How to Stay Mentally Healthy and Battle Stress under a Busy Schedule
Sadly stress is something we all face; it’s an unavoidable part of life. There is no going around it and even the seemingly happiest amongst us are bound to fall prey to this animal, and this is especially so for the working population.
However, not all stress is bad. A certain level of stress may be effective in increasing productivity and motivation. But if stress becomes too much and remains for a long period, you are likely to spiral downwards both mentally and physically. Learning how to manage stress is critical to your mental health.
Some jobs may naturally have higher levels of stress, for example, police or health care providers, whose jobs demand time and detailed work. However stress is not limited to any particular job, so if you do not fall under these categories do not ignore any symptoms of stress.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has defined stress as the emotional responses when a person’s job requirements do not match the needs, capabilities, and resources of that person. According to a Yale University study, 29 percent of workers in the United States feel either quite stressed or extremely stressed at work.
Evidently, this is an issue affecting millions amongst us. You could be walking right past your workplace friend and not even realize that they are under stress. The purpose of this article is to help you identify the symptoms of work related stress, its causes, its effects, and how you can manage and avoid stress and possibly prevent yourself from falling victim or help someone else overcome their own stress.
CAUSES OF WORK RELATED STRESS
I am sure the first thing a lot of people think about when they hear the term work-related stress is unemployment… right?
But even when you’re not unemployed, the possibility of experiencing work related stress is still very high. It could be caused by an increase in responsibilities, fewer benefits… Workplace stress can affect both employers and employees and may be triggered by numerous factors. But what are the major causes of work related stress?
A simple but common cause of work related stress is the workplace environment. Other causes of work related stress are mainly emotional. However, the physical environment in which you have to work can also be a cause of stress for most people.
It could be that you are forced to work in a very noisy environment, or your workplace environment lacks privacy, or that your workplace environment has poor temperature regulation. Either way, the workplace setting is a contributing factor to work related stress, or lack, thereof.
Is your workplace environment calm and comforting or does it bring you discomfort? Do you dread the idea of getting to work?
An increase in job responsibilities is one of the biggest reasons why you may be experiencing work related stress. Excess work will eventually drain you, leading to not just physical but emotional exhaustion. You may begin to experience frequent headaches, back pains, and believe it or not… difficulty sleeping.
If you are overloaded with work you will notice that you have become irritable, cynical, inflexible, and detached. If you do not manage this kind of stress in time your mental health suffers and you risk burning out.
Yes, don’t be shocked. The ideal work environment is when you have just a sufficient amount of work, not excessive but not little either. This is the exact opposite of a burnout. If you are exposed to a dull monotonous job that isn’t mentally or physically stimulating you will eventually fall victim to boredom.
That is when apathy sets in and you lose all enthusiasm for life, you walk around like a zombie with no real purpose. This unfulfilling work leads to stress because you have no outlet, you don’t feel challenged, and there is absolutely no reason to look forward to the morning.
“In the race between Lion and the Deer, many times the deer wins because the Lion runs for food while the Deer runs for life. Purpose is more important than need.” – African Proverb.
So you may need the job, but what you may not realize is that human beings feed off of purpose even more. Without purpose we are not challenged and we begin to slowly crumble on the inside. Be bold, have the courage to seek work that gives you a balanced amount of work. Work that won’t burn you out but at the same time, that isn’t too easy to handle.
Again, this may be as a result of low stimulation. Without morale you tend to become complacent and eventually the feeling of being unfulfilled sets in. The most stressful jobs are jobs that are not engaging or stimulating especially if they are your only job. For example, being stuck in a small office cubicle for 12 hours every day will not give you the same amount of stimulation that being a policeman will.
However, in your quest to seek out work that stimulates you, understand that everybody is different. You could be quite stimulated in your office cubicle if you’re a person a person who loves to keep to themselves. Again you could be stimulated and fulfilled being a policeman while other people may experience burnout. It’s all about finding what works for you; it’s not about a particular job.
What excites you? The ideal job is one where you wake up every morning looking forward to getting to work.
Workplace management is also another major cause of work related stress and it can trigger stress in a number of ways. For example, when your workplace has poor communication and you are totally excluded from any decision-making processes, you will definitely not feel supported by your employer or your coworkers. It is natural for people to want to feel connected, included, and as part of the collective. But when you feel dissociated, like a machine whose sole purpose is to take commands and process them, it slowly wears you down.
An additional cause for work related stress is a lack of work-life balance, which can happen if your workplace management does not incorporate family friendly policies. Another trigger could be how tasks are assigned at your workplace. Are you allowed infrequent breaks? Do you receive unnecessary routine tasks? Is your employer ignoring your skills?
