It’s no surprise that people get stressed out at work, but the actual stats about stress on the job are pretty bleak: A 2014 survey by Monster.com of almost 7 thousand American workers found that 42 percent had left a job due to workplace stress. According to Forbes, almost half of those surveyed claimed to have missed work due to stress about their jobs, and over 60 percent reported becoming physically ill due to work related stress. In fact, 7 percent of respondents had to be hospitalized because of stress caused by their jobs. Most of us have experienced significant stress at work at some point in our careers, but if you’re finding that stress is having a debilitating effect of your ability to do your job, or you’re waking up every morning dreading going into the office, it’s time to think seriously about how you can reduce your anxiety. In some cases, seeking a new job or career will be the right choice of action, but before you take that big step, consider smaller measures that might allow you to stay in your current job and stay sane at the same time. What you should do, of course, depends on what precisely it is about your job that’s stressing you out. Here are some of the likely culprits — and some things you can do to make yourself feel better.
Forbes reports that in a survey of 900 workers, people’s bosses were the most common sources of stress. Stress due to relationships with employers is especially difficult to deal with because many people feel that they cannot address their mental health status with their bosses. A 2006 survey from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), for example, found that less than 40 percent of people whose stress was severe enough to hinder their work reported their condition to their bosses, out of fear that they would lose opportunities or be seen in a negative light.
The American Psychological Association suggests that, if you’re dealing with a difficult boss, the first thing to do is try to identify where the difficulty is coming from. If your boss is a generally good person who is dealing with very high levels of stress, then you may be able to change his or her behavior. If your boss is simply a terrible, abusive person, then there might not be much you can do, besides keeping a log of your interactions with him or her, and (if you feel safe doing so) consulting someone in HR or another higher up (again, this can be very tricky, depending on the dynamics of your workplace, so be careful).
If, however, you think your boss is mostly responding poorly to stress, then try these things out:
- Don’t respond to stressful interactions with your boss by being resentful, rude, or confrontational, no matter how much you think you’ve been provoked. Instead, stay calm and rational, and respond to any communication professionally.
- In a less heated moment, try to discuss your stress with your boss. Don’t go in yelling accusations. Instead, frame the conversation as an attempt to open lines of communication and make your working relationship more productive. Ask your boss to sit down with you to develop a plan for more effective communication going forward.
Deadlines can be terrifying, especially when you feel like you don’t have time to meet them. The first thing to do to reduce stress from deadlines is to make sure that the deadlines makes sense to begin with. If you know that there is simply no feasible way to get a certain task done in the time allotted, then it’s time to have a (calm, professional) discussion with your boss about how to make it work. Would he or she be willing to extend the deadline? What about modifying the project so that it can be done in that timeframe? Is there a possibility of having someone assist you? If you’re repeatedly being giving deadlines that are impossible, then you’re being set up to fail. No wonder you’re stressed out!
If the deadline is feasible — and it still makes you feel anxious — try to make the process less scary. Melanie Pinola at Lifehacker suggests first making a detailed list of all the tasks that need to happen before the deadline, and figuring out how long each one should take to complete. Having this laid out before you will help you to feel more in control and will help you to use your time more effectively. She also suggests renegotiating how you think about the deadline, so that it’s a measure of how much time you have to use, rather than a death sentence looming ahead of you. She suggests making “time allocations” of your available time; So, if your deadline is in three days, you might think “I have 24 total hours to work on this project,” and then you can divide up those hours however you’d like.
Dealing with stressful coworkers.
We spend a lot of our waking lives with our coworkers, so having to work alongside someone with whom you don’t get along can be a major problem. The main thing to keep in mind when your dealing with a stressful coworker is that you need to remain professional, no matter how irrational or irritating that person may be. Talk to your coworker about your concerns, but try to avoid making accusations or being unnecessarily confrontational. Instead, try to figure out a way of proceeding that will work for both of you. If you’re worried that your coworker’s actions could reflect poorly on you, keep a log of your interactions with him or her. If he or she is really interfering with your ability to get work done and is unreceptive to your attempts to improve the relationship, it may be a good idea to talk to HR or your boss.
Also remember that just as your coworkers affect you, you affect your coworkers. So be careful not to dump all of your stress on the guy in the cubicle next to you every time you walk into the office. Not only are you adding stress to his day, you’re also contributing to a generally stressful work environment. Everyone needs to let off steam once and a while, but try to stay constructive when your talking to your colleagues.
Maintaining a work/life balance.
Maintaining a balance between your work life and your personal life is easier said than done, but doing so will benefit both your life at home and at your job. Try to make yourself stick to a policy of actually being done when you go home from work. Declare certain areas of your house (or your whole house) “No work zones,” so that you can’t keep working on a file while you’re in bed. If you’re easily distracted from your home life by thoughts of work, give yourself things to do besides sitting and brooding. Go to the gym; go to dinner with your partner; start a DIY project; or whatever else works for you. If you can clearly delineate your “down time” and actually allow yourself to relax and recharge in those moments, then you will be more energized and efficient during your “up time,” which will benefit your work overall.
Jobs that require a lot of presentations and meetings can be especially stressful for people who are uncomfortable with public speaking. In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Bakari Akil II offers tips for soothing your public speaking nerves. First, be prepared. Preparation takes time and effort, but you’ll be more secure going into a presentation if you know you’ve done all the work necessary to do a good job. Akil also suggests visualization techniques; he writes,
[V]isualize a successful and pleasant experience. Think about what would make your experience ideal and prepare and practice so that reality will match your internal visualization.
Bring along water and thorough notes (not because you’ll need them necessarily, but because you’ll feel better having that safety net). Finally, practice, practice, practice. The best way to get used to speaking in front of an audience is to do it a lot. Try joining a public speaking class or community group to give yourself lots of opportunities. It may be difficult at first, but eventually getting up in front of a crowd will seem, if not exactly comfortable, at least bearable.
In addition to these specific actions, it’s a good idea to consider making basic lifestyle changes that will decrease your stress overall, like exercising regularly, eating healthy meals, and getting sufficient sleep. You can also teach yourself techniques for dealing with panic attacks.
If your work-related stress is chronic — if “Oh I just feel horribly anxious about work all the time” has become your M.O. — it’s possible that you are suffering from an anxiety disorder and would benefit from seeking treatment from a mental health professional. A psychiatrist or therapist will be able to suggest lifestyle changes to relieve stress, help you to develop effective strategies for dealing with anxiety and panic, and perhaps prescribe medication that could provide relief.