We’ve all known stress in the workplace at some point. Tight or unexpected deadlines, pressure to meet targets, confronting and difficult situations or even just concerns about job security are things most of us have experienced at some time.
For people in northern and far northern Queensland, the challenges of work are magnified by factors like climate and the economy. For example, the presence of drought, as you can imagine, can be a huge contributor to workplace stress.
For many people, difficult and challenging situations at work can be temporary. For them, if stress is a part of daily working life, it’s often of a low intensity — the stressful situation comes and goes, and they move on.
For others, though, workplace stress can be so intense or common that it starts to adversely affect their wellbeing. The overwhelming or constant feeling of being stressed from work can reach a point where it can start to adversely affect their mental health. Symptoms can manifest as anxiety, depression, mood swings, aggression or an inability to concentrate. Symptoms can also manifest physically in the form of muscle tension, headaches, insomnia, stomach problems and many more ailments.
Dealing with workplace stress
Many people feel they don’t have much control over workplace stress, yet there are a number of simple things that can be done to destress.
Recognise what you can and can’t control
There are things that you can control and there are things that you can’t. You can’t control the weather, the economy, natural disasters like bushfires or other motorists failing to give way.
You probably can exert some control over what speed you drive, how early you get up in the morning, how much coffee you drink in the day and how you interact with colleagues and customers. You can also exert a degree of control over how difficult and stressful situations affect you.
This doesn’t mean you can stop difficult or unpleasant things from occurring. Rather, by recognising the very fact that they are beyond your control, you could then exert some control over how you respond and how the situation makes you feel.
Do you get angry, stressed out and distracted by it? Or do you recognise it for what it is — a difficult and stressful situation — and then proceed to deal with what you can as best and productively as you can?
Tip: When it comes getting better at making decisions, it often pays to focus on the things over which you have control, as compared to focussing and getting stressed about those things over which you do not have control.
Seriously consider the mental health benefits of exercise
The numerous mental health benefits of exercise are well documented.
Being physically active doesn’t necessarily require bench presses in the gym during your lunch break. A quick walk around the block can often help settle your mind if things get a bit much. If time permits, do this regularly. A change of scenery can help to brighten your outlook.
Tip: If you feel like you’ve let yourself down by not exercising enough, just remind yourself that any exercise is always better than no exercise at all.
Seriously consider the mental health benefits of mindfulness
Along with physical exercise, the stress relief benefits of mindful activities such as yoga, meditation and Tai Chi are well known.
Even a simple controlled breathing technique can help stress management in the workplace.
Tip: Consider asking your organisation to host a workshop or training session that coincides with World Mental Health Day and R U OK Day, so that everyone benefits from new stress relief techniques.
Aim for more family time and a better work-life balance
One of the more insidious effects of workplace stress is the way it can follow us home.
Long working hours affect how much time you spend with the people you love. Instead of just flaking out on the couch, or in front of the TV, plan for time with friends and family. Get tickets to an event or revisit a hobby and organise your next holiday so you have more time and relaxing to look forward to.
Tip: Not every holiday needs to be a grand excursion. A simple weekend getaway or even a day-trip can reset your mind and help you deal with stress at work.
Leave work where it belongs (at work)
Unless your job specifically requires you to be on call, simply turn off or don’t check your work email after hours.
Set boundaries for yourself and others, including during work hours. There is nothing wrong with making it clear when you’re in work mode and when you’re not. Having downtime even at work is an integral part of dealing with work-related stress.
Tip: Consider making one day a week a device-free evening, and spend quality time with friends and family.
Don’t underestimate the massive benefits of quality sleep
While we’re all guilty of staying up too late on a school night, making a conscious effort to stick to a regular bed time will help give you the quality sleep needed to better deal with stress at work.
Going to bed with your mind still wired isn’t conducive to healthy sleep. Set yourself a switch-off time in the evening after which you don’t use your devices.
Tip: Reading in bed before sleep isn’t just relaxing. There is much evidence to suggest that it has many other benefits, from making you a better communicator to improving memory.
Talk about it
Workplace stress is typically the result of more than one thing. The starting point to recognising and successfully managing all work stress could be as simple as writing down the problem.
Although you might feel you don’t want to burden others with your problems, talking it through with someone you trust can help provide a new perspective and allow you to handle stress at work better.
Many organisations also provide access to an employee assistance program (EAP). Don’t feel like you can’t take advantage of such a service – after all, that’s what it’s for.
Tip: Don’t bottle it up. Letting things simmer until they reach boiling point is a guaranteed way to fire up your stress levels.
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.