put a strain on relationships and make other non-work situations feel more stressful too. Also, vice versa, if you are experiencing stressful times at home or financially, then this can make work situations more stressful too.
What are the most common signs of stress?
The first clues of stress could be physical symptoms, such as feeling tired or suffering from headaches or an upset stomach.
You may find that you are finding it hard to sleep at night or that your appetite has increased or decreased. In turn, these well-being factors can make us feel more stressed emotionally.
You may also suffer from muscle tension or pain, or experience racing thoughts or a racing heartbeat. You may develop acne or start to get colds and viruses because your immune system is fighting the stress and not working as well as it should be.
How does stress feel?
Stress manifests itself in different ways and at different times.
At times it can feel very overwhelming and you may feel like you are trapped with no way out. You may also feel anxious or fearful about possible consequences. You might feel irritated or annoyed because of a situation that is out of your control.
Many of the feelings are down to your body releasing hormones called cortisol and adrenaline. This is your body’s automatic way of preparing to respond to a threat – putting it into a fight, flight, or freeze mode.
This is why you may find your heart rate and adrenaline racing when posed with even a normal situation – your body is reacting differently due to the stress you are experiencing elsewhere.
Ways to cope better with stressful situations
Depending on your workplace environment, you may not feel like it’s possible to talk about your stress levels to anyone else. However, if you do have access to a HR department or a manager, then the sooner you express your concerns, the better. It’s likely that you will be able to access help to make the situation more comfortable or that someone might be able to make suggestions as to how things can be improved.
Working out what triggers your stress response can help you anticipate problems and find ways to avoid certain situations. Even if you can’t avoid certain things, then being prepared can really help. Take a bit of time to reflect on times when you have felt stressed recently and think of things that could’ve been contributing to your high-stress levels. Are there things that could’ve been done beforehand to eliminate these issues?
Unnecessary stress can often be avoided by planning ahead and prioritising. Creating a spreadsheet can help you to see all your outstanding deadlines or you can prepare a simple handwritten to-do list of outstanding tasks along with expected completion dates to plan your time more effectively. You can then keep your plans or task lists under regular review to stay on top of your work and so that you feel more confident and calmer. Regular communication with managers and colleagues can also help so that you feel in the loop and in control.
If you are unsure about why you are feeling so stressed at work, with no key changes to your work routine, then it might be worth addressing some of the issues you are facing outside of the office i.e. financial, relationships, and personal wellbeing. By working on these factors and adjusting here, you may find that your work-life becomes less stressful too.
A bit of extra help
Sometimes, despite making every effort to be organised and prepared, you may feel like you need a little more help dealing with stress.
Relaxing activities such as yoga, meditation, and Tai Chi can help to keep that fight and flight mode switched off. Massage and Acupuncture can also help greatly too, by stimulating certain pressure points that induce relaxation and calm. Hypnotherapy can also be very helpful in making significant changes to certain behaviours that you are finding hard to change.
You may also benefit from talking about your issues to another person who is external to your work or family circle. Talking therapy otherwise known as counselling has helped many people cope with stress and can often be much more effective than the alternative routes of taking anti-stress medication.
Even if you’ve never had talking therapy before, there is nothing to worry about. Stress affects all of us at different times and you are not doing anything wrong by admitting that you need a little bit of extra support at this particular time in your life.
As a counsellor, I have helped many of my clients overcome stress and find ways to develop resilience to adverse situations. I would love to hear from you and can contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling me on 07787 831275.