How to deal with work stress

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Work stress: We’ve all felt it, especially in today’s environment. Working from home may be convenient, but it can also mean that spouses and children interrupt. Large companies seem to be laying off workers in droves, and uncertainty about the economy can add to our own stress as we wonder if we’re next. Everything seems to have changed over the past few years.

Work stress isn’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it. The great news is, you are not powerless. Work stress doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of your day. You can learn how to deal with work stress – and even make those emotions work in your favor. But you must focus on what is under your control: you.

What are some examples of work-related stress?

The answer to “What is work-related stress?” isn’t one-size-fits-all. Some examples of short-term or temporary work stress include preparing an important client presentation, covering for a sick coworker or working on a big project. Longer-term work stress can be caused by an overly demanding boss, coworkers who don’t pull their weight, tough clients or chronic understaffing. You may even experience work stress if you feel a lack of control over your role or don’t have the growth opportunities you desire.

Work stress can also take the form of fear – for example, if your company recently went through cutbacks, you may be afraid of being laid off. Work stress also can be caused by interpersonal conflicts, toxic coworkers or an environment in which you don’t feel physically or emotionally safe. In all of these scenarios, you must learn how to deal with work stress before it negatively affects your state.

How to deal with work stress

You can often reduce stress at work by improving your soft skills, like communication and teamwork, working on your time management and prioritizing your tasks. Even when work stress can’t be avoided, there are stress management strategies you can use to cope in the moment. Here are 12 strategies for how to reduce stress at work – and deal with it when it inevitably happens.

1. Communicate

In a perfect world, you’d have open lines of communication with your immediate boss or supervisor. Tell them you’re feeling stressed. They’ll have the best ideas for how to reduce stress at work. If you don’t feel you can be open with your boss, have a one-on-one with HR or even a manager from another department. They may be able to help.

2. Clarify

Don’t guess what you need to be doing. Ask questions until you are crystal clear on your goals and the steps to get there. Understanding the “why” behind your tasks is key to how to cope with stress at work. You’ll also be able to identify which factors in a stressful situation are under your control. Let go of what isn’t, and excel at what is.

3. Learn to say no

Sometimes, people who need to learn how to deal with work stress are guilty of over-committing themselves. Don’t aim for invincible – amazing is your attainable goal. Back-to-back scheduling is almost never going to work, because unexpected things come up and tasks often take longer than planned. Focus on what must get done. Trim the fatty extras for a lean and purposeful schedule.

4. Give yourself a time cushion

Leave just 15 extra minutes in the morning so you don’t start your day feeling rushed and behind. Schedule regular, short breaks and stick to that schedule. Breaks interspersed throughout the day amp up your focus and clear your mind. On your breaks, go for a walk, listen to your favorite song or read an empowering book. You’ll return more energized and better prepared for how to handle work stress that does occur.

5. Prioritize

Practice chunking: organize larger tasks into manageable chunks and focus on each one at a time. Ensure that you are striving for SMART goals – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and anchored within a time frame. Tackle the high-priority items first. If one of the tasks is particularly unappealing to you, cross it off ASAP and create a more pleasant and productive rest of your day.

6. Balance your schedule

Once you’ve prioritized immediate needs, balance them with longer-term tasks and responsibilities. Finding a work-life balance is key; failure to do so is a recipe for burning out. When you’ve got the right schedule in place, you can relax appropriately.

7. Practice emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence concerns how well you can understand and manage emotions, both your own and those of others. If your work stress is caused by interpersonal conflict, honing your social awareness to understand the emotions of your coworkers can help you better understand where they’re coming from – and defuse any conflicts before they escalate.

8. Master your own emotions

Become the master of your mental state. Take the time to identify your own bad habits, negative attitudes and other harmful behaviors that have become second nature – you may find that you are the author of much of your own stress. You must recognize and learn from those destructive thoughts, without allowing them to put you in a state of anxiety. That’s how you truly beat work-related stress.

9. Use your senses

Use your senses to re-energize and calm stressful feelings fast. Scent is a powerful sense for stress relief – multiple studies have found aromatherapy reduces stress, including lavender, the most popular stress-relieving scent. Relaxing music is another proven stress-relief method – music activates the brain’s reward system and moves us in ways other tools can’t. Put on some calming tunes and focus on relaxing.

10. Change your physical state

Would you believe that discovering how to deal with work stress is as easy as changing your body language? Like scent and music, our physical state is closely related to our emotions. Lifting your chest, taking a quick walk or adopting a power stance doesn’t just change your physical state, it changes your mental state.

11. Practice relaxation techniques

Other on-the-spot relaxation techniques include acupressure, breathing exercises and humor breaks. When you feel frustrated or irritable, use one of these healthy habits to defuse your emotions and reset your mind so you can approach work from a place of calm instead of anger. Soon they’ll become second nature.

12. Rely on your support system

A solid support system is key to countering stress in every area of life, including how to deal with work stress. Go to lunch with your coworkers or call your partner to vent. While they may not have control over the causes of your work stress, they can create a buffer zone that allows you to blow off some steam.

Remember, you are the author of your story, at work and in life. Taking charge of yourself changes your story into a positive epic adventure. With smart self-training, you will develop healthy behaviors and discover how to reduce stress at work once and for all.


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