This is the second article of our 3-part series for National Stress Awareness Week 2021.
According to the American Psychological Associates, 44% of Americans cite work as their most significant stressor. According to the APA, stress is now a mental health crisis in America that could yield severe consequences. An overload of stress can lead to chest pain, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, gastrointestinal issues, low energy, and even frequent colds and infections.
What is stress?
Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Stress in the workplace is described 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.”
Unfortunately, it is unrealistic to expect the workplace to be stress-free. A recent survey by stress.org found that 40% of workers reported that their job was very or extremely stressful. As you can see, there is a lot of stress across all types of vocations and industries.
The effects of stress on employee mental health
Stress management is important for your health as an employee and a company leader. There are many benefits to managing your stress for your personal health and your ability to perform as an employee.
There are many benefits to managing your stress. There are also many benefits for employers to help their employees manage their stress.
One benefit of managing your stress is not needing as many sick days. As noted above, a side effect of stress can be increased susceptibility to colds and viral infections. According to a survey of 800,000 workers in over 300 companies, the number of employees calling in sick due to stress tripled from 1996 to 2000. You can only imagine what those numbers are today. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work reported that over half of the 550 million working days lost annually in the U.S. from absentee workers are stress-related.
As an employee, even calling in sick to your employer can cause stress all on its own—not to mention the fear of falling even more behind or if doing so will put your job at risk. We can already see how employees using more of their sick days can affect employers. So managing stress can be mutually beneficial.
Having an overload of stress can lead to poor-time management. Sometimes stress can trigger an adrenaline rush and make you hyper-focus and accomplish a task in minimal time, but there is always a crash after a spike in adrenaline. That crash can last for an extended period and lead to a lack of motivation. This can make employees feel that there isn’t enough time to complete the tasks they have been assigned, which can lead to feelings of resentment and erode loyalty and commitment.
Stress also affects your ability to remember things, process new information, and apply both to analytical tasks requiring concentration. When you are mentally exhausted from workplace worries and tension, you are more easily distracted and prone to make mistakes.
Reducing stress in the workplace can also lead to better collaboration and problem solving between employees.
We all know the benefits of managing our stress, inside and outside of work. But sometimes, strategies on how to manage that stress aren’t as straightforward. Managing work-related stress can be especially tricky to navigate. Here are some ways to help reduce feelings of stress while at work—for HR leaders and their employees.
1. Changing Your Mindset
The power of positive thinking. We have heard this before. Maybe so much so that when you hear the phrase, it incites an eye roll.
But there is a reason the adage has become a cliche; it works. Positive thinking has been shown to increase life span, lower rates of depression, improve coping skills during hardship, and even provide great resistance to the common cold.
Kendra Cherry from Very Well Mind defines positive thinking as “approaching life’s challenges with a positive outlook. It does not necessarily mean avoiding or ignoring the bad things; instead, it involves making the most of the potentially bad situations, trying to see the best in other people, and viewing yourself and your abilities in a positive light.”
From this definition, we know that we don’t need to pretend like nothing bad is happening. In fact, it can be more healthy to acknowledge the stressors in life and view them objectively. Then, you can assess the situation and think about the things you are good at. How can your talents help you solve this problem? Or is there maybe a coworker whose particular skill set could handle this situation?
By approaching stress with a positive outlook on yourself and your abilities, you are less likely to drown in the overwhelm. Doing this isn’t always easy. An excellent place to start is by looking at past performance reviews. Look at what positive things your manager or supervisor had to say about you. Then reflect on past issues that have come up at work. How did you handle them? What did you do well? Once you have gathered some examples, write them down so you can reference them later.
Reviewing the list of positive traits and attributes about yourself can help you start the day on a positive note.
There are many traits and characteristics associated with a positive mindset, according to positivephyscology.com. These characteristics include:
- Optimism: willing to make an effort and take a chance instead of assuming your efforts won’t pay off.
- Acceptance: acknowledge that things don’t always turn out how you want them to, but you learn from your mistakes.
- Resilience: bouncing back from adversity, disappointment, and failure instead of giving up.
- Gratitude: actively, continuously appreciating the good things in your life.
- Consciousness/Mindfulness: dedicating the mind to conscious awareness and enhancing your ability to focus.
- Integrity: being honorable, righteous, and straightforward, instead of deceitful and self-serving.
2. Regular Physical Movement
We all know how important movement is for our bodies, but do we ever think about incorporating movement during our workday? Regularly taking a brisk walk can boost your immune system, lower stress, and help you be more effective at work. Managers can add walking breaks during the workday or take a walking break in the middle of a long meeting. Just thirty minutes a day, five days a week, of brisk walking can be highly effective to your overall wellbeing.
3. Self-care During Work Hours
Doing a bit of self-care during work hours can get tricky. However, there are some things you can do to take care of yourself and lower stress levels throughout the day. Taking a few minutes to stretch every few hours allows your muscles to let go of where you are carrying stress, helping you to relax. Also, giving yourself a quick neck and shoulder massage can further aid your muscles in letting go of tension and improving circulation to your brain, which can improve your mood.
Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do for yourself while at work. Having a reusable water bottle at your desk will help remind you to hydrate and help you stay away from excess coffee or soda. Along with staying hydrated, keeping some healthy snacks on hand can help keep you focused throughout the day.
Another way to take care of your wellbeing at work is to go analog for a portion of your day. Constantly staring at a screen can hyperactivate your mind and increase stress and anxiety. Use good old-fashioned pen and paper to brainstorm or make priority lists. Or maybe take notes in a notepad instead of your computer during meetings.
4. Manager Training
Training managers on how to identify stress and how to help employees cope with that stress is integral. Having your managerial team understand the importance of stress management in the workplace will create an environment of acceptance and tolerance. When employees know that stress management is important to their supervisors, they are more likely to approach leadership with their issues instead of handling them, leading to more severe problems down the line. A study conducted by BMC National health cites that “help and support provided by one’s manager decreases the probability of stress at work,”
For more on training managers on employee mental health, check out the Manager Training Handbook.
By now, we all know why stress management is so essential for your health. Not only can it improve your mental and physical health, but it can also improve your quality of life at work. Following a few of the suggestions above can help you reduce stress and improve your performance. If stress at work is overwhelming, try talking to your supervisor about implementing some of these strategies to help overall company morale and stress levels.