From 2018 to 2019, over 600,000 UK workers reported experiencing work-related stress, anxiety or depression. This is a huge problem and one we shouldn't deal with alone. So, whether your workload is getting on top of you, or you are venturing into a new position, here is some advice for managing stress and anxiety at work.
Louise Baillie S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3 @ActiveLouise Ask Louise
23 September 2020
How do you cope with stress and anxiety at work?
To help you manage stress and anxiety at work, there are lots of tips you can implement, such as:
Take regular breaks
Talk to others
Find work-life balance
Learn coping techniques
Create that calming atmosphere
You can get more information on these tips and more below.
What’s causing work-related stress and anxiety?
Recent statistics show that a few major issues are contributing to high instances of work-related stress2:
Lack of support (14%)
Violence, threats or bullying (13%)
Changes at work (8%)
1. Take regular breaks
When working from home, or when we get caught up in particular tasks, we don't always remember to take regular breaks. However, it is important to step away from your work at steady intervals to give your mind and body a rest.
This has many benefits:
It gives us time to process information
It gives a better sense of the bigger picture at hand
It helps you return to tasks feeling more productive and creative
Plus, it gives you the opportunity to establish good, healthy and stress-beating habits – you may get used to taking a walk at lunch time, for example.
During your working day, I would suggest taking a break every 60-90 minutes. You could take a breath of fresh air or follow a ten-minute yoga video at this time. Both of these can be helpful for your circulation, concentration, mood and joints.
Another option is to make yourself a cup of calming chamomile tea rather than caffeine-rich teas and coffee.
In one study involving 25 men, those who drank 300mg of caffeine experienced more than double the amount of stress of those taking a placebo.3 Caffeine releases adrenaline – a hormone associated with energy. This is what gives us the boost associated with coffee and tea; however, in excess, it can contribute to feelings of anxiety and stress, such as jitteriness. So, chamomile tea offers a relaxing alternative to this. If you don't like the taste of chamomile, try lemon balm or lemon verbena, or a tea containing lavender.
Dealing with stress at work after time off
Ease yourself back in – upon returning to work, avoid taking on too much to help keep stress to a minimum.
Talk - to your employers and manager so you know what exactly is going on and what is expected of you.
Don’t forget self-care – whether you have a relaxing bath bomb in the evening or go for a jog, set aside time for yourself to help keep you calm.
Get to bed at a good time – sufficient sleep will improve energy and productivity levels.
Use annual leave – don’t be afraid to use a little of your holiday allowance when you return to work. This may make the transition a little easier to handle.
2. Talk, talk, talk!
To colleagues - perhaps you need to discuss distributing your workload more evenly to relieve the amount of stress on yourself.
To a manager – perhaps you are doing too much, or your working environment isn't suitable. Once your superior knows what's going on, they can think about making changes.
To family – speaking to those around you is a good way to let go of some of your stresses, and they may have some helpful advice to offer in return.
Making time for yourself outside working hours is a simple way to help manage stress and anxiety.
First, try taking a de-stressing walk when you sign off for the day. Not only will this allow you to process the events of the day, it also gets the body moving and in doing so releases endorphins that improve mood.
I also suggest filling your weekend up with things that you enjoy – be it climbing a mountain or sitting with a good book and a cup of tea! This means that even when work is challenging, there will always be something to look forward to and to take your mind off it all.
Another tip is to take time off. This may seem counterproductive, as sometimes tasks build-up over holidays; however, taking time off just helps to put things into perspective and gives you something enjoyable to focus on. If you can, ask your colleagues to check your email inbox whilst you are away so that it's not too overwhelming when you return!
Finally, don't forget to claim back hours if there are periods when you are busy and have to stay late or work through your lunch break.
Symptoms of stress
Learn symptoms of stress to look out for. This may help prevent them from developing into a bigger issue later on.
Short-temperedness or arguments, both at home and at work
Loss of motivation
Poor concentration and decision making
Unable to enjoy free time
Low mood at the thought of going to work
Feeling hopeless, or that you are unable to change the situation.
4. Learn coping techniques
When stress or anxiety become overwhelming, you could turn to a few coping techniques for assistance.
Yoga – with its focus on breathing, yoga can be a relaxing form of exercise. Why not start or end your day with a very short workout?
Deep breathing – by focusing on our breath, we are often able to manage signs of stress such as a fast heart rate or rushing thoughts. I always point to our blog – breathing tips to reduce stress - for advice.
Exercise – I've mentioned this already, but any form of exercise is a really good way to turn your thoughts away from the things that are causing stress and anxiety. If you like, you can check out our Get Active hub which has lots of information on exercises for beginners.
Organisation – keeping yourself organised helps to prevent your workload spiraling out of control. Set 'to do' lists for the day ahead and delegate tasks where necessary.
Meditation – this is another way to calm the heart rate and breathing. There are lots of phone apps, such as Headspace, and YouTube videos (check out 'Goodful'), that offer guidance here.
My self-care tip: How gardening can relieve some stress and anxiety
If you are on the search for new ways to manage stress and anxiety, gardening could be the answer. Watch my quick video below to find out how it is helpful.
5. Create a calming atmosphere (as much as possible!)
Ok, this one isn't possible if you work in a hospital or any other kind of front-line job; but if you are office-based, it can be beneficial to keep your work environment calm and comfortable. Here are my tips to do just that!
Make a playlist – create a playlist with all your favourite, most relaxing song choices and pop it on at work (you can use earphones if you are in the office to avoid disrupting anyone else). Apps like BBC sounds or Spotify also provide a host of ready-made, chilling musical mixes.
Avoid harsh lights - lamps work well to create a cosy environment.
Artwork – choosing your own artwork for your office space helps to make the space more pleasant to work in.
Plants – there is research to suggest that introducing pants to the office space can be de-stressing.3 These effects were observed in both people tending to the plants, as well as those who simply had one in their eye line whilst working.
Use a diffuser – scents like lavender, chamomile and rose are particularly good for stress and anxiety.
Keep the place tidy – we may be more productive and calmer in an environment that is organised and tidy.
Quick tips for managing stress and anxiety
And before we go, here are some quick tips to implement when work becomes that little bit more testing!
Don’t check your emails on your days off
Avoid unhealthy coping habits like drinking alcohol and caffeine
Create a plan of action with positive steps for change
Think positively – end the day by ticking off all the things you have achieved -
Avoid situations that have made you stressed in the past
Finally, don’t let stress get out of hand. Tackle it early on with some of the tips listed here to avoid more serious issues later on down the line.
When we feel stressed or anxious our body responds as though we are under attack, releasing a surge of adrenaline which can cause a number of baffling bodily behaviours including palpitations, shortness of breath and even a dry mouth!