Seven ways to deal with workplace stress
5 minute read
Workplace stress is an inevitable part of working life. But there are ways to reduce your stress levels, and prevent stress at work happening
Stress is, unfortunately, part and parcel of working life. But there are steps you can take to mitigate its impact on you, and to reduce the amount of stress you face at work. Here, we look at the prevalence of workplace stress in the UK, as well as offer seven ways to deal with stress at work – from mindful breathing to exercise, reframing your thinking, and investing in new tools to help you work smarter, not harder.
How significant is the problem of workplace stress?
Research by HR software provider Ciphr, released in September 2021, revealed that work is one of the biggest causes of stress in the UK, with 79% of British adults admitting that they feel stressed at least once a month. The majority (84%) of these respondents said that work was to blame in some way. Failing to get enough sleep, money worries, health concerns, and family problems were all cited as additional stressors that are affecting employees’ productivity and happiness at work.
Meanwhile, a separate Ciphr study in 2019 found that more than half (54%) of workers frequently arrive at work already feeling stressed, with 45% blaming their daily commute for their pre-work stress.
Read next: Workplace stress statistics in the UK
Seven ways to deal with stress at work
1. Breathe – and try to relax
Simply breathing – and concentrating on just breathing – can help to beat stress in many situations. Even just pausing and counting to 10 before you type that next email or chat message can help to diffuse tension and anger.
When you’re stressed, your breathing pattern changes. You’ll typically take shallow breaths, using your shoulders rather than your diaphragm to inhale. This style of breathing disrupts the balance of natural gases in the body and can create and prolong feelings of anxiety. Controlling and concentrating on breathing deeply can help to reduce these feelings of stress. Popular mindfulness apps such as Calm and Headspace offer guided breathing tutorials, and you can find plenty of similar free videos on YouTube, too.
2. Take a break and get a different perspective
When you’re really stressed or angry at work, there’s no point ploughing on with a difficult task: it’s time to take a break. If circumstances allow, step away from your desk or workstation, and get a different perspective in a new location. That could be heading to the kitchen for a calming cup of tea, or taking a brisk 15-minute walk. Turning on some music or a podcast at the same time will help you to focus on something else, and help your stress levels return to a lower level.
3. Think logically
Have a think about what’s causing your feelings of stress. In some cases, just by rationalising and breaking down what the cause is you can work towards a simple solution. It’s all too easy to let things build up to such an extent that they seem worse than they actually are, or believe that a situation has become irreparable.
If you can, simplify the situation and try to think of a solution from someone else’s perspective. This strategy is especially effective is your feeling anxious about an upcoming event. Often, most things that we dread don’t turn out to be as bad as we expected. Thinking rationally and putting things into perspective can often help to alleviate the anxiety and help us to calm down.
4. Talk to someone
A great way to de-stress, get a different perspective on challenges, and figure out a way forward is to talk to a trusted friend, family member, colleague, manager, or mentor. The old saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ still rings true today. Whether you simply need to vent, or want to strategise a solution, talking to someone else will help you process your feelings of stress.
If you don’t have a confidant who you feel confident taking to, try contact your organisation’s employee assistance provider (EAP), if they have such a service, or turn to resources from credible mental health charities such as Mind, or the NHS.
5. If the same situation stresses you out regularly, try to take control
There might be certain situations at work that stress you out week in, week out – be that a tricky daily commute or highly pressured sales meeting. Is there a way to change this situation, or how you prepare for it, so that it’s less stressful? For example, if your commute is especially bad on a particular day, why not work remotely (if you can) and give yourself a break from travel. If that’s not possible, can you take a different route or different mode of transport – walk or cycle instead of driving, for example?
Don’t accept that a particular situation will always be stressful and out of your control; think and try different ways to change the situation and improve it.
6. Have the right tools for the job
Some of our workplace stress is caused by other people, or circumstances outside of our control. But often our frustrations come from not having the right tools and resources at hand to do our job properly or efficiently. Think: do you have the right tools for what’s being asked of you? If not, what do you need? Is it more soft skills training, for example, so you can better manage your direct reports? Do you need different software, to automate more tasks for you? For HR professionals, this could be modern HR software such as Ciphr HR. Payroll managers who are struggling with monthly errors might want to seek a different payroll supplier, such as Ciphr Payroll.
7. Find ways to de-stress outside work
So far, we’ve discussed several ways to try to handle workplace stress while you’re actually at work. But it’s also important to find ways to de-stress outside work. It can be tricky to balance the demands of work and home life, but it’s important to claim some ‘me’ time to reset and destress. What that ‘me’ time looks like is entirely up to you. It could be exercising, doing something creative (such as gardening, painting, or pottery), playing an instrument, watching a funny movie, reading, travelling, or meeting up with family and friends. Whatever makes you feel good – and more like you, ‘you’ – figure out how to fit this into your daily, weekly, or monthly plans.
We’ve discussed several ways to cope with daily workplace stresses, from confiding in friends to using mindfulness techniques, requesting additional resources, and taking regular breaks. But if workplace stress is a serious problem, and you are showing signs of workplace burnout, it may be time to seek professional help. Don’t be afraid to speak to your therapist, if you have one, or your GP, and get support before stress turns into a problem that prevents you working or enjoying life outside of work.
This article was first published in November 2014. It was updated in August 2022 for freshness, clarity, and accuracy.