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Stress at work

Work is a common contributor to stress

With work dominating the lives of many, it is perhaps not surprising that stress at work is a common complaint. Stress advisor Marianna Kilburn talks about why workplace stress occurs, and what you can about it.

An introduction to workplace stress

We spend much of our adult life at work, thinking about work or looking for work. As it takes up so much of our time, we are often preoccupied by it.

If work is going well, we tend to give more and more time to it. This means that we lose our ability to relax and spend less time doing the things we enjoy or being with people we love. If work is not going so well, we fear losing our jobs or dread going into work, knowing that the day ahead is unlikely to be enjoyable.

There are many reasons why work can be stressful. For some, it may be that the job is uninteresting or uninspiring. Others may enjoy the work they do but become too absorbed by it, eventually ‘discovering’ that they are never away from work.

Deadlines can be a great motivator for completing a task. However, these can pile up and at times, it can seem unlikely that you are going to get everything completed in time. This can make you feel anxious and stressed.

For some people, it may not be the job itself but those you work with which causes stress. It can be very de-motivating if your colleagues are not cooperating, intimidating or bullying you. Understaffing can put people under extra pressure and it may sometimes appear that you are doing the work of two or more people.

Staffing cuts may also mean that you fear losing your job. This may distract you from the job itself, and worrying can mean that you are not performing as well as you normally do – a situation which can develop into a vicious cycle, multiplying your problems.

Whilst work can be stressful, so can being out of work. If you find yourself in this unfortunate position, there are certain things you can do during your period of unemployment to improve your chances of finding a job.

Voluntary work is often very rewarding and a good way of building up a new set of skills to enhance your CV. Keeping up-to-date with job vacancies and submitting as many applications for jobs as possible will increase your chances of finding employment.

These include:

  • An inability to ‘switch off’ as a result of worrying about problems at work
  • Tiredness - stress forces our bodies and minds into overdrive, leaving us drained
  • Difficulty sleeping - particularly on a Sunday night
  • Loss of effectiveness at work. Stress can make you indecisive, affect your short term memory and concentration. You may find it difficult to absorb new information and have problems focusing on tasks
  • Lack of interest or enjoyment of leisure time. Working long hours in order to complete a task is fine in the short term, but over a period of months or years, leads to a downward spiral, leaving one with the feeling of being on a treadmill
  • Breakdown of relationships. Long hours and ‘bringing work home’ will do no favours to your personal and social life. You spend less time with your family and seem to have no time for your friends
  • A sense of dread at the thought of going into work each day. This may lead to feeling low in mood or depression
  • Feelings of hopelessness or lacking the power to change the situation you find yourself in.

How can I help my situation?

If you are suffering stress at work, the first step you need to take is to identify the root cause or causes of your problem.

Many people, particularly those high up in their career ladder or who own their own business are unwilling or unable to share the workload with others. This can be down to many factors, including the tendency to be perfectionists and wanting to see the highest standards of work maintained. Having the ability to let go and learn the power of delegation is the first step towards reducing stress.

Avoid checking your emails at home or whilst on holiday. This discipline will help you compartmentalise work and home. Once the habit of doing emails at home has become ingrained, it can be difficult to break the trend, particularly if your colleagues are always expecting you to respond.

Speak to your manager or HR manager about reducing your workload or taking on extra staff to help out. Alternatively, speak to your team as they may be experiencing similar problems, and you may be able to resolve them together – perhaps coming up with a new system that helps get work done faster or more efficiently. If some of your colleagues are more experienced, they may have faced the same problem and may be able to help out.

Bottling up problems means that no one is aware of how you are feeling and therefore help can’t be offered. 

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