10 ways of handling stress in the workplace

27 Oct 2023
According to Champion Health, 76% of employees report moderate-to-high or high levels of stress. It is no secret that stress in the workplace is a common problem faced by many individuals across the UK. 

Whether it's tight deadlines, overwhelming workloads, or difficult relationships with coworkers, stress can have a detrimental impact on your mental and physical health. It can also affect your personal relationships, and even lead to long-term absences at work. 

The reality is that stress can’t always be removed from the workplace, but the good news is there are tactics and coping mechanisms in place to help you manage and cope with stress.

Ingeus helps thousands of people cope with stress at work, through free programmes such as Able Futures. Here are our top 10 tips to help you manage when work gets stressful.

Prioritise your workload

One of the top reasons for workplace stress is an overwhelming workload. To reduce this, it's essential to prioritise your tasks and focus on the most critical ones. 

Don’t underestimate the power of a physical to do list as well. Writing down your to-do list and prioritising jobs is a great way to alleviate any stress and help you approach your workload with a clear head. There are several online project management tools that can help you manage this - from Trello to Asana and more. 
Once you’ve got a clear view on exactly what you need to do, you can plan and manage your time much more effectively.

Learn to say no

If you struggle saying ‘no’ to extra jobs, your workload will continue to increase, along with your stress levels. If you're feeling overwhelmed, don't be afraid to say no to additional tasks or responsibilities. It's okay to prioritise your wellbeing and set boundaries that help you manage your workload effectively. If someone’s asking you to pick up extra work, you could say the following: 

●    “I would like to help you but I’ve already got a lot of work to do. Perhaps we can speak to management and see what I should prioritise if you desperately need help?”   
●    “I don’t have the time or capacity to help at the moment, but perhaps you can ask xx team or xx person to support you?”
●    “I really appreciate the offer and enjoyed helping out last time, but I’ve got some tight deadlines and don’t have capacity right now.’’ 

Take regular breaks

Taking regular breaks and stepping away from the shop floor/computer will help you recharge your batteries, manage those stress levels and reduce the risk of burnout. If you find yourself in a highly intense situation, or you’ve had a strong emotional reaction to a customer interaction or email, then it is vital that you take some time out to cool down. This will help you reframe your mood and prevent any knee-jerk reactions. 

If you can include some moderate exercise such as going for a walk, stretching or getting some fresh air, this will also help you relax and refocus.

Embrace mindfulness

Mindfulness is a skill that requires practice, but can help you reduce stress, improve your sleep and enhance your overall wellbeing. Mindfulness involves being present in the moment and reflecting on your thoughts and feelings. You can practise mindfulness by meditating or simply taking a few deep breaths to help you relax and reduce stress.

If you find yourself in a stressful situation at work and you have the space or time, taking time to meditate and practise mindfulness can help you manage your emotions and refocus. Apps such as Headspace and Calm are great tools if you’re new to mindfulness.

Get enough sleep

Sleep can influence how we react to stress and even contributes to stress levels. Lack of sleep increases the amount of the stress hormone, cortisol, which is responsible for the body’s fight or flight reaction. The more sleep you have, the less amount of cortisol is released - the easier it is to deal with those stressful situations in the workplace. 

We’ve all been there before where we’ve had a bad night’s sleep and felt like our patience and temper was wearing unusually thin the following day. To look after your physical and mental wellbeing, you should try and get enough sleep each night to help you feel refreshed and ready to face the day.  Avoiding too much screen time before bed, regularly exercising, and limiting your caffeine intake should help you get a healthy seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

Exercise and stay active

Regular exercise has direct stress-releasing benefits, as physical activity pumps the feel-good hormone, endorphins around your body. From walking the dog, to weightlifting or even gentle stretching, moving your body can help you relax, reduce tension and improve sleep.

You may even find that this type of stress-release is a form of meditation in motion. During a run, a game of football or even a stroll around the block, you may find you’ve forgotten all the day’s worries and you're in a more balanced mindset. There are also a wide range of benefits for your physical health. Try to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, such as going for a walk during your lunch break or making time to go for a run - and make it a priority. 

Build supportive relationships

Having friendly faces you can trust at work is another way to manage stress levels. The saying goes, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ and when you have colleagues you can trust, you can share any problems or challenges you’re facing and they may have advice on how to approach them. 

This relationship should be a two way street -  you should make sure your colleagues can trust and confide in you as well. You may find solutions to your own challenges through these shared experiences.  Building a support system in the workplace is a great way to navigate stressful situations. 

Set realistic goals

If you’re someone that puts a huge amount of pressure on yourself and you set yourself unrealistic targets that are difficult to meet, then you may be placing yourself under a significant amount of stress. 

Instead, set achievable goals that are in line with your abilities and resources. This approach will help you feel more in control and reduce the stress associated with unattainable goals.

Practise positive thinking

It is easy to get into a negative mindset when the going gets tough at work, but negative thinking may make situations even more stressful. Practising positive thinking and becoming more optimistic can help you reframe negative thoughts and help you handle those everyday stresses much more effectively. 

If you are going through a difficult period, positive thinking might take a little bit of practice. Affirmations such as “today is going to be a great day!” or “I’m alive and well” can help you rationalise minor irritations, and focusing on the positives is a great way to get into a better headspace. 

When your state of mind is generally optimistic, you're better able to handle everyday stress in a more constructive way. That ability may contribute to the widely observed health benefits of positive thinking.

Positive thinking can help reduce stress and improve overall wellbeing. Focus on the positive aspects of your work and avoid dwelling on negative thoughts or experiences. This approach will help you stay motivated and reduce stress associated with negative thinking.

Seek professional help

If workplace stress is impacting your mental or physical health, seek professional help. Talk to your manager or HR department about support available, such as counselling or employee assistance programmes.

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