Studies have shown that people in high-stress jobs are twice as likely to develop depression and/or anxiety than those in less stressful positions. So for people who are already struggling with those conditions, it’s pretty clear that workplace stress can be seriously detrimental to your mental health.
Unfortunately, most jobs have some level of stress so it can be hard to avoid completely. But there are some steps you can take to manage the pressure and ensure that you stay mentally healthy.
Identify Your Triggers
The first step is to identify what exactly it is about your workplace that triggers you to feel stressed. Is it the working hours, crazy deadlines, unfulfilling job role or a particularly toxic colleague?
Try keeping note of all the times when you start to feel stressed, how you felt in those situations and how you behaved in response to the stress. Once you have identified what it is that triggers you, you can start to put measures in place to avoid or at least manage those particular stressors, e.g. cutting down your working hours or keeping things strictly professional and work related with that colleague.
Find Healthy Ways of Winding Down
When you’re feeling stressed, it can be tempting to reach for the nearest bottle of wine. Or a cigarette. Or a pizza. This is okay every now and then, but if you are constantly using unhealthy habits to fight stress it’s going to start taking its toll.
Instead, try to identify more healthy ways of winding down after a hard day at work. When I start to feel stress arising, I try to make my evenings as relaxing and stress-busting as possible. Exercise instantly makes all the pressure melt away, seeing friends boosts my mood, cooking dinner helps take my mind off all the stuff and 10 minutes or so of meditation helps me feel a bit more able to cope (try Headspace for short, easy meditations).
It can be difficult to set healthy boundaries at work. The pressure to get ahead and impress your boss can be enormous and can result in you working way more than is good for you. In my working life, I have lost weekends, evenings and countless social engagements to work. Yet the more I gave up for work, the more pressure there was to continue doing more and more. It’s simply not a healthy way to live. Particularly if, like me, you are suffering from depression or some other mental health condition.
If that rings a bell with you, try setting some boundaries at work. Set an upper limit as to what time you are willing to stay in the office. Turn off your phone when you get home. Manage people’s expectations as to your workload and capacity and learn to say no to additional tasks that are going to make your workload unmanageable.
You don’t necessarily need to communicate these with anybody in your workplace. Just start changing your mindset and behaviour as to what you are willing to put up with in your job.
Take Your Lunch Breaks
I am very guilty of missing lunch breaks. When you’re super busy, it feels as though taking an hour out is going to put you really far behind on your workload. But working through your lunch without taking a break can actually be counterproductive.
If you take the time to stretch your legs and get some fresh air you come back to your desk feeling refreshed and energised and much more capable of tackling the afternoon’s workload. On the opposite side, staying chained to your desk and working through your lunch leaves you feeling fatigued and unable to focus as well.
Find Ways to Be More Productive
I am fully on board with the idea of working smarter, not harder. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with your workload, start taking steps to be more productive.
Where possible, I try to batch tasks and finish one large task, or lots of smaller similar tasks, in one go. By focusing on one thing and refraining from jumping between tasks you get those things done quicker. If you don’t need to be tied to your emails, turn off your inbox and make a point of only checking your emails once or twice a day. Prioritise your workload and plan your tasks in order of importance, leaving the easier, less important tasks for the afternoon, when your focus isn’t quite what it was in the morning.
Take Time Out
If your job is affecting your mental health, take some time out. Take a few weeks off to go on a proper holiday or simply book a few days to recharge and have some ‘me’ time. Get a massage, go shopping, sleep. Whatever it is, make sure you switch off from work completely.
Talk to Your Boss
If the pressure is getting too much for you and is starting to have a significant impact on your mental health, it might be time to raise the issue with your boss.
This can be a really difficult point to raise. These days we’re expected to take on whatever is thrown at us without complaint. But that’s not really sustainable, and it can quite quickly lead to burnout and worsen any symptoms of depression or anxiety.
It’s best to approach your boss with actual examples of situations that have caused you to feel stressed at work and why. Even better if you have suggestions of things you can do to manage workplace pressure and things your boss can do to assist with that. If you approach it in the right way, chances are your manager will be receptive and work with you to help improve the situation. After all, it is in their best interests to have mentally healthy, productive staff working for them.
Good nutrition is essential to my mental health and productivity in the workplace. I feel so much better when I am eating well and eating enough than when I am hurriedly grabbing some pre-packaged supermarket sandwich. And if I miss a meal then god help whoever is sat in my vicinity.
For me, it’s important that I not only have enough to eat but that I am eating food that will keep me full and able to focus throughout the day. This takes a little planning. Ensuring you have food at home to make breakfasts and dinners. I don’t particularly enjoy meal prepping (not least because by the end of the week you find yourself eating five day old meals) but I often try to make a big pot of something quick and easy on a Sunday to get me through the first few days. Making larger portions of dinners that you can then take for lunch for the next day or two is also a good way of making a few days’ lunches.
Similar to the last point, if you’re not getting enough sleep you’re going to be feeling it the next day. If you’re doing that over the course of a week then you’ll be on the floor by Friday. And you can forget any ideas of productivity and focus. If I am not sleeping properly then my work suffers and piles up and I end up less able to deal with stress and overwhelm.
Establish good nighttime routines that help you wind down and sleep better and try to go to sleep at similar times each night to ensure that you feel recharged and ready to tackle the next day.
Try to Stay Positive
I know this can be difficult. Especially if you’re struggling to deal with pressure and overwhelm at work. But mindset can be a powerful thing. Taking note of what it is you are grateful for and what it is you like about your job can help change your entire attitude towards it.
Whenever I am feeling overwhelmed with working hours and how much my job encroaches on my personal life, my boyfriend reminds me that it is my job that enables me to go on amazing holidays and do all the things I love. Looking at things through a positive lens can hep you appreciate it more and make the stress all the more easy to cope with.
Find a New Job
A bit more extreme, but sometimes necessary. If your job is so stressful that it’s starting to have a significant impact on your personal life and mental health then it could be time to start looking for a new job.
I did this myself recently. I had started a job that I hated and my depression was seriously starting to flare up again. Six months in I realised that I couldn’t stay there. My mental health depended on it.
So I started a new job. One that can also be stressful and overwhelming but one that I enjoy. The stress is much easier to deal with because I feel as though I have much more autonomy over my working hours and how I handle my workload. And I find the work fulfilling. Looking back now, leaving that previous job was the best thing I could have done.
Do you have any more tips on how to manage workplace stress? Post them in the comments below 🙂