If any of these sound familiar to you, you can speak to your employer, look for a work environment whose management system suits you, or learn to manage the stress that comes with such a strenuous management style as we shall discuss later in this article.
As adults, we assume that bullying was a phase of life, where the older kids would bully juniors and give them a hard time in high school. Wrong, bullying happens every day and nowadays there is even cyber bullying where someone doesn’t even have to be near you to intimidate you.
Bullying at the workplace includes giving impossible deadlines, rudeness, sexist remarks, gossiping, generational discrimination…And just like bullying in your school years might have been a reason or cause of stress and anxiety, so does workplace bullying. Some psychologists even suggest that the negative mental effects bullying has on a person could be worse than those of sexual harassment.
Career concerns can also be a major trigger stress. If you have concerns about your job security or the slow advancement of your career you may feel the need to put in more effort to resolve these issues. You may find yourself turning up to work super early, taking very few, shorter breaks, refusing to take sick leaves, volunteering for overtime…you basically become a workaholic all to solidify your position or to boost your chances of a promotion.
All these are signs of work anxiety. So if you have been feeling this way or have been doing any of the above, it may be time to take a step back and assess your mental space, you may be well on the way to falling victim to work related stress.
The questions to honestly answer here are; Are you afraid of losing your job? Do you feel that you are stepping up the ladder too slowly in your career? Or are you using work to deflect your attention from something deep-seated?
This will mostly apply if you work in a high risk environment, for example, in law enforcement, in the fire department, in the military… but it can also apply to bullying.
Some jobs are just naturally more dangerous than others and may lead to very stressful experiences, especially those that entail putting yourself at risk every day. Aside from your own well-being, witnessing a horrific incident befall another person can also be very traumatic.
Imagine a military service-man in active combat, forced to use his weapon, in the process killing an insurgent. This can be a traumatic memory for that service man, where he will associate his work with the death of a human being. This may cause that service-man great anxiety and stress both on and off duty. Think PTSD.
If your work is of a high-risk nature and you have found yourself being stressed or anxious, whether it is because of something you have witnessed, experienced, or anticipated… you need to consider whether that job is suited for you. If the answer is yes, then this article will tell you exactly how you can combat that stress and stay mentally balanced.
SYMPTOMS OF WORK RELATED STRESS
Any form of work can be stressful in its own unique way. Therefore, regardless of your position, salary, field, popularity… you are not immune to work related stress. Work can become too much and when you are stressed you may begin to experience both physical and psychological symptoms.
What’s important here is to learn to listen to the signals your body and mind are sending in order to be able to combat stress at an early stage.
So what are the symptoms of work related stress?
Poor Work Performance
Under stress your ability to perform optimally is inhibited and you may find your performance at work slowly plunging. Stress affects your ability to execute tasks you are already aware of properly or to process new information and apply it.
This is because under stress, your mind is filled with anxiety, worries, and tension and you are therefore easily distracted and prone to make mistakes. Depreciation in your workplace performance should be one of the first indicators that you could be under stress.
You would assume that sleep would come easy when you are so drained by work but ironically, this is one of the most common symptoms of work related stress. If you find yourself constantly staring at the ceiling at 3am going over things that either happened at work or that will happen, you may be experiencing work related stress.
With sleep deprivation you experience this vicious cycle where the lack of ample rest decreases your enthusiasm, concentration, and performance levels and in turn your slow/poor performance feeds your stress and the cycle continues.
This could go either way. You may find that you have been either overeating or not eating enough, both of which are signs of stress. You could be one of those people who crave junk food after a strenuous day or you could be one of those people who lose appetite when they aren’t particularly feeling their best.
Are you eating more or less than usual? Have you been steadily losing weight or gaining weight? Do you feel like you are energetic enough throughout the day?
If there has been a noticeable change in your eating habits for an extended period, you may be experiencing stress and you need to find out if it stems from work.
When you are under stress you may feel the urge to distract your mind from the issues that are really bothering you; calm your nerves. Alcohol, cigarettes, or other drugs may be just your go-to for temporary relief. Have you found yourself over indulging in drugs? This may be a sign that something is wrong and you may be experiencing stress.
If you are doing drugs for an emotional reason you put yourself at a great risk for addiction. Remember that drugs may seem like a temporary relief but they may eventually escalate the real problem. You may even lose the little functionality you have left in your work and risk losing your job and at the same time jeopardize your chances of acquiring a new one. These habits could also lead to serious medical and psychological issues. Hence making a mountain out of what was possibly a molehill.
If you have noticed that you are indulging heavily lately, you need to ask yourself why?
