Managing Stress At Work

Some jobs are more stressful than others. Who hasn’t sympathised with health and care workers during the pandemic? But whatever your job, you can experience work-related stress.

In short bursts, stress can help you stay alert and perform at your best. But once stress becomes ongoing or excessive, your mental health can suffer.

So too, can organisational performance. Workplace stress can lead to reduced productivity and job satisfaction and increased absenteeism, accidents and staff turnover.

You may start to feel excessively stressed if you:

  • work long hours, work through breaks or take work home
  • have low control over how you do your work
  • don’t receive enough support from managers and/or co-workers
  • are poorly managed, subject to bullying or discrimination, or have poor relationships with colleagues or bosses
  • have job insecurity.

Signs of work-related stress

According to Beyond Blue, prolonged or excessive stress contributes to the development of anxiety and depression, or may cause an existing condition to worsen.

Would you know if you were stressed? Look out for the following signs:

  • physical signs such as chest pain, fatigue, high blood pressure, headaches, nausea, muscle pains, appetite changes, sleeping problems, and slow reactions
  • non-physical signs, such as difficulty making decisions, forgetfulness, irritability, excessive worrying, feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, defensiveness, anger, mood swings, and social withdrawal.

What you can do

Identifying what is contributing to your stress can help you find the right strategies to manage it.

Talk over your concerns with your employer or human resources manager and think about the changes you need to make. Some you will be able to manage yourself; others will need cooperation from workmates or your boss. Other things that may be helpful:

  • Learn to identify your triggers. Once you know what these are, you can aim to avoid them or calm yourself down beforehand. These might include late nights, deadlines, seeing particular people, or hunger.
  • Establish routines. Predictable rhythms and routines can be calming and reassuring. These can include regular times for exercise and relaxation. Exercise can reduce the level of your stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, as well as stimulate endorphins, which are natural mood elevators.
  • Spend time with friends and family. Don’t take out your stress on loved ones, instead, tell them about your work problems and ask for their support.
  • Seek help from a psychologist or counsellor.

How Healthy is Your Self-Talk?

Our self-talk can often be brutal. The things you say to yourself can keep you feeling small and deflated.

But in the busy-ness of our day, it’s hard to tune in to all the mean things we tell ourselves. Instead, look out for these warning phrases and words, and use them as an alert that your self-talk is taking a dive:

1. “Should”

Whenever you catch yourself saying you should, take note and question it. “Should” usually indicates you are feeling inadequate, or are caught up in or perfectionism or comparing yourself to others.

Common examples include:

- “I should be able to do this quicker.”

- “I should get more exercise.”

- “I should be able to cope better, everyone else can.”

Instead, ask yourself: Is that true? And do I really want to? Try switching to: “I will” or “I can”. Or even, “I choose not to”.


2. “I don’t have time”

We are all busy. In fact, we are all often overwhelmed by the expectations of society. But is it true you don’t have time? Or is it true that you only have time for what really matters to you?

Ask yourself: Do I want to make time for this thing? Or do I choose to invest my time in something that matters more to me?

3. “I’m not good at that”

Have you ever told yourself, I won’t be good at that”? It’s very common.

You say it like it’s a fact, and it gives you a way out.
When you hear yourself saying this phrase, ask yourself:

- Is it true?

- According to whom? Who says? You? Your old teacher? The part of you that’s scared of failure?

- And even if it is true, so what? Do you have to be brilliant at it to do it? What if you practiced? Or, what if you did it just because you want to?

4. “I’m not smart enough/funny enough/good enough.”

Here’s a secret: none of us feel “good enough”. Many people go through their entire lives building evidence for why they are not good enough. Others go through their lives trying to cover it up, hoping no-one will ever find out.

Yet the truth is that being smart/funny/good is purely subjective. Remember that Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

When you hear yourself saying any combination of “I’m not [adjective] enough”, tune in and question it.

5. “If only”

This is usually spoken from a feeling of unfairness or helplessness.

- “If only I was born richer.”

- “If only I was more confident/more good-looking/more [anything].”

- “If only had I saved more money in my 20s.”

You can’t change the past, but you can reframe it.

When you catch yourself saying “If only”, make an effort to look at what you can do, what you have achieved, and what you do have.

Wanna Play?

Why play is essential to our health

What if there was a way to feel happier, more energised, more creative AND be even smarter? And what if that way was actually fun, and pretty much free? Would you do it?

It’s not a new drug or expensive treatment, it’s play.

In essence, play is something you want to do for the sake of it, not for any outcome or result. It is purposeless, all consuming, and fun.

Humans are wired for play. And when we deny ourselves the chance to play, things go, well… haywire.

In fact, there is such thing as “play deprivation”, and it has serious, even fatal, consequences.

Psychologist and researcher Dr Stuart Brown is one of the leading authorities on play.

He began with researching the background and childhoods people convicted of murder, and found many had severe play deprivation.

He subsequently did research on rats. (He says funding for play research on humans is hard to come by; too few Universities will give a grant for “play” over more serious topics.)

He took two groups of juvenile rats. One group was allowed to play, the other was not. The groups were then presented with a collar saturated with cat odour: fear and danger. Both groups ran and hid. But, here’s what happened next:

“The non-players never come out – they die. The players slowly explore the environment, and begin again to test things out. That says to me, at least in rats – and I think they have the same neurotransmitters that we do and a similar cortical architecture – that play may be pretty important for our survival.”

Infuse your life with play

“The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression,” says Dr Brown. “Think about life without play – no humour, no flirtation, no movies, no games, no fantasy. The thing that’s so unique about our species is that we’re really designed to play through our whole lifetime.”

At the end of his popular TED Talk, Dr Brown says, “So I would encourage you all to engage not in the work-play differential – where you set aside time to play – but where your life becomes infused minute by minute, hour by hour, with body, object, social, fantasy, transformational kinds of play. And I think you’ll have a better and more empowered life.”


How to play as an adult

As adults, we tend to avoid risk of failure. We don’t want to try something new in case we’re bad at it. Play removes that pressure. It doesn’t matter if you’re not “good at it” – it’s the doing of it that matters.

Here’s how to start”

1. Think back to the play you enjoyed most as a child, and then find similar activities. If you enjoyed climbing trees, you could try rock climbing. If you loved play dough, you could find a pottery class, or, as a cheaper option, start making bread at home.

2. Make time to be spontaneous. You might need to schedule blocks of time where you allow yourself to play. Make an appointment in your calendar to act as a reminder.

3. Don’t post about it. When you share your play on social media, you’re giving it a result. Try doing it just for you.