How to manage stress

Feeling stressed in the workplace when the pressure is on is completely normal. But feeling workplace stress constantly, at home, in the car, and during your holiday is not.

Here are some practical ways to prevent workplace stress from taking over your life.

Multi-tasking is a superpower – until it’s not

You’re on a tight deadline but the phone keeps ringing, people are bombarding you with questions,  and your mum is spam-texting you because you haven’t committed to an important family gathering.

Keeping all your workday plates spinning is difficult enough on a normal day, but some deadlines call for a ban on interruptions. But how?

  • When you know the pressure will be on, book a meeting room and lock yourself inside it – or book a meeting with yourself at your desk and pop on your headphones.

  • Email your colleagues ahead of time and ask them to give you an uninterrupted couple of hours.

  • Put your phone on silent and close your email – even if you don’t read your messages and emails, the beeping is bound to put you off your work.

  • Take yourself away from your workplace altogether, if that’s practical for you. Consider setting up at home or the quiet corner of a cafe, with coffee on tap (but no interrupting staff).

Make the most of peak energy

If you know there’s a mountain of work to be done and not much time to do it in, try putting the most difficult tasks into a time of day when you feel your best.

  • Are you a morning person? Get those challenging jobs done first thing, and the satisfaction of achievement will stand you in good stead to ride out the rest of the day productively.

  • Remember to take breaks. You’re only human after all – for most of us, maintaining intense concentration for a full eight hours may not be realistic every day. Taking a quick stroll around the block in the sunshine may just provide the refreshing perspective you need to successfully dive into the next job that needs to be ticked off.

Bring a healthy lunch

Not to sound like your mum, but a healthy meal during your work day is kind of important.

A diet of coffee, stale office cake left over from someone’s birthday last week and the crackers you found at the bottom of your drawer are not going to do your blood sugar, or your brain, any favours. Supplying yourself with healthy fuel is bound to help control stress levels.

Be like Pacman - take small bites

Do you have a mind-numbingly long list to work through, a particularly pressure-filled meeting to attend or a big project to deliver?

Sometimes, the only way to approach these stressful situations is to break it down into simple, bite-size steps that you can tick off as you go along.

  • Set realistic goals. There’s nothing as stressful as frantically trying to meet a target that is completely unachievable.

  • Define and identify the most important and critical steps, and list them. Then, do them, one by one. It’s amazing how ticking the list off systematically can reduce stress levels.

  • Take a moment to consider your role in the bigger picture. Are you taking on tasks that could be delegated? Is your colleague, who’s currently doing her nails, quite capable of performing tasks that you’re currently withholding for fear of not reaching perfection? Making a list of jobs that can be slid to another desk might just bring stress levels down to a more manageable level.

Don’t carry other people’s stress

Being in a management or supervisory position often means taking on other people’s problems. But what if that mountain gets to the point of burying you in a pile of stress? It’s time to do something about it.

  • Seek help from a superior, an equal in another department or someone in human resources. A problem shared is a problem halved, and a problem delegated is good stress management.

  • If the stress is coming from a team project of which you’re carrying the lions’ share, then call a team meeting and reiterate your shared goals. Prioritise each person’s task and move forward as a group.

Identify your stress triggers, and find perspective

If you’re finding that stress is a constant companion at work, rather than an intermittent situation tied clearly to deadlines, then you may need to look closely at what is causing it. Finding perspective may be the answer to preventing workplace stress from devouring your life on the outside.

  • Talk to colleagues or superiors to identify the root cause of the stress. Just talking through your problem may be of help.

  • Are you so entrenched in your work that you can’t see the light of day anymore? Gain perspective by considering the end goal of what you’re trying to achieve, and whether it’s worth the mental anguish you’re spending on it.

  • When you take a break or a holiday, do it right. Go off-grid or just switch off your devices, leave your emails for tomorrow and allow yourself crucial time out. It may be as simple as going to the gym at lunchtime or after work, and leaving your phone far away in your bag or locker.

  • Sometimes, workplace stress can’t be helped but there has to be an end point. Book a holiday (or a budget-friendly staycation) just after a deadline, and give yourself a breather to recuperate.

  • Know when to seek help. If you can’t shake the stress, consider talking to a professional to talk through what is causing it and to learn some coping mechanisms. Some workplaces offer counselling services and there’s no shame, or harm, in using these.

When it’s bigger than work, but impacts on work

Workplace stress may not stem from the work itself, but from an event that impacts your team, or society as a whole. This may be a shocking or tragic event, a seriously ill colleague or the announcement of a looming restructure.

Internalising this information without talking about it could lead to a great deal of internal stress. So how should you cope?

  • Talk to another colleague or friend about it. Sharing the load, and accepting that you are both feeling stress about the situation, may help.

  • Ask your boss to organise a meeting in a casual setting to acknowledge the event. Knowing there is support around may help everyone to cope a little bit better.

  • Do something proactive and positive. Organise a catered morning tea to allow casual discussion about an event that impacted everyone, prepare a support package for the colleague who is ill, or schedule an off-site lunch.