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From Overwhelm to Empowerment: Strategies for Managing Workplace Stress & Improving Your Well-Being

In our fast-paced world, stress has become a common companion, particularly in the workplace.

In our fast-paced world, stress has become a common companion, particularly in the workplace. You are constantly juggling deadlines, managing workloads, and expected to perform your best work. The pressure to achieve more and succeed may leave you feeling overwhelmed, trapped, and uncertain about your career.

Workplace stress can affect every aspect of your life because it doesn’t stay with you in the office. It comes home with you and impacts your relationships as well as your well-being.

What is stress?

According to the World Health Organization, “stress is a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation. Stress is a natural human response that prompts us to address challenges and threats in our lives.”

Physical and mental stress is a natural response to external pressures or demands that exceed your perceived ability to cope with problems. In the workplace, these pressures can stem from heavy workloads, tight deadlines, conflict with coworkers or clients, or a lack of work-life balance. Recognizing the signs of stress and its impact on your mind and body can help you regain control over your well-being.

Workplace stress can bring physical, emotional, and mental strain as a result of your work environment, job demands, and company pressures. You may feel a lack of control over job-related decisions, including tasks, schedules and deadlines, lack of flexibility or job insecurity.

Prolonged exposure to stress can have detrimental effects, including burnout, decrease job satisfaction, and generate health issues. This Mayo Clinic chart addresses how the common effects of stress affect your body and mind and lead to certain behaviors that can harm your well-being.

Common effects of stress - source: Mayo Clinic

In the workplace, occasional stress can help you stay motivated and challenged to perform well and achieve your career goals. However, when you feel stressed out and overwhelmed often, your stress may become chronic, and it can affect your health, job performance, and quality of life.

The first step to identifying workplace stress is awareness. Allow yourself to feel your emotions without judgment. Accept and understand that you may be under stress and reflect on what may be causing it. This realization may help you seek the help you need to cope with stress at work.

Identifying work stress triggers

Take a moment to reflect on your work environment and identify the specific stressors that impact you.

  • Is it your inbox loaded with emails demanding your attention?

  • Is it the pressure to meet tight deadlines and high expectations?

  • Is it the lack of privacy in an open office with constant noise and interruptions?

  • Is it your long commute and lack of hybrid work options?

  • Is it the expectation to work after hours and on weekends?

  • Is it your manager’s leadership style or a negative colleague?

Reflect on these questions and notice your emotional and physical reactions. When you feel stressed, are you anxious, frustrated, overwhelmed, or irritable? Are there specific physical symptoms like tension in your muscles, headaches, or stomach discomfort?

You may also consider these suggestions:

- Keep a journal: If you like to write things down, journaling can help you see patterns of what may be causing your stress. You can journal about the situation and include details about the people involved, tasks, and your reactions.

- Monitor your behaviors: Are you eating more unhealthy foods? Are you waking up in the middle of the night and unable to fall asleep? Are you avoiding social interactions? Are you irritable?

- Assess your workload: Do you need to work after hours and on weekends to deliver your tasks? Are you managing tight deadlines?

- Reflect on your relationships: Do you have a good relationship with your manager? Do you have a colleague questioning your ideas or experiences?

Understanding your stress triggers empowers you to take proactive measures to mitigate their effects.

Awareness is the first step toward regaining control of how you feel about those stressors. Identifying your stress triggers is a personal process, and it can take time and reflection. Once you know them, you can minimize their effects on your well-being.

Stress can impact your professional growth and job satisfaction. Ongoing stress can lead to chronic stress and reduce your motivation and passion for your work. You may wonder if you need a new career and doubt your abilities to improve your situation.

You don't have to be a passive victim of workplace stress. Addressing workplace stress is a journey that requires commitment and self-compassion. You can reclaim control over your well-being and find a more fulfilling and harmonious work-life balance. You can transform your feelings of overwhelm into empowerment with knowledge and actionable steps.

Strategies for managing workplace stress

Caring for yourself is vital in managing work-related stress, especially if you can’t leave your job immediately. Here are some proactive steps you can take to alleviate the burden. Consider these strategies:

  • Self-care

Anything such as taking a walk, dancing, spending time with friends and loved ones, a hobby, or any personal interest that energizes you. Practice self-love and nurture yourself. You deserve to feel joy.

