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Managing Stress at Work: 9 Ways to Mitigate the Terrible Effects of Stress

Managing Stress at Work: The Effects of Stress and How to Mitigate Them

by Sara J. Baker, Ed.D.

We’ve all been there before. That looming project deadline. The last-minute report. The challenging client. Stress at work is inevitable. But what happens when that stress becomes chronic? When it starts to impact our health, our productivity, and our relationships?

Stress in the workplace is a real problem. According to the American Institute of Stress, 60% of workers say that their job is very or extremely stressful and nearly one-quarter of workers say that they’ve dealt with bill-paying stress in the past year. Stress can lead to a host of problems, both for the individual and for the company as a whole. Keep reading for some of the negative effects of stress in the workplace and tips for reducing stress. 

What is Stress and Why is it Harmful?

Stress is the body’s natural response to any demand placed upon it. When we perceive a threat, our bodies go into “fight or flight” mode, releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This prepares us to deal with the threat by either fighting it or running away from it. While this stress response can be helpful in short-term situations, chronic stress can be harmful.

When we are stressed, our body releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This is our body’s natural way of preparing us to deal with the stress. Adrenaline helps our bodies to respond quickly to the stressor and gives us the energy we need to either fight or flee. Prolonged high levels of adrenaline can cause us to feel on edge and can lead to anxiety and other health problems.

Physical problems associated with chronic stress include:

  • headaches
  • muscle tension or pain
  • stomach problems
  • difficulty sleeping

Mental problems associated with chronic stress include:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating.
Image of woman with her head in her hands as a sign of being stressed for the article: Managing Stress at Work: The Effects of Stress and How to Mitigate Them

Cortisol is another stress hormone that is released when we are under stress. Cortisol helps to regulate blood sugar levels and has an anti-inflammatory effect. While cortisol is essential for our survival, chronic stress can lead to high levels of cortisol in the body. When we’re constantly stressed, our bodies produce too much cortisol. Too much cortisol causes us to have a hard time thinking clearly, make poor decisions and can even lead to weight gain and fatigue.

What Causes Stress in the Workplace?

There are a number of factors that can contribute to stress in the workplace. According to the American Psychological Association, some of the most common sources of stress at work include:

  • Low salaries
  • Unrealistic deadlines
  • Heavy workloads
  • Limited opportunities for growth
  • Lack of control over one’s work
  • Work-life balance issues
  • Lack of boundaries
  • Poor communication
  • Office politics
  • Job insecurity

Why do these factors create stress for us? In some cases, it’s because we feel like we’re not able to meet the demands placed on us. In other cases, it’s because we don’t feel valued or appreciated at work. Whatever the reason, these are all valid sources of stress that can have a negative impact on our lives. In order to be successful at managing stress at work, we must first understand how it is harmful.

The Negative Effects of Stress in the Workplace

Chronic stress can have a significant impact on our physical and mental health. Some of the most common health problems caused by stress include headaches, insomnia, heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, anxiety, and depression.

When we’re stressed, it’s hard to focus and be productive. We may make more mistakes, have more accidents, and be less engaged at work. Over time, chronic stress can lead to job dissatisfaction and burnout.

In fact, according to a study by Cigna, stress is now classified as an epidemic in the United States with 80% of Americans reporting feeling stressed on a daily basis. And when you consider that chronic stress has been linked to some of the leading causes of death in America—heart disease, cancer, stroke—it’s no wonder that stressed workers are costing businesses billions of dollars every year in medical expenses and lost productivity.

Moreover, stressed workers are also more likely to make mistakes, miss deadlines, and have difficulty concentrating. One study found that employees who reported high levels of stress were more likely to make errors that cost their company money. And another study found that employees who felt constantly stressed were 60% more likely to leave their job within two years than those who didn’t feel as much stress.

Image of man with head in hands as a sign of being stressed for the article: Managing Stress at Work: The Effects of Stress and How to Mitigate Them

This sets businesses back even further because they then have to spend money on recruiting and training new employees to replace those who left because of stress. 

So what can be done about all this stress? Read on for some tips on how to reduce stress in the workplace. 

How Businesses Can Reduce Stress in the Workplace 

There are a number of things that businesses can do to reduce stress in the workplace. Here are few options that will get you started in the right direction:

Encourage open communication

According to Forbes, one of the best ways to reduce stress in the workplace is to encourage open communication between managers and employees. When employees feel like they can approach their manager with concerns or questions, they’re less likely to internalize their stress. 

