Coping with stress at work is more important than ever in a world of constant demands. In fact, according to the American Institute of Stress, over 80% of employees regularly feel stressed at work and 25% mention stress at work as the #1 stress source. In other words: too much work, toxic coworkers or bosses, an unbalanced personal life – all factors contributing to stress at work. Fortunately, coping with stress at work is widely studied and effective strategies are there to help you.
Coping with Stress at Work – Acute or Permanent?
There are two types of stress: acute, that is the fight-or-flight response in acute situations, or permanent, that is the ever underlying fear of losing control. While acute stress is the one we usually notice most, it is actually the permanent stress that represents the root cause of stress at work.
Usually, coping with stress at work involves some kind of stress relief strategy and they are helpful in these immediate situations. However, while these strategies may help in acute situations, they don’t help to cope with the root causes of stress.
Permanent Stress is the #1 stress source
As a result, we suffer from long-term effects of stress at work. This is to say that instead of trying to repair the damage after it occurred, we should try to work on the reason why we are stressed out in the first place. Instead of dealing with the stress symptoms, we should focus on the underlying reason for our stress.
Most importantly, our ability to cope with stress at work relies on our stress resistance. That is our individual stress tolerance level. In fact, if our stress tolerance is high enough, stress at work will not be able to impact us the way it used to. This picture explains the relationship between stress levels and stress resistance
Coping with Stress at Work is About Us, not the Stressor
There will always be stress at work, and more likely than not the stress will grow throughout our career. Moreover, the more stressed out we are, the more effective relaxation we will need to balance the scales. So coping with stress at work will become more difficult over time as we will need to use up all our resources to relieve stress.
Instead we should try to bring our individual stress tolerance up. As a result, we will need fewer resources to find relief. To summon our inner resources to cope with stress at work, we will need to look at three factors of our stress response
- Coping with the stressor
- Our evaluation of the stressor
- Dealing with our self-image
So let us look at all the ways of effective coping with stress at work.
Coping with Stress at Work: The 20 Stress Coping Strategies
- Forgive others
While the actions of your co-workers or your boss may be hurting, they are often not directed at you. We are all human and try to get through the day as best as we can. Coping with stress at work includes being forgiving.
- Don’t take it personally
Everybody has their agenda and wants to advance their careers. And sometimes, we get hurt. Our boss or co-workers need to make sacrifices so they can fulfill their roles – it has nothing to do with you. Therefore, coping with stress at work means to take a step back and be objective about the situation.
- Don’t try to control everything
There are many streams and dependencies which you have no power over. A company is a fluid, ever-changing thing with different demands on different levels. It is impossible to understand all happenings or even to control them. Coping with stress at work means to acknowledge that you have no control over most things.
- Establish healthy habits
Use the lunch break to consciously enjoy your food. Also, try to take a walk during lunch, preferably in nature. Coping with stress at work means to keep your desk clean, your calendar organized and taking care of your body.
- Manage your expectations
Not getting that promotion, new position, or cool project is not the end of the world. Take things as they come and don’t get overly excited about possibilities that may or may not come your way.
- Find mentors
Deep and honest relationships allow you to focus on what’s important. Also, they will help you to get a new perspective on stressors. When coping with stress at work, your social network is a perfect source for stress relieve.
- Focus on the opportunity
A neurotic boss, sadistic co-workers, or long working hours seem to be things destined to stress us out. However, if you force yourself to see your situation as a challenge to grow, you will see that you can find ways to use the toxic behavior of your boss or your co-workers to your advantage.
If nothing else, they can teach you to become more resistant in a toxic environment, which will benefit you in all other situations in life. Long working hours give you the chance to better organize and prioritize your work to become more efficient at it and in the course reduce your hours. Or even to develop the courage to take action, for example by speaking up or by quitting. Either way, afterward you will be more stress resistant and in the future better at coping with stress at work.
- Accept the past
Let go of past mistakes that led to bad results. You are constantly growing and that horrible presentation you delivered some time ago is nothing to overthink. Coping with stress at work means to accept your past, embrace the lessons learned and to move on.
- Embrace change
Everything at work is in constant change. Re-organization, new colleagues or bosses, an everchanging market with changing customers. It will not serve you to avoid these challenges. Instead, sit back and relax, ride the wave and don’t resist and coping with stress at work will come easy as the change will not stress you out anymore.
- Don’t hypothesize, just ask
Your creativity might get in your way when you are always guessing. While information flow is always somewhat constricted at work, asking still gives you a better picture of the situation. You can ask your mentor, trusted co-workers or even HR. Facts will give you clarity and take the stress out of guessing.
- Value facts over theories
Don’t engage in rumors, negative talk, or hypotheses about people or the organization. You don’t have all the information anyways, so what good will it do to you? Stress coping at work means to find the facts and act on them.
- Become a decision machine
Make it a habit to take quick decisions and to accept whatever consequences come out of it. We never know everything and although sometimes there is some uncertainty, taking the decision is more helpful than overanalyzing. Coping with stress at work means to own your decisions. And also remember that there are no failures, just learnings!
- Own your stress triggers
Everybody has something that stresses us out. A certain place, time, project, or coworker may be responsible for most of your stress at work. Identify the stress source and start coping with it immediately
- Remember your achievements
Sometimes, the stress is frustrating and we stop to believe in ourselves. In these situations, it is important to focus on everything that we already achieved in our career. The projects we delivered, the difficult situations we have already managed, and the tough decisions we have already taken. Coping with stress at work becomes easier when we remember our abilities to manage stress.
- Set clear goals and go after them
Most companies offer guidance for career development. Take advantage of it and plan your career in detail. Derive a plan for the next month and the full year so you will always know why you are doing what you are doing. In fact, try to connect your work to your personal why. Meaning, why do you go to work? Is it to support your family? Is it to finance your hobby? Find this why and see your work as a vessel to get there.
- Opinions are not facts
You may have a negative self-image from time to time, forcing you to give up in stressful situations. In these moments, stress at work just becomes too much. But remember that your self-talk is nothing more than thoughts. And you can control your thoughts. Turn your negative talk into positive, affirming talk and you will immediately relief yourself of stressors.
- Understand your actions, thoughts, and emotions
Negative thoughts will lead to negative feelings and bad decisions. Coping with stress at work means to accept your emotions and force yourself into positive thoughts. Moreover, negative emotions are not a bad thing, just make sure that you don’t act while you are emotionally unstable. Whenever a negative thought arises, consciously ban it and focus on what is good in your job.
- Don’t worry too much
Sometimes, we get most creative when it comes to worrying about things that could go wrong. Worry about your work is definitely among the top stressors in our lives. Of course, we need to be conscious about our security and financial situation, but worry without action will not serve you. Instead, try to translate your worries into things you can actually do. If you can’t find an action, then this worry falls into the category of things you cannot control. Accept them and move on.
- Look at the whole picture
Will this really matter in a year from now, even a month from now? Sometimes, stress feels so intense that we forget how insignificant it can be. A hurtful comment from your coworker and you can’t focus on anything else for days? Forget it, just like your coworker forgot it five minutes after your encounter.
- Don’t forget the fun
Personally, the most effective strategy for coping with stress at work is to try and do everything with joy. Trying to enjoy every task, conversation or situation as much as possible gave me a different spin on the topics and helps me cope with stress at work everyday.
There you have it. Some of these strategies are easier to apply, others take more time. In any case, coping with stress at work is well manageable if you know how.
Generally, a healthy lifestyle with enough rest, healthy food and regular exercise will help you with stress coping, not only at work. But of course, you already knew that.