April is Stress Awareness Month, so it seems like a good time to address one of the most common sources of stress – work. Many of us spend more time working than anything else. We’re also going to be working for much longer than previous generations. The age at which you can start claiming your state pension is currently set at 66 for men and women, but this will rise to 67 by 2028. Lots of younger people will have to wait until they’re at least 68 to start claiming. Given what we do for a living is such a huge part of our lives, managing work-related stress should be a top priority.
Why Managing Work-Related Stress is Important
Managing work-related stress is a key part of staying fit and healthy. Less stress means:
- Less anxiety, depression and overwhelm
- A calmer mind
- Better physical health
- More emotional resilience
- Improved relationships in and out of work
- Increased productivity and fewer mistakes
- More creativity and better problem solving
Working 9-5 or 24/7?
Over the last ten years, and especially during the pandemic, how we work has changed dramatically. The ability to work remotely means many of us have brought our professional lives directly into our homes for the first time. While this has many benefits, it’s also removed some of the natural boundaries created by the need to leave work and return home. Thanks to modern technology, we are rarely, if ever, unreachable. Whether we like it or not, this means we can be contacted by our employers and/or clients 24 hours a day.
As I write this, it feels quite scary. If we don’t take a stand, there’s a very real risk work could take over completely. However, we also expect a much better work/life balance than previous generations. We have a deeper understanding of the importance of looking after our physical and mental health. We’re also aware retirement could look very different for us. If we’re going to be working well into out late 60s, we need to make time for travel and hobbies while we’re relatively young, fit and healthy. Sometimes we lose sight of these things, but the underlying desire is there. That’s where the following advice comes in…
3 Tips for Managing Work-Related Stress
1. Get the Basics Right
Whenever you feel your stress levels increasing, check you’re getting enough sleep. Are you eating well and staying hydrated? How often are you moving your body? Yes, these are basic things, but it’s easy to let them slip when life gets busy.
Connecting with others is another mood-boosting habit that’s easily overlooked, especially with so many of us working from home. Did you know loneliness kills more people than obesity or smoking? We are a social species and connection with others is crucial for our wellbeing, so it’s important to prioritise spending time with friends and colleagues outside of work.
2. Choose Gentle Productivity Over Hustle Culture
Overworking to the point of exhaustion creates stress and overwhelm and can even lead to burnout. Keep your to-do lists manageable so you end each day with a feeling of achievement. Take regular breaks. You might feel you’re being more productive by pushing through but pausing to rest and recharge your batteries will help you get more done overall.
If you work from home, and especially if you work for yourself, check-in with your work/life boundaries. If things have become a little blurred, try printing off a weekly planner and noting down your ideal working week. What time will you start work? When will you take breaks? Where will you do your most focused work? Consider when you work best and when you’d like to finish each day. Pin the planner somewhere you can see it and focus on getting your working week aligned with your ideal. Read How to Protect Your Mental Health While Working From Home for more inspiration and advice.
3. Look After Your Mind
One of the best ways to tackle work-related stress is to develop more awareness of the patterns of your mind. Becoming more aware of your thoughts is the starting point to developing more cognitive flexibility. In other words, when you know and understand what triggers you, you can prepare and develop new ways of managing those things. Aside from CBT, journaling is one of the best tools for improving self-awareness. Read The Benefits of Journaling for more information.
Trying to think your way out of stress will never work. You need to focus on calming your body. Breathwork is one way to do this. Try this box breathing technique – breath in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, breath out for four seconds, then hold for four seconds. If you can, work your way up to six seconds. As you practice, imagine you are breathing in line with the shape of a box.
A regular mindfulness practice can also help you manage work-related stress. Read Mindfulness Tips from a CBT Therapist to help you get started.
Get My Guide to Building Emotional Resilience
If you’ve worked through the advice above but would like to do more, building emotional resilience is another well-being basic that can protect you from feelings of stress and overwhelm. Download my free guide here.
As a CBT Therapist and experienced public speaker, I also deliver corporate mental health workshops. If you’d like to book one for your organisation or find out more, please get in touch.