We’ve all experienced work-related job stress. Anticipating short deadlines with big workloads can make our stomachs tighten up. The striving to become the perfect employee that is never late, asserts themselves, creates phenomenal projects, and grind, grind, grinds.
As American director, Andrew Bernstein put it, “The truth is that stress doesn’t come from your boss, your kids, your spouse, traffic jams, health challenges, or other circumstances. It comes from your thoughts about your circumstances.”
Two people could theoretically have identical lives, but due to their perceptions, the narrative they write over the top of their lives, they may have different experiences. That’s not to say that the person experiencing stress is wrong in any way. It’s more that, our minds have the potential to shape the stress response.
The Psychology Behind Stress
An event big or small will trigger this response, releasing a bunch of hormones into the body that help raise your heart rate to prepare you to focus on the danger or run like hell! This is a super helpful response in dangerous situations, one we shouldn’t aim to get rid of completely.
The issue is more when it runs into daily and undangerous activities like sitting in traffic or the few nights before a work deadline. Stress can become so constant in our lives that we become numb to it and used to some damaging behaviours that arise from it.
Some examples are not eating properly, pushing ourselves too hard, psychologically beating ourselves up for failed tasks, bad sleeping habits, and shutting ourselves away from everyone.
Causes of Work-Related Stress
- The lack of control of a specific situation
- Having a lot of pressure in their job, especially compounding pressure
- Facing a big change like a career switch, company mergers, or redundancies
- Being overwhelmed by a workload or the responsibilities of both work and life
- The unknown can often trigger anxiety
- Struggling to communicate effectively with colleagues
- Those who have a lack of purpose within the job that they do, or can’t be their authentic self at work
- Working too many hours
- Having to deal with emotional turmoil at home, or health problems, even family stressors
- Lack of financial security, even poverty
Anxiety’s Effects on the Body and Vice Versa
The very hormones that are released to protect us in emergencies, if repeatedly felt over time, are responsible for over 90% of all diseases and illnesses.
I’ll let that one sink in for a moment.
I will happily repeat that too, 90% of all diseases and illnesses are caused by reoccurring stress. Which is fantastic news isn’t it! This means that if we can learn to cultivate a better body and mind connection, we could significantly reduce that.
If companies were to focus on healing their employees rather than pushing them past their limits towards job stress. We might be able to rephrase that to, 90% of people are healthy. Also, if every individual aimed to reshape their mind’s reaction to stress, the same would happen.
Thoughts – Feelings – Behaviours
It isn’t the fact that there’s a three-metre queue in Sainsbury’s that upsets us, it’s how we think about having to wait, and the feelings of frustration that bubble up and cause us to shout at the person taking too long on the self-service checkout. It also isn’t our boss or that guy from HR that is contributing that much to our work-related stress.
Perhaps it’s actually because we feel we’re in a perpetual sense of waiting for our lives to truly start. Awaiting happiness with bated breath and instead feeling constantly stressed. But, the reality is we have this remarkable ability to reassess the way in which we think.
Instead of becoming a victim of our own perceptions, we can begin to transform. Some do it through classical therapeutic techniques with a professional. Other’s learn these techniques for themselves and practice them in daily life, such as journaling, challenging their thoughts, meditation, relaxation techniques, and exercise.
Events – Beliefs – Consequences – Dispute
This week write down an event that triggered your stress in one box very plainly, just the facts. Then write what your beliefs of that situation were, and the behavioural consequences of those beliefs. Then write a dispute or counterargument for those beliefs that you had. Below is an example of my own to give you an idea of how to do it:
- Event: I became stressed when I booked in a client interview in person.
- Beliefs: I need to clean up, get a haircut, prepare myself tirelessly so that the client doesn’t see that I feel like a fraud, so I seem professional, so I don’t lose a job and become totally poor!
- Consequences: I then behaved erratically, stressing and nailbiting.
- Dispute: I have been successfully progressing in my career. I should prepare for the interview but perhaps focus on self-care before that interview, and I am capable of the job as I have the experience. I will not be poor – that is an irrational fear that stems from my childhood.
This technique is useful for understanding our stress response, or any response that leads to a more negative behaviour that we would like to change. By doing this at the start or end of each day, we can begin to counter the things that bring us that irrational fear. Until eventually, it becomes second nature to calmly assess how we’re feeling, thinking, and behaving.
How to Reduce Job Stress
MeditationA great way to calm the nervous system is with our breathing. The simple act of noticing our breath and becoming aware of the thoughts that enter the mind can reduce work-related or any kind of stress. Start small, meditate for two minutes before going to sleep, listen to a guide or listen to your inhale and exhale.
It’s been shown that monks that meditated since childhood, the part of their brains that react to stress are significantly less active.
MovementIt can be difficult at work if we don’t have a physically active career to fit in time to exercise. But even just ten minutes a day of low impact movement, like yoga or tai chi, can really benefit our stress levels.
Of course, this depends on your career and the current amount of exercise you do. If you already move a lot, then perhaps consider if you’re pushing yourself too hard. If you exercise hard seven days a week, maybe try to taper it back.
It’s about taking care of yourself, and movement is a great tool to help nourish your body and mind.
Creating New Healthier HabitsWhen we’re stressed, sometimes bad habits tend to creep in. Whether that’s to do with the food we eat, the alcohol amounts, or any stress-induced pattern. Take a close look and ask yourself what your stress is affecting?
Are there any small things you can do to change that habit? Instead of drinking after work to destress, perhaps going for a walk with friends.
Professional HelpTherapy is a hugely beneficial and wonderful tool for easing job stress. Those who can get on a waiting list, or afford it outright, should consider it. There is nothing better for unpacking your stress and learning tailored mechanisms that will change your life.
Our stress response is partly biological, but our surroundings also influence it. As children, we experience things that can ultimately lead us to create more stress in our lives. So, never hesitate to ask for help. It is honestly the best thing you could do for yourself.
Write It Down & Talk It OutI’m a big advocate of journaling. Writing down your thoughts, feelings, and even just daily gratitude has been shown to benefit stress levels. The more we begin to unpack why we feel stress, link it to childhood experiences, and understand it – the more it seems to reduce.
Another way is to talk honestly with those around us about how we’re feeling. For example, it can seem daunting to explain to our boss or our peers that we feel stressed by our work. But sometimes, a conversation can open up options to resolve it.
Treat Your SelfDon’t forget to carve out time to have a bit of fun. Life is overly serious these days. We’ve got to eat well, remember to drink our water, achieve our goals and responsibilities with military precision! Sometimes being overly serious at work is what causes work-related stress.
Take a day just to put all that aside and do something fun for yourself. Whether that means reading a good book or going skydiving, that’s up to what you call fun. Something that helps lighten your mood and get you in the present moment is always good.