3 Strategies for Dealing With 'Work Stress'

Medical Reviewer

Even if you love your job, you’ll know exactly what "work stress" means. Whether it’s pressure to meet deadlines, lack of support, low pay, boredom, or some combination of them all, work stress is a sad fact of life.

We know it’s a big issue because, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), over a third of working Americans report experiencing chronic work stress.

There’s no shortage of good advice about how we can learn to cope with work stress, but some of the lists available are quite lengthy. I’ve condensed my suggestions into just three general strategies:

Emotional strategies

Emotional strategies are needed because of frustrations, worries, disappointments and anger. A key self-help strategy is to know which of these is your most commonly felt emotion. You may say, "All of them" but, in truth, it’s more common for one to follow others.

Frustrations are quite commonplace. So stop and evaluate why you feel frustrated. Think of another time you felt this way and recall what happened afterwards. Chances are things moved on and everything worked out. Let’s say someone is late for a meeting. Try to find something positive about the situation. Maybe you could use the time to relax, check your calendar, or send a couple of texts.

Problem-focused strategies

You may find applying different views and techniques to situations relieves some of your stress. By views I mean objective perspectives. We often react emotionally to tasks we’d prefer not to do, but this isn’t the same as being incompetent or incapable of the task. An objective perspective might be to calculate the most efficient and effective way of doing the task, rather than complaining, worrying, or brooding over it. If this means recruiting some support, or maybe negotiating less work in another area, then do it.

Other problem-focused strategies include time management. Basic time management skills involve organizing what needs to be done first, next, and later. It’s about keeping stuff tidy and organized so you don’t tear your hair out and waste time looking for things. It’s also about not getting sucked into the idea of multi-tasking. It actually takes more time to complete tasks if you keep switching between them, and you are more likely to make errors. Don’t confuse being busy with being effective.

Lifestyle strategies

Your life out of work has a direct influence on how well you cope at work. If at the end of every hard day you go home, have a few drinks, then stay up late to watch a movie, it’s possible your sleep will be affected. This may spill over to the working day where, say, you wake up late and have to skip breakfast. You’re rushed, tired, and possibly hung-over — and the working day hasn’t even begun.

On the other side of the coin is the person who takes work home with them. This is harmless enough when things are important, but if it becomes routine there’s a problem in the making. We all need time to power down and switch off. This is an important recovery process that keeps us fit and healthy.

We need time to relax, to exercise, to eat a healthy balanced diet and to have fun. These are far from frivolous or time-wasting issues. Without them, the energy we need to feel invigorated simply won’t exist and we run the risk of burnout. So stop checking your email and job-related projects when you leave work and schedule time alone or with family and friends.

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Dr. Jerry Kennard is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry's clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.