Change in Appearance/Physical Symptoms
When you are stressed, you don’t sleep well, eat well, or exercise, and this will definitely take its toll on your body. You may have eye bags under your eyes due to lack of sleep, people may constantly tell you that you’re wearing a worried expression, or you could loss/gain an alarming amount of weight. Other symptoms include cold sores, dry skin, mouth ulcers, aches, bodily pains (e.g. Chest, back), peptic ulcers, nausea, low sex drive, stroke, heart disease…
Additionally, when you are under stress your self-worth may take a hit and you may become sloppy in your grooming habits or personal hygiene. If your physical appearance seems to be taking a nosedive of late, there may be an underlying cause for this and in all likelihood stress may be the culprit.
Have you become antisocial lately?
Stress is known to impact self- esteem and encourage negative thinking, which may in turn make you feel like the world is against you, leading you into isolating yourself. The problem with social isolation is that you do not realize that you are lonely and that you feel unimportant in the world and this may make the stress even worse.
If you feel that you have been avoiding social contact even with people that you like, you may be under stress and you need to address the issue before it snowballs into bigger physical and psychological problems.
When you are under stress, you may find it extremely difficult control your emotions. You may feel jovial for a moment and then find yourself getting extremely angry the next for no substantial reason. This can end up being detrimental to your career if you portray the image that you are unable to cope with the stress of the job.
Therefore, if you have found yourself to be increasingly irritable or that your moods keep shifting without any tangible or substantial triggers, you may be experiencing stress and you need to find way to manage it for a healthy balance.
These are some of the major symptoms of workplace related stress but it does not mean that there are no others. So often we are so caught up in the things we do on a daily basis that we forget to pay attention to the cues our minds and our bodies give us. Therefore, remember, the best way to find out if you are indeed under stress is to listen to your own body and your own feelings.
DISCUSSION- MENTAL HEALTH EFFECTS OF WORK RELATED STRESS
Can stress cause/encourage mental health issues or is stress a mental health issue itself?
It is quite difficult to distinguish when stress becomes a mental health issue and when an already existent mental health issue is provoked by work related stress. A lot of symptoms related to stress are also common in mental health conditions. For example, frequent mood swings attributed to stress are common for bipolar disorder and will often have the same effects.
Most people diagnosed with mental health problems can continue to work productively and have very successful careers. Look, at Angelina Jolie, a very successful actress who has in the past been diagnosed with chronic depression.
Granted stress will put you at an emotionally and mentally unstable state and if you already had an underlying mental condition it may become aggravated. But how I see it, the real issue is not whether stress cause/encourages mental disorders or is a mental disorder on its own.
The important thing is to identify the symptoms and take action as early as possible. Taking action and addressing the symptoms early enough will prevent you from becoming even worse… and if you seek professional help and you end up being diagnosed with a mental illness, don’t panic, a lot of people have been extremely successful in their careers even after being diagnosed with mental illnesses. The key is management.
Identify times when you are out of character and read your physical symptoms for stress, find the root cause, and make adjustments to ease and manage that stress.
STRATEGIES FOR MANAGING WORK RELATED STRESS
The underlying question here is; How can you manage work-related stress and maintain a healthy mental space?
Track your Triggers
Keep a mental record for about a week in which you identify situations/factors that either cause you the most anxiety, stress, or fear… monitor your thoughts and feelings in those environments, inclusive of the people and particular circumstances involved and the exact reaction you had.
Were you unable to communicate your feelings? Did you storm off? Did you get rude? Did you make threats? Did you quietly curl up in your shell? Noting all these factors will enable you to realize what situations and groups of people to stay clear of. It will also help you realize when you are getting disturbed in real time and to remove yourself from the situation causing you distress. Finally, it will help you stay in control of your reactions and employ the most rational one, whether for your case that is consciously telling yourself to refrain from raising your voice or telling yourself to express yourself instead of curling up your shell.
This way you will be able to avoid/maneuver through stressful situations and simultaneously get to release some tension by addressing the issue at hand in real time and in the most suitable manner.
“Master yourself and conquer the world.” – Bruce Lee
Get in Touch with your Inner Sense
Stress is more emotional than physical, therefore, get in touch with your feelings and understand what puts you in a good mood; and this could be anything. What relaxes you (in a healthy way of course)? What calms your nerves? What sounds, smells, activities, breathing patterns… calm you and lift your spirits?
Everyone has a positive sensory response to something. Find and understand yours and use it whenever you are feeling anxious, tense, fearful or under pressure.
This is a strategy you can use immediately; you do not have to wait a week to start exercising. You do not have to go to the gym every day to exercise. Simple activities that involve moving your arms or legs have particularly been cited as effective in stress management.
For example, running, walking, aerobics, swimming, and dancing are all simple and effective ways to relieve stress. The reason why exercise helps you release some stress is because exercise releases endorphins in your brain that works as a natural aphrodisiac, putting you in a happier more receptive mood, making you more tolerant to uncomfortable situations.
