Get Your Job-Related Stress Under Control
Reverse your stress at work with these simple steps
It’s a familiar feeling — the stress that is associated with constant emails, barrage of requests from your boss and coworkers and even relentless office noise. Surprisingly, as common as job-related stress is, there are some serious long-term effects including as heart disease, high blood pressure, back problems and depression. But the good news is there are some simple steps you or your employees can take to reverse the trend.
Understand the Cause
As a physician, I see a lot of my patients suffering from sleeplessness, constant headaches and lack of life enjoyment — all symptoms of job-related stress. While there can be other underlying causes, most of the time some simple life-style changes can help curb these ailments. Here are some common sources of major job stress:
- Lack of control. Feeling as if you have no control over your work or job duties is the biggest cause of job stress. People who feel like they have no control at work are most likely to get stress-related illnesses.
- Increased responsibility. Taking on extra duties in your job is stressful. You can get more stressed if you have too much work to do and you can't say no to new tasks.
- Job satisfaction and performance. Do you take pride in your job? If your job isn't meaningful, you may find it stressful. Are you worried about doing well at work? Feeling insecure about job performance is a major source of stress for many of my patients.
- Uncertainty about work roles. Being unsure about your duties, how your job might be changing or the goals of your department or company can lead to stress. If you report to more than one boss, juggling the demands of different managers can also be stressful.
- Poor communication. Tension on the job often comes from poor communication. Being unable to talk about your needs, concerns and frustrations can create stress.
- Lack of support. Lack of support from your boss or coworkers makes it harder to solve other problems at work that are causing stress for you.
You can reduce some job stress by learning how to manage your time and job duties. Think about the kinds of events that trigger stress for you at work. Then you can focus on one or two things you can do that will help the most to reduce stress. Here are some ideas:
- Meet with your manager at least once a year (every 3 or 6 months is even better) to talk about your job and your performance. If a performance review is already part of your job, treat it as a chance to clear up issues that may be causing stress for you.
- Get organized. Keep track of your projects and deadlines by making a list of what's urgent. Decide what matters most and what can wait.
- Don't put things off. Use a schedule planner to plan your day or week. Just seeing on paper that there is time to get each task done can help you get to work. Break a large project into small steps and set a deadline for each one.
- Learn to say "no." Don't overcommit yourself. If you take on too much, you're creating stress.
- Unplug. Don't let the technologies that help you do your work get in the way of your leisure time. Consider turning off cell phones or beepers when you are with family or friends. And avoid checking work email when you're not at work.
Seek Outside Support
You may feel like you are burdening others with the stress you’re feeling at work, but your friends and family are there to support you — and it’s not a burden. Make sure you get support from friends and family in your efforts to reduce job stress. If friends and family are unavailable, especially if you’re a recent transplant to Colorado, see if your company has an employee assistance program. You might use it to talk with a counselor. A counselor can help you set goals and provide support in dealing with setbacks.
Know When to Quit
If you are truly miserable because of a stressful job, it may be time to think about changing jobs. Make sure you know whether it is you or the job that's the problem.
Before you quit, spend time thinking about other job options. Not having a job will probably also lead to stress. Getting another job before you quit is best, but sometimes that isn't possible. Decide what is less stressful for you — unemployment or being miserable in your current job. It might help to talk with a counselor about your choices.
As a caveat, it's normal to have some stress. Stress releases hormones that speed up your heart, make you breathe faster and give you a burst of energy. Stress can be useful when you need to focus on or finish a big project. But too much stress or being under stress for too long isn't good for you. As an employee, managing your stress will help you not only be more effective and efficient at work, but it will help you be more present at home and healthier in the long run.
Hanah Polotsky, MD, is a Kaiser Permanente Colorado endocrinologist, internal medicine physician and medical office chief at the Kaiser Permanente East Denver medical offices.