Stress in the Workplace


By Beaulah Rose, Atrium’s Wellness Case Manager

Stress.  A concept we are all too familiar with.  We are faced with challenges every day in our lives that bring forward mental, emotional and, at times, even physical impacts which further exacerbate our feelings of distress.  Some of the more common stressors we face on a regular basis are family, financial, and work stress.  Looking more specifically at work stress, we can define this as “the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker” (National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, 1999).  Some common work-related stressors are:

  • Disputes or disagreements with colleagues/supervisors/management.
  • Mental or physical overload based on job requirements.
  • Feeling a lack of balance between work and home.
  • Confidence or self-esteem challenges regarding ability to complete tasks.
  • Procrastination to meet deadlines, leading to potential time management challenges.
  • Working longer hours, leading to fatigue and poor work/home balance.
  • Changes to duties.
  • Job insecurity – organisational restructuring and retrenchments are commonplace, more so following the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • A lack of work autonomy.
  • Boring work or a lack of promotional opportunities leading to lack of motivation.
  • Harassment or discrimination in the workplace, or lack of support should these events arise.
  • Lack of adequate resources or processes to support the completion of work tasks.
  • Workplace critical incidents that are of a traumatic nature.
  • Disciplinary action or measures.

These stressors, either occurring in isolation, or compounded by home stressors, can result in many behavioural and performance-related outcomes:

  • Absenteeism or increase in sick-leave days taken.
  • Isolation and a decrease in communication with fellow workers.
  • Increased irritability, mood swings or aggression.
  • Lack of motivation, drop in performance and/or pessimism.

So, how do we effectively manage the impacts of work stressors on our daily lives and ensure we are able to maintain our work performance to an adequate level?  Well, as with all challenges in life, it is important that we create a foundation of resilience and coping mechanisms to allow us space to adequately digest the event, work relationship or action taken in a healthy and productive manner.  We need to build our resilience foundation brick by brick.  All small actions we take lead to a big change and are far easier to maintain consistently than big changes which cannot be sustainably managed.

Let’s look at some helpful tools to access that could help sustainably manage stressors at work.  Communication, being at the centre of all points of understanding, is a great tool to access.  If you feel you are stuck on a task, unable to meet a deadline, or having challenges within the workspace, in whatever way, set up a meeting with your supervisor or manager to discuss potential resources which would be available to you to assist in resolving the issue.  If your colleagues or supervisor/manager are unaware of the challenges, there is no opportunity for anyone to extend additional resources and support to you.  We are often too afraid to discuss these challenges because of our own feelings of inadequacy or a perceived lack of support.  Remember the organisation’s main aim is to achieve a specific outcome, and if there is a challenge creating a barrier to achieving that, they will assist in finding a workable solution. Communication may take the format of an email, meetings with the team or informal discussions.  It’s important that the information is available to collectively address the issue.  If the information is not on the table, it cannot be considered, and thus the stress will remain a silent player.

Take time for yourself, whether weekly or daily, based on your work schedule and home environment, to do things you really enjoy.  These activities are different for everyone, but ensure they provide you with the opportunity to really switch off from the regular schedule of your everyday life.  It also helps to not have distractions during this time, so it is important to reduce access to technology to ensure real presence at the moment.  Take it all in, allow your senses (touch, taste, olfactory, auditory, and visual) to immerse yourself in the experience.  Create an environment of contentment.  For some, these activities are adrenaline pumping and exciting, for others they are quieter and more peaceful, or they may be more social in nature.  All of them matter.  If you have 10–20 minutes a day, that’s great.  Take the moment and allow that space of decompression.  Don’t forget to breathe and experience the sensation of your body really appreciating you, giving it the space to switch off.

Get moving.  Depending on the job requirements, you might find you are remaining in a very static position for the majority of the day.  Get up, make that cup of coffee, take that walk to get lunch with your colleagues, go to the bathroom when needed (don’t retain it to the last minute) or stretch.  Stretching is so important in maintaining a healthy body posture and muscle strength.

Be honest with yourself.  If you need help, support, or assistance – speak up.  There is no shame in needing it, we all have spaces we struggle to navigate.  Take a moment to reflect on your work week/day and ask yourself what you feel you may need support with.  Ensure you can communicate this need clearly, and if you can come up with the resources or possible solutions that goes a long way to having your needs met.  If you are unsure of what the solutions are, fear not, perhaps an outside perspective on it may provide these answers for you.  Understand if you are facing discrimination in the workplace, fighting this silently won’t make the situation easier or less stressful.  Find the appropriate resources within your organisation and stand up for your rights within the workplace and open the discussion.  Needing support could be for a variety of reasons, but whatever the issue is which is creating an uncomfortable space for you, it is your responsibility to speak up for it to be resolved.  If you have identified struggles you are having and have the capacity to create change, be honest and committed to creating that change.

Acknowledge yourself for what you are doing well.  We all too often overlook the mountain of achievements we have accomplished because it doesn’t seem as significant as our stressors.  They are equally important.  We achieve so much in any given day.  Take the time to see what you have achieved and give yourself that pat on your back.  If you feel you are ready for that promotion, or a new challenge, or want to study something new, acknowledge all that you have contributed and prepare yourself for the new opportunities by researching what you need to do to prepare yourself, so you can move into that space with confidence.

Be willing to learn.  If we stop being willing to learn, we close off the ability to expand our minds and worlds.  We can all learn something from anybody in any given situation  –  whether it’s how to handle a conversation better, approach people or events differently, adopt a new process that is less time-consuming, a point of view change or even general knowledge.  Being open to listening to new information and taking it in can go a long way to creating spaces within your workday that reduce potential stressors you are facing.

Finally, remember to breathe.  We all tend to breathe very shallowly when we are stressed or pressed for time.  This can result in many people often sighing or yawning excessively.  Your body needs air to function at its best.  When you take that coffee break or go for that walk, even to the bathroom, take some slow deep breaths.  Be mindful of your body needing that level of extra care. 

It is usually the simple tasks we take for granted, or overlook, that go a long way to helping us resolve the bigger challenges in our lives.  Take the moment to understand what is impacting you and take it seriously because you are important, and you deserve those moments of contentment or that support, and you also deserve to feel like work is fulfilling and not a place you dread to go.  Work with your employer to ensure the most productive and fulfilling space during your workdays.  Managing stress within the workplace is easily achieved when we understand everyone is working towards the same goal.

Need support for your own mental wellbeing? Contact your Atrium Wellness team today and get started!