Create a healthy work-life balance

A healthy work-life balance is crucial for reducing stress levels both at work and at home. When workers feel like they’re able to disconnect from work when they leave the office—whether it’s by taking vacation days or simply unplugging from email after hours—they’re less likely to bring their stress home with them. Likewise, when workers feel like they have time outside of work to pursue their hobbies or spend time with loved ones, they’re more likely to be productive and engaged while they’re on the clock. 

Company policies can play a big role in creating a healthy work-life balance for employees; for example, offering flexible scheduling or remote working options can give employees greater control over when and where they get their work done which can help them better manage their time outside of work. 

Promote wellness

Wellness programs are another great way to help employees reduce stress levels. Whether it’s providing access to an onsite gym or reimbursing employees for fitness classes, giving employees opportunities to stay active can help them manage their stress. Some companies also offer meditation classes or relaxation rooms as part of their wellness programs.

Image of people doing yoga together for the article: Managing Stress at Work: The Effects of Stress and How to Mitigate Them

Encourage breaks

It’s important for workers to take breaks throughout the day, both to give their mind a break from work and to get up and move around. Walking breaks, in particular, have been shown to be effective at reducing stress levels. 

Recognize stress early on

One of the best ways to reduce stress in the workplace is to recognize it early on. If you notice that an employee is struggling to meet deadlines or seems to be making more mistakes than usual, take the time to talk to them about it. Helping employees identify their stressors and develop a plan to address them can go a long way in reducing stress levels and preventing burnout. 

Stress in the workplace is costly—both for businesses and for employees. But by taking steps to reduce stress, businesses can create a more productive and engaged workforce. And employees can enjoy a better work-life balance and improved overall health.

How Individuals Can Take Control and Reduce Their Stress Levels

So, what can YOU do about your high levels of stress in the workplace? Here are some tips:

Identify your stressors

The first step to managing stress is to identify what is causing it. Take some time to think about what situations or tasks at work are causing you stress.

Develop a plan to manage your stressors

Once you know what is causing your stress, you can develop a plan to deal with it. This might involve delegating tasks, setting realistic deadlines, or taking breaks throughout the day.

Image of woman smiling as she writes in her journal. Image is for the article: Managing Stress at Work: The Effects of Stress and How to Mitigate Them

Take care of yourself

Stress can take a toll on our physical and mental health. Make sure to take care of yourself by eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep.

Seek support

Talk to a trusted friend or family member about your stress. Or, consider talking to a therapist who can help you develop stress management skills.

Make Managing Stress at Work a Priority

We tend to take our health and the promise of tomorrow for granted. That is until stress at work causes problems in our lives that cannot be ignored. When work stress starts to affect our health, happiness, and home life, it’s time to take action. The key to managing stress at work is to identify the signs early and make a plan to address them.

Don’t wait until stress leads to burnout or serious health problems. Start managing your stress today and create a more productive, enjoyable work life.

It’s important to make stress management a priority, both at work and in your personal life. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress, take a step back and assess the situation. Identify your stressors and develop a plan to address them. And most importantly, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Implementing stress management techniques will not only improve how you feel at work, but also your overall health and well-being.

Need Help Managing Stress?

Need help getting started? Enroll in our FREE 30-minute mini-course to help you identify stressors in your workplace and begin developing the mindset you need to take charge of your stress responses and set boundaries that will give you relief. Enroll now and get started on reducing your stress today!

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Dr. Sara Baker, Founder of the Leadership Reformation

About the Author

Dr. Sara Baker is an advocate for positive leadership and healthy workplaces. With over 20 years of experience leading private and public organizations, she understands the challenges that employees and leaders face every day.

Sara is the author of Toxic Workplace Survival Guide, an essential resource for anyone who wants to thrive in spite of a toxic work environment or who is ready to quietly quit. In addition to her writing, Sara provides online courses for leadership development and coping with a toxic workplace.

Sara enjoys spending time with her family and friends on her farm in Texas.

Dr. Sara Baker, Founder of the Leadership Reformation

About the Author

Dr. Sara Baker is a thought leader in the area of positive leadership and healthy workplaces. With over 20 years of experience leading private and public organizations, she understands the challenges that employees face every day.

Sara is the author of Toxic Workplace Survival Guide, an essential resource for anyone who wants to thrive in spite of a toxic work environment or who is ready to quietly quit. In addition to her writing, Sara provides online courses for leadership development and coping with a toxic workplace.

Sara enjoys spending time with her family and friends on her farm in Texas.

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