  • Boundaries

Establishing boundaries between work and life begins with effective and clear communication. Let people know you won’t be available after hours or reply to e-mails on weekends. Define the times you’ll be on-duty and off-duty and respect your own personal time.

  • Mindfulness

Mindfulness can be a great way to reduce stress. Incorporate mindfulness exercises into your daily routine such as breathing and meditation techniques to help calm your mind. You can also listen to relaxing music, take breaks, practice yoga, and go for a walk outside.

  • Support

If you have a trusted colleague or mentor, discuss your work-related stress. They may have managed stress before and can guide you. Sometimes, you need someone to listen to your concerns and provide an outside perspective.

  • Workload

List all your tasks and determine if you can delegate or share them with others. Talk to your manager about your workload concerns and provide suggestions on how to redistribute your tasks. Prioritizing the most critical and time-sensitive tasks can help you gain a sense of control over your schedule.

Although these strategies may help you alleviate some of your symptoms, they are not the cure for your workplace stress. You may need to seek additional help.

Seeking additional support

While you can incorporate self-care practices and other tools to help you manage your work stress, additional support can improve your well-being faster and avoid burnout and other health issues. Consider these options:

Develop coping mechanisms: When you feel stressed out, find a few things in the moment to help. It could be deep breathing, leaving your desk for a few minutes, blasting music, using the voice note feature on your phone to talk about your emotions, or journaling. You can take a 5 to 10 minute break to let those feelings out before you recenter and refocus on your tasks.

It’s essential to have tools to help you handle stress when symptoms are present. Coping mechanisms may help you navigate challenging situations and reduce the impact of stress if you aren’t able to talk to someone when it happens.

Seek mental health support: Having a good support system with friends and family able to listen to you can be helpful, but a mental health professional such as a psychologist, therapist, or counselor can give you additional tools to aid you in stress management. They can help you assess your triggers, develop coping mechanisms, set goals, and provide emotional support.

A mental health professional can help you build resilience to deal with your stressors, create a self-care routine, provide stress management education, and help you avoid burnout. They can offer valuable insights, tools, and guidance to navigate through challenging times.

If you work in an environment that doesn’t suit you, additional support can help you manage stress and build resilience to improve your well-being and pursue your career goals.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP): Check if your company offers an employee assistance program (EAP) with mental health resources. Some programs may offer a few therapy sessions or stress management education at no charge.

Free mental health resources: Find reputable organizations with free mental health resources such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the Black Mental Health Alliance.

You can also try free meditation apps or a free trial for Calm and Headspace (my personal favorite). You can find meditation videos on Youtube to help you begin your mindfulness journey. I also recommend videos about stress by Kati Morton, a licensed therapist.

You have options and don’t need to suffer alone. Stress is a part of life, but ongoing stress is not good for your health and well-being. Sometimes, you can find ways to cope with stress and ask for modifications to your tasks or work environment to help you manage your triggers.

Sometimes, you may need to withdraw from the environment to avoid burnout, and that’s a difficult task for many people. Stress can make you doubt your abilities and skills to find a better job. Feelings of self-doubt and negative self-talk may prevent you from applying for jobs or seeking help.

Assess your career goals

It’s crucial to analyze your career goals and make strategic adjustments to help you improve your well-being. Before you search for a new job, find ways to cope with your stress. If your mindset is not in the right place, you may apply for a random job, receive an offer, and end up in a work environment that triggers your stress. Once you have the tools to help you manage stress, assess your career goals.

If you want to find a new job, build an exit strategy that involves coping with stress while you job search. The job search process can be stressful and lengthy, but the right resources can help you achieve your career goals.

While a mental health professional can help you cope with stress, a career coach can help you assess your career goals and move forward with a plan. Find a trusted and reputable professional to help you analyze your next steps and build an exit strategy while you search for your next opportunity.

If you are in a hostile work environment and need to leave, don’t wait until your stress turns into burnout to do something about it. It’s not a shame to seek professional medical help as soon as possible. It may save your health and your career.

Reducing work stress is an ongoing process. While these strategies can help alleviate the burden, it's important to assess your career goals and explore opportunities for transitioning to a healthier work environment if the current situation consistently undermines your well-being. Approach your career with care and compassion, and incorporate simple and effective self-care practices into your daily routine.

Looking to start your self-care journey? Check out my free self-care checklist or my free guide on learning how to create boundaries for your well-being.

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