Have a Consistent Sleep Pattern
Feeling tired increases your stress because you become more irritable and irrational. Lack of sleep and inconsistent sleep patterns on the other hand encourages chronic stress because in your tired state you are incapable of properly resolving work-related issues.
This means that the issues will constantly hover over your head, loud and unresolved, which then aggravates your stress levels. Can you imagine having to deal with the same problem because you did not handle it properly the first time? How would that make you feel?
Establish a very specific sleep pattern where you get a minimum of six hours of sleep. Clear your mind and intentionally forget about work for this period. You will find that you wake up with a renewed energy, strength, and morale to tackle work issues. Improve your sleeping pattern to feel less stressed, more productive, and mentally balanced.
Learn to take some time off to meditate; this is one of the most effective ways to relieve stress. Take deep breathes and channel or your energy to being mindful. Train your mind to go over issues and experiences that you have all through the day from a very objective and non-judgmental point of view.
This will give you a clear understanding of issues and experiences, giving you clear solutions and actively melting away the stress that comes with them. If it does not work so easily do not be discouraged, the art of purposefully focusing objectively on particular issues will get stronger the more you practice and apply to all life situations beyond work.
Avoid isolation at all cost. Shutting the world away might not sound like such a bad idea but it eventually begins to fuel your stress. Being around people you like and having face-to-face conversations with them can trigger stress relieving hormones whenever you’re feeling unsure, unsafe, or uncomfortable.
Even just a few kind words in passing can help you calm your nerves. Being with other people will also deliver stress-reducing pleasure and at the same time avail opportunities for you to grow your career and expand your social network.
Draw Clear Work-Life Boundaries
In an increasingly technological world, it is easy to feel a certain pressure to be available at all hours of the day. As much as this is convenient for work, it may bring with it a certain level of stress where you find yourself always thinking of work even in your down time. Establish some boundaries for yourself.
For example, you could consciously decide not to check your work email when you’re away from work or to stay away from your phone over lunch and dinner. People have different ways of blending their work and their personal life so find what works best for you but be sure not to overlap these two too much. This will reduce the potential for stress that comes with work-life conflict.
Eating healthy does not necessarily mean adhering to a strict diet or denying yourself your favorite foods. Re-examine your current diet and experiment with more healthy ways of eating known to promote mental health. Create an eating plan that is sure to revitalize your energy, better your mood, and improve your outlook on the world around you.
Remember if your body is not working at optimum performance, neither will your mind and you are more likely to fall prey to stress when you are demoralized and lacking in enthusiasm.
Seeking Further Help
Some people need professional help to deal with their stress. For example, people who have been diagnosed with an anxiety/personality disorder that needs medical treatment. If you fall under this category, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Keep up with the prescribed medication and consult with your doctor.
Alternatively, you could also seek credible stress management self-help resources whenever you notice yourself falling out of balance and with the increased availability of information on the internet you do not have to go to the library; you could access online resources even at work and find quick relief for any anxiety, tension, or stress and restore your mental balance.
I am sure we can all agree that it is impossible to entirely eliminate work-related stress. Regardless of what kind of work you do or what position you play, there are bound to be moments and experiences that will trigger stress. However, this does not mean that you cannot neutralize that stress by filling your life with meaningful thoughts and actions. You deserve to lead a happy life and the strategies discussed above can ensure that you have exactly that by helping you maintain a good mental balance.
Work-related stress does not just disappear, it constantly piles up, and if it is not addressed it will continue to pile up and can lead to very serious/chronic consequences inclusive of mental breakdowns and physical illnesses.
With competing demands and pressures in modern work life, it is important that you adopt habits that ensure that you avoid undue stress. Managing stress and getting a healthy mental state is not only essential for improving your performance at work but also for improving the general quality of your life, in which work is only one aspect. Where there is imbalance in a particular area of your life, it will definitely affect other areas of your life, which will negatively impact the quality of life.
What is considered balance will vary from person to person. Therefore, understand yourself, take time to self-reflect and understand the emotional and physiological changes that adversely affect you as well as the situations that trigger these adverse reactions. Also monitor yourself physically in order to understand when your body is going through changes that are indicative of stress. Once you have understood your triggers and can easily spot any indicators of stress, discover what strategies work best for you to relieve pressure, tension, stress…
Remember, having a healthy mind does not imply that you are not being exposed to harmful conditions but that you have put in place health-promoting strategies. Take action today and employ the most suitable strategies for you to combat work-related stress, maintain a healthy mind, and improve the quality of your life. Good Luck!!
If you are reading this, you are probably at that point where there is a promising job advertised …