Feeling overwhelmed, nervous, or hopeless? Have low energy, headaches, stomach problems, muscle tension, or insomnia? If this is you, read on for the top strategies for managing stress in the workplace.
April is Stress Awareness Month. But if you’re like me, you probably don’t need a reminder to be “aware” of stress. Perhaps it’s something you experience quite often – dare I say, even on a daily basis.
Statistics show that 77% of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, and 73% experience psychological symptoms. The fact is the majority of Americans are stressed out! And sadly, healthcare employees are often some of the most vulnerable.
A medical personnel report issued before the COVID-19 pandemic in a CareerBuilder survey showed that healthcare providers had higher stress levels and more complaints than employees of any industry including the business and retail sectors. The survey analysis showed a whopping 69% of healthcare workers reported feeling stressed in their job, and one in six workers reported being “highly stressed”.
Since the pandemic, high stress levels among healthcare workers has only increased. A survey from Mental Health America collected from healthcare workers indicated they’re stressed out and stretched too thin: 93% were experiencing stress, 86% reported experiencing anxiety, 77% reported frustration, 76% reported exhaustion and burnout, and 75% said they were overwhelmed.
Job Killing You? Work-Related Stress and Health
Stress can wreak havoc on your health. Not only are there emotional ramifications from high stress, but it can cause serious physical harm, too. This includes fatigue, muscle tension, headaches, insomnia, gastrointestinal issues (heartburn, stomach cramping, diarrhea, or constipation), frequent episodes of illness such as colds or fever blisters, heart palpitations and/or chest pain, and much more. In fact, the American Institute of Stress reports that chronic stress can lead to coronary artery disease and even result in a heart attack or sudden death. Meaning, your job can literally kill you!
8 Successful Strategies for Managing Stress in the Workplace
If simply reading about stress has made you feel anxious, don’t fret! We have the top research-proven strategies for managing stress in the workplace – and these are especially helpful if you work in healthcare.
#1 – Drink a cup of hot lavender tea.
Lavender is an herb that has been proven to naturally induce feelings of calmness. A study published in the journal Phytomedicine revealed that lavender oil was just as effective as the pharmaceutical drug lorazepam (Ativan) for treating adults with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. If your taste buds don’t prefer lavender, try chamomile or peppermint tea, which have both been shown to be beneficial in relaxing the muscles and reducing irritability.
#2 – Improve your planning.
Are you highly organized? If you’re not sure, stop and take a moment to look around your workspace or take a glance at your schedule for the day. Now, as you observe your environment or calendar, how does it make you feel? Are you tense and overwhelmed? If so, improved planning may be the key to relieving your stress. Putting in the effort to get your work tasks in order can help reduce stress levels long-term by requiring less last-minute scrambling.
#3 – Find a hobby.
Hobbies can significantly improve workplace stress. Whether the hobby is running, gardening, scrapbooking, reading, music, or whatever you choose, it can help alleviate high blood pressure and stimulate creativity. If your after-hour activities involve staring at the tube or scrolling through Facebook, consider an alternative to improve your work-life balance.
#4 – Help someone.
The Association for Psychological Science reports that helping others dampens the effects of everyday stress. “Providing help to friends, acquaintances, and even strangers can mitigate the impact of daily stressors,” according to research published in Clinical Psychological Science.
“When we help others we can also help ourselves,” explains study author Emily Ansell of the Yale University School of Medicine. “Stressful days usually lead us to have a worse mood and poorer mental health, but our findings suggest that if we do small things for others, such as holding a door open for someone, we won’t feel as poorly on stressful days.”
#5 – Change your breathing rhythm.
Breathing deeply can help you relax. The next time you are in a stressful situation, change your breathing by inhaling deeply through your nose, hold for three to five seconds, and then exhale completely through your mouth. While breathing deeply, try to relax your shoulders. Do this four to five times to help decrease your “fight or flight” response.
#6 – Take a walk or participate in exercise during your workday.
If you’re having a stressful day, use your lunch break to take a 20- to 30-minute walk in the sunshine, or try going to a gym for a quick workout. This can significantly help you manage your stress levels by pumping your body full of endorphins.
#7 – Talk to someone.
Stress can turn us into a pressure cooker. We bottle up all that heat and tension on the inside because we think asking for help makes us weak. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, talk to someone. It may sound simple, but it really is one of the best things you can do to fight stress. Whether it be a friend, spouse, or counselor, don’t entrap your emotions to the point that you become physically ill from stress.
#8 – Be grateful.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Instead of focusing on the negative circumstances in your life, try to think of something to be thankful for. Gratitude doesn’t just make you a better person, research shows it’s a natural way to fight stress and anxiety. “Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life,” said Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis. “It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, and facilitate more efficient sleep.”
What’s Your Strategy for Managing Stress?
Have you tried any of these or other strategies for managing stress in your place of work? If so, tell us your experience in the Comments section below. By doing so, you may help someone else who is desperately trying to CHILL OUT!
- Chill Out! Stress and Burnout in the Healthcare Professional
- Agility in Leadership: Combat Stress and Change Fatigue
Originally published in April 2018; updated in April 2021.