Feeling Stressed at Work? Here's What You Should Know

Stress affects all of us at various points in our lives, and it’s not always a bad thing. Stress can provide motivation; that extra boost we sometimes need to up our game and meet the next deadline. But living with chronic stress is a different story altogether. It affects every system of the body, causing issues like headaches, high blood pressure, and stomach problems. Chronic stress affects us psychologically too, making it difficult to sleep, and often leading us into a cycle of depression and anxiety.

While statistics in the UK are vague, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the USA cite stress as a workplace hazard, costing the country about a hundred and ninety billion dollars a year in healthcare. The problem affects workers across many different industries, with more than sixty per cent of adults saying that work causes them a significant amount of stress. Researchers at Stanford and Harvard universities found that having a stressful job can even reduce your life expectancy.


Not all stress is the same, of course. We can all do with a little healthy pressure to help us get things done on time in the workplace.  Studies have shown that a certain level of st tress can be a useful tool that contributes to a companies growth. Experts differentiate between good and bad stress, known as eustress and distress.


The difference between the two is that eustress motivates us to complete tasks and keep to schedules. Distress, on the other hand, debilitates and paralyses us, making it difficult for us to function as we should.


Sources of Distress


There are a variety of factors in the workplace that cause our stress levels to skyrocket. There's the fear of losing your job, for example. Rising management expectations, the pressure to continually perform at your peak, and excessive workloads are more contributing factors.


How to Monitor Your Stress Levels


By remaining self-aware, you can learn to spot the warning signs that tell you when your stress levels are higher than they should be.

Stress often manifests itself in the form of depression. You might feel withdrawn and lose interest in work and other activities. You can become more irritable than usual, and tend to lose your temper quickly. You could also have difficulty sleeping and feel tired during the day.


Difficulty focusing can be another sign of stress, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches, lowered libido or stomach issues. You could also find yourself using alcohol or drugs to cope. So, how do you keep stress at a healthy level? There are several things you can do to keep the condition manageable.


Nurture Relationships


When we’re stressed and busy, most of us tend to withdraw. This is the last thing we should do. Sometimes, just talking to a friend about what’s causing our stress can decrease the tension. It’s important to try to keep relations at work on a friendly footing too. After all, you spend much of your day there. Colleagues can help you shoulder some of the pressure or even take some tasks off your desk.


Turning off your phone for even a short while can immediately help you connect with your colleagues. Particularly on lunch breaks, disconnect from social media and make a real effort to build a rapport with the people around you.


Keep Yourself Fit


Regular exercise has a profound effect on stress. Physical activity of any kind releases endorphins into our body and naturally boosts our moods. Many studies have shown that exercise can relieve moderate depression. One such study carried out in the late 90s even showed that exercise was as effective at lifting mild to moderate depression as antidepressants.


Exercise also helps us to be in the moment. It makes us focus on our body, and leaves no room in our thoughts for worry. You can think of exercise as a type of active meditation, calming both the body and mind.


Aim to exercise for half an hour or more each day, with one rest day a week. Some people, particularly those with families, simply don’t have time to exercise after work. If this is you, there are several ways of becoming more mobile in the office.


For example, start a fitness challenge. Challenge everyone who has a fitness tracker to complete a certain number of steps each day at work. Alternatively, you could change to a standing desk so that you’re not sitting down the whole day.


Eat a Healthy Diet


Don’t underestimate the effect your eating habits can have on stress. A lot of people subconsciously try to manage the condition with comfort foods. This is because when we’re stressed our brain releases cortisol hormone. Cortisol is responsible for our craving salty, fatty or sweet foods that can cause us to feel lethargic. We procrastinate more, which of course, simply adds to our stress.


Nourishing foods that are high in complex carbs and lean protein help to fuel our brain over several hours. They promote our concentration and give us back the feeling of being in control. Here are a few ideas of what you should eat when you're feeling stressed out at work:


  • Whole-wheat bread with nut butter and banana
  • Whole-wheat pasta with a tomato-based sauce
  • Fresh fruit and yoghurt- either whole or in a smoothie
  • Superfoods high in antioxidants like blueberries or dark chocolate
  • Lean chicken, wild-caught salmon, tuna


Avoid high-fat foods like fried chicken, cheese, red meat. Eating these at work, particularly for lunch, will leave you feeling overfull and lethargic. Stay away from refined carbs like white bread, white rice, white pasta, noodles, or doughnuts. These will cause your energy levels to peak quickly and then crash.


You should also cut out high caffeine drinks like coffee or sodas, particularly in the afternoon and evening as they can interfere with your sleep. Alcohol is a natural depressant, so keep your after-work drinking to a minimum, or avoid it entirely.


Make Sure You Sleep Enough


Stress is also associated with a chronic lack of sleep. Lack of sleep contributes to our inability to cope with even mild stress. Too many sleepless nights can make us feel irritable, and it negatively affects our relationships, both at work and at home. Try to create a bedtime schedule and stick to it. Switch off anything with a screen for an hour or so before bed. This includes television, phones and computers.


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