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6 months ago by Next Generation

How To Manage Job Stress Before it Manages You

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Stress is inherent in just about every aspect of our lives.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Stress can be a great motivator. Many of us could probably attest to the experience of using an impending deadline to deliver our best performance ever.

But too much stress is certainly not a good thing. Stress, when it becomes overwhelming, has the potential to harm your physical and mental health quite severely. And rather than become motivated, you may lose your energy and interest and become listless and unwell.

And since we spend most of our working day in our jobs, understanding how to manage work-related stress is an essential skill to us looking after ourselves.

Work-related stress in Ireland

In 2018, the Economic and Social Research Institute in Ireland researched the state of workers and work-related stress in the country. Their findings make for some thought-provoking reading:

  • Work-related stress doubled among employees in Ireland between 2010 and 2015

  • 17% of Ireland’s workforce reported feelings of stress in 2015. In 2010, this figure was at 8%. This increase is one of the highest in Europe

For the purposes of the study, workers were considered to be experiencing work-related stress if they said they felt stressed “most of the time” or “always”. The study also looked at reactions to stress that included fatigue, disturbed sleeping patterns and anxiety. 

  • Irish workers who experience one or a few of these stress reactions increased from 21% to 38% between 2010 and 2015.

  • Workers in the health sector experienced the most stress at 18%

  • Public administration workers were next in line at 16%

  • Manufacturing workers were third most stressed at 15%

  • Workers in retail and construction reported the lowest levels of stress

Out of the workers themselves, stress levels are:

  • 20% of associate professionals/technical workers experience stress

  • 16% of professionals report stress

  • And so do 14% of managers

The work-related stress Irish workers spoke about in the survey centred around emotional demands. These demands included working with angry clients or customers and having to disconnect from their feelings.

In fact, workers who experienced onerous emotional demands were 21 times more at risk of experiencing job stress than others who didn’t have emotional demands to meet.

Unsurprisingly, strict and frequent time pressures also contributed negatively towards work-related stress levels in Ireland. Workers with tight deadlines experienced job stress at a 10 times higher rate than those without.

Also with regards to time, workers who work more than 40 hours a week are twice as susceptible as stress than those who work 36 to 40 hours a week. Irish labour law sets a legal limit of work taking no more than 48 hours a week.

Bullying, harassment and violence increased work-related stress by eight times.

Money can also be a significant stress inducer. Workers who felt underpaid experienced stress four times more than those who didn’t.

At the time of the study, only 40% of Irish firms had policies in place to deal with work-related stress.

But, encouragingly, Irish employees did speak of high levels of management and co-worker support in their roles.

How to deal with work-related stress

An isolated stressful day is nothing to worry about. Whether you self-soothe at the gym or in front of a Netflix marathon, chances are you’ll wake up the next day feeling your usual levels of resilience.

It’s when stressful days become the norm that you’re entering the danger zone. 

Work-related stress can show up in symptoms that include:

  • Headaches

  • Gastro problems

  • Difficulties with sleep/insomnia

  • Impatience

  • Outbursts

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Anxiety

  • Loss of morale

  • Depression

To cope with this stress, we might initially gain some relief from developing an unhealthy habit (or a few of them) such as the ones below:

  • Overeating (or not eating at all)

  • Eating unhealthy food and living on takeaways

  • Smoking

  • Drinking more alcohol than usual

  • Avoiding social interactions

  • Abusing narcotics

One of the strongest ways we can protect ourselves is by creating habits to help us deal with job stress before it can do us damage. Developing these habits in the good times when stress is low, or manageable, is the key to ensuring ourselves as best we can in the more difficult times.

We list a few stress-reducing tactics below:

  • Prioritise recharge time - many of us want to get ahead in our careers and putting in long hours is part of the deal. And some of us may even have “nixers” whereby we’re growing a side hustle too. None of this is wrong, and we must rely on ourselves to be the best judge of what is good for us. 

    However, we are often also guilty of sacrificing our free time with little thought as we focus on our goals. And doing this can be destructive.

    Recharge time, where we set a healthy boundary (and stick to it) between work and play, is one of the best buffers we can give ourselves between our mental and physical health and stress.
     

  • Establish boundaries for everything - speaking of boundaries, they can be one of the single most effective ways to manage all the different stressors in our lives. When it comes to work, having boundaries in place to deal with our different tasks will help us reduce the anxiety deadlines can induce and keep us feeling in control of our work life.
     

  • Build healthy stress responses - a takeaway is a treat that we all enjoy, and treating ourselves from time to time is a positive thing to do. But, when we reach for the Deliveroo app every night to counteract a tough day at work, any positive benefits are quickly replaced by negative consequences.

    Food is just one example. Drugs and alcohol are others. We need to think about what we could do instead when the going gets tough. Exercise is renowned for reducing stress, and so is yoga. Music and dancing might help, drawing can be calming, and cooking healthy food takes some people out of a stressed state.
     

  • Understand what relaxation means for you - a lot gets written about mindfulness, and it’s a proven stress-buster, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. Meditation, reading, hiking etc. are just some examples of activities that can result in deep relaxation. 
     

  • Cultivate strong relationships with your team members and supervisors - we all know the little saying that “it takes teamwork to make the dream work”. There’s a lot of truth in these words too in how we can best manage stress.

    Warm and supportive relationships within teams are one of the strongest ways to mitigate stress for any team members. These relationships are usually built through open and respectful communication and they take a time investment. Getting to know our team members and our line managers in less stressful times so that we have this goodwill banked for more difficult times is a good idea.

 Looking after ourselves  

Different triggers will stress different people. And even our own responses may change depending on what else is going on in our lives.

We’re all bound to experience overwhelming stress at some point in our lives. Wider market forces, such as a recession, can wreak havoc as much as internal pressures, such as bullying or deadlines, can. Very often, the factors that cause work-related stress are out of our hands to influence and control in some way.

But that doesn’t mean that we have no control at all.

Treating ourselves well and remembering that we’re a human and not a machine is necessary when it comes to handling job stress. So is giving ourselves the help that we need when we need it.

Sometimes, self-care might look like a walk in the park. And sometimes it might be connecting with a mental health professional.

The important thing is to identify when stress tips over into dangerous territory, and then having tools at our disposal to help us get it back to manageable levels. It can be done, just as long as we stay in charge!