Dealing with Stress at Work

As adults we are constantly juggling multiple things: there are bills to be paid, family commitments to be managed, social obligations to be taken care of, managing our professional lives and much more that requires our attention. Our work has a central role in our lives because of the number of hours we spend on it and therefore it can have an impact on our mental and physical wellbeing. An Assocham study has estimated that 42.5% of the Indian workforce suffers from some form of depression or anxiety.

Work can be stressful and feeling anxious or overwhelmed is normal. For those with any form of mental illness however, balancing work with their personal life, while simultaneously having to manage their illness can be daunting. It is important for individuals to learn to cope with these overwhelming emotions and to learn how to handle stress at work.

A stressful work environment can contribute to problems such as headache, stomach ache, sleep disturbances, short temper, and difficulty concentrating. Chronic stress can result in anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system among other health problems. If left unmanaged, workplace stress can also lead to experiencing burnout. Some common symptoms of burnout are: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativity or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy. 

Here are a few tips on how can you handle pressure at work:

  • Breathing exercises: Deep breathing increases the oxygen levels in the body which in turn improves the functioning of the brain, calms the nervous system, cleanses the lungs, and facilitates quality sleep. It is advisable to take deep breaths from the abdomen rather than shallow breaths from the upper chest. Taking a break every once in a while in your workplace and practising this usually helps with dealing with stress at work.
  • Avoid multitasking: Studies have shown that multitasking reduces a person's productivity and the quality of their work. It is better to focus on the task at hand and get it done accurately rather than having your mind focus on two tasks at once. One way to go about this is by prioritizing your tasks in hand and managing your time to go about these tasks one at a time.
  • Maintain a work-life balance: Recently with the use of smartphones, it has become harder for most people to detach from work even after working hours by taking the stress of work home with them. Setting some boundaries helps manage this conflict. Establishing clear boundaries between work and personal life by defining specific working hours and separating work-related tasks from personal activities helps with bringing in this balance.
  • Modifying internal dialogue: Another good exercise to practice would be modifying your internal dialogue. Replace unhelpful and overwhelming thoughts with realistic ones that will lead to a more positive outcome. For example, if you have multiple important tasks to complete in a day rather than thinking: “I will never get this done!” you can replace this with an alternative thought: “It seems overwhelming to me now, but if I break it into smaller tasks, it can become more manageable”. This often helps with managing stress at work.

Finding a suitable calming technique also depends on the fight or flight responses of an individual. 

  • During the fight response a person tends to tackle the situation head on and may get angry or agitated under stress. To relieve this stress, activities such as meditation, progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery are helpful.
  • During the flight response individuals tend to become withdrawn, quiet or detached. To relieve this stress, stimulating and energising activities such as walking, power yoga, running or dancing can be helpful.

At times managing stress and anxiety can be an overwhelming experience but it is important to remember that nobody has to go through it alone. There is no shame in asking for help or being vulnerable. 

If you or anybody you know is struggling to deal with complex emotions do not hesitate to seek professional mental health support.

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