Woman suffering from work stress

Coping with work stress

  • Less than half of Australians are happy with their jobs, yet few of them actively seek to improve their situation.
  • Work stress is like any other form of stress. It can occur due to physiological reasons as well as psychological
  • Stress can have a demoralising effect. It can deprive us of energy and motivation and in more serious cases can diminish our sense of self-worth.
  • One of the most important things that anyone can do about stress is talk it out with someone. This may not change the problem, but it can change our outlook and how we cope with difficulties.


If you’re of working age and can honestly say that you’ve always loved your job, then consider yourself to be a fortunate exception to the rule. Reportedly less than half of Australians are happy with their jobs, yet only a small proportion actively look to change their situation.

Considering that you’ll likely spend half your adult life in a workplace, that’s a lot of time, spent by a lot of people, being unhappy, stressed or worried.


Coping with stress

Everyone experiences stress at some point in their lives. Stress is a combination of physical and psychological changes in our bodies that occurs in response to difficulties and threats.

Stress can occur for two reasons.

Stress can be physiological. This means that it is caused by a physical factor like a headache or injury; chemicals and drugs like alcohol, tobacco or other substances; illness; excessive heat or cold; physical discomfort; or extremely loud noise.

Stress can also be psychological. This occurs when we perceive something to be a threat even if it poses no immediate physical danger. Examples of experiencing stress from a perceived threat include the anger or anxiety from an unexpected insult, a lack of personal space on public transport, or the resentment from the dreaded annual family get-together.


Stress in the workplace

Stress in the workplace can arise from situations like tight deadlines, a co-worker’s irresponsibility, or verbally demeaning or disrespectful behaviour. These are examples of psychological, perceived threats that do not pose a risk of immediate physical harm.

There are of course many jobs that do deal with trauma or require you to face danger and violence. Emergency workers and Australian Defence Force personnel fall in this category. There are also many jobs that are physically demanding or which carry a risk of injury.

Nonetheless, most employees in Australia are in white collar jobs that traditionally have a much lower risk of physical injury or danger than blue collar professions.

Yet for many people, the traditional office environment can still be a stressor.

Common causes of psychological work stress may include:

  • The pressure of extended periods of work that require intense attentiveness and concentration.
  • A lack of recognition or credit for one’s achievements.
  • Work that is mind-numbingly repetitive or dull and non-challenging.
  • Moral or ethical dilemmas about decisions and actions one has to take.

It’s also a fact of life that we’re not going to get along with everyone — and that includes people at work. This too can be a cause of work-related stress.

For instance, it’s common to feel some resentment or anger if someone at work is dishonest, doesn’t contribute as expected, or is rude and unprofessional. In more extreme cases, that behaviour could be malicious or even illegal, such as bullying, harassment or even physical abuse.

Stress at work can take many forms. So what can you do about it?


Understanding what you can (and can’t) do

The first thing to consider is the things you can change. If you’re dissatisfied, can you change jobs? Can you adjust how you respond to frustrations and setbacks? Or do you have a recourse to deal with unprofessional behaviour?

One of the unpleasant side-effects of stress is the way it can have a demoralising effect. Experiencing stress isn’t just unpleasant – it can also rob us of energy and motivation. In more serious cases, ongoing stress and worry may even affect our sense of self-worth and belief in our skills. This is one likely reason why so many people in unfulfilling jobs do not actively seek to change their situation.

So if you’re dreaming about a different job, ask yourself why you’re not talking to recruiters and applying for jobs. Are rejections, setbacks, and the temptation to put things off and procrastinate a factor?

If work is making you feel intensely frustrated, then be realistic about whether the source of frustration is something you can change. Suppose you’re getting annoyed at that another department because they consistently fail to send you that important report. Yes, it can feel maddening that it’s not happening the way it should. But can you change it?

If you come to work each day expecting it to change, you’ll probably continue to feel frustrated and annoyed each time it happens.

However, if you come to work prepared for these things to happen, you may find that you’re better able to cope. Sure, knowing that you’re probably going to face incompetence today does not make it go away. However, the mere fact that you expected or foresaw it can actually help you feel less angry or frustrated, and thereby help you cope better.


Talk it out

It’s a fact of life that injustice sometimes occurs in the workplace. In severe cases, this could take the form of harassment, bullying, discrimination or even violence. When this happens, it may require intervention with a manager or sometimes even a legal body.

When it comes to many other causes of work stress, however, there’s often something we can do. In addition to applying for jobs and adjusting our expectations (but not adjusting our sense of self-worth), one of the most important things that anyone can do is talk about their worries and stresses. This could be to a trusted co-worker, friend, family member, manager, or to an NQ Connect counsellor.

NQ Connect provides 24 7 free professional counselling over the phone and online. Anyone in northern Queensland aged 15 or over can call or initiate an online counselling session chat and you will always speak to a qualified counsellor (NQ Connect does not employ volunteers).

Counsellors are trained to listen and help you develop strategies to help you manage and deal with worry and work stress, and ultimately help you cope.


Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.