How to Cope with a Less-Than-Ideal Work Environment
If long hours at the office or a heavy workload have you feeling a bit frazzled, you’re not alone. According to the American Psychological Association, 65% of American employees cite work as a major source of stress – and more than a third report chronic work stress. Unfortunately, reducing this stress for the sake of our health is easier said than done. Stephanie Wilkins, executive director of the Center for Mindful Living, shares her take on the effects of workplace stress and how to tackle it.
By Mary Beth Wallace
In addition to workload demands, common causes of workplace stress range from job insecurity, in-office conflict, and poor management to lack of communication and minimal support. When experienced on a daily basis, these pressures begin to take their toll on your physical and mental health. “Initially, someone may notice more headaches, fatigue, insomnia, lack of concentration, GI issues, or irritability,” says Wilkins. “And chronic stress can lead to more serious concerns like heart problems, depression, anxiety, weight gain or weight loss, and autoimmune diseases.”
Not only can stress have significant health consequences, it can also affect your job performance. Wilkins explains, “When faced with workplace stress, employees report a lack of focus, decreased productivity, decreased performance, and strained interactions with co-workers, among others.”
While finding a less stressful job may seem like the obvious answer, this solution isn’t always a possibility. As an alternative, Wilkins suggests implementing the following stress management strategies:
Family members, friends, co-workers – these are all people that make up a solid support system both in and outside the workplace. Leaning on these relationships can help you effectively manage stress in all areas of your life. If stress becomes overwhelming, seeking professional help may prove beneficial. Wilkins urges, “Incorporate mindful tools early, and talk to a therapist before the stress begins to negatively affect your health and your work relationships and performance.”
There are also programs in the Chattanooga community that provide necessary support. “The Center for Mindful Living (centermindfulliving.org) offers memberships, classes, and numerous workshops to help people have the tools to become more mindful and cope with life stressors, including workplace stress,” Wilkins shares. “One of our workshops, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, is specifically designed to empower participants to take an active role in the management of their own health and wellness.”
Increasing your self-compassion in the workplace involves showing self-kindness, avoiding negative self-talk and other self-defeating habits, and keeping your perfectionism in check. “Stress is exacerbated when we spend time feeling shame about the past, worrying about the future, and self-criticizing,” says Wilkins. “Developing more compassion for both yourself and others will help you forgive past mistakes, learn to set more realistic goals for the future, and enhance your relationships.” When heading up a large project or preparing for a high-pressure presentation, simply aim to do your best – no one should be asking for more than that.
Make your health a priority.
This includes eating right, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep – combined, you’ll experience more energy, a sharpened focus, and a better mood. Specifically, a good night’s rest has rejuvenating effects, which better equips you to take on the day’s responsibilities. “Most adults require seven to nine hours of sleep every night, but many aren’t getting the sleep they need to perform their best,” Wilkins says. Evaluate your current sleep schedule, including screen time before bed and your sleep environment, and make improvements where you can.
Wilkins also suggests going for a daily walk on your lunch break: a means to clear your head, bring your focus back, and get some movement in. Try to find a natural space for your walk, and pay attention to what you see and hear, being present in the moment.
Learning how to relax through meditation and deep breathing exercises can help melt away anxieties. In fact, meditation’s effect on your body is the exact opposite as that of stress! Wilkins recommends the following meditation for stress management: “Allow a minimum of 10 minutes, and make sure there are no distractions around you. Find a comfortable position, close your eyes, and bring awareness to your body simply by breathing in and out. Begin taking deeper and longer breaths, then conduct a body scan starting with your toes – notice any sensations you feel, and then let it go and move to your feet, then your ankles, your shins, your calves, all the way up your body to your head.” HS