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Workplace stress and burnout have been increasingly common, especially so in the COVID-19 era where work-from-home arrangements have become the norm, and boundaries between work and life tend to be blurred. In fact, one in two Singaporean workers has shared that they feel exhausted and 58% of them feel overworked, according to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index.
Even as we strive for career growth and to make a living for ourselves, we should make sure that we manage our work stress in healthy and practical ways. It is unwise to always prioritise work above one’s health.
Find out some of the best ways you can manage stress and burnout below.
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Common stresses at work
Before we begin to understand how to manage stress and burnout, it’s helpful to first identify what are the common sources of stress at work and learn how to first recognise them before it’s too much for us to manage healthily on our own.
Here are some common stressors that you may encounter in your career:
It’s hard to focus on your work if you don’t feel that you’re being appropriately compensated for your effort and time. An unsatisfactory salary can often be a very huge source of stress especially if we have families to support or other financial burdens like mortgages or long-term medical fees to consider.
If you constantly feel like you’re being asked to take on more work than you can handle, or work that’s outside of your job scope and above your pay grade, resentment can quickly build up and cause stress at work.
Fretting about your career prospects may also add stress to your plate. Feeling like you have not been growing or learning anything new at your job can be demotivating and stressful.
Being unable to find personal meaning in the work you do can be a great source of stress for those who value their work and wish to contribute to society in a meaningful manner. If you are unable to see the impact that you make in your work, this could add on to your list of work frustrations.
Lack of autonomy
We may sometimes find ourselves in working environments which restrict our decision-making abilities and require that we follow rote routines and schedules without any flexibility. The lack of autonomy can be disconcerting and stressful for those who prefer working independently and enjoy working on their creative and critical thinking.
Unclear demands & expectations
Unclear demands and expectations are quite a common source of stress as you may not be sure of what you can do to excel and may suffer from imposter syndrome. It may be easy to overlook this source of stress as we can easily chalk it up to our own inability to understand what supervisors and superiors expect from us.
Inadequate social support
Not having a strong social support system to cope with the challenges of your workplace may also be another seemingly silent source of stress for a lot of us. As humans, we crave social contact and connection with others, and inadequate social support can cause us to feel isolated and stressed. Having someone close to talk to about our work can be a good way to relieve stress – conversely, keeping all our struggles to ourselves can lead to more built-up stress which may eventually lead to burnout.
How does stress affect physical health?
While we normally don’t expect run-of-the-mill work stress to impact our daily functioning, stress can become a severe issue when it starts to impact our physical health. Here are some ways in which stress can significantly affect our bodies:
When you’re stressed, muscles in your body tense up. Chronic stress over time can result in your muscles being constantly tense, stiff and unable to relax even in your downtime from work. These can strain your musculoskeletal system and cause you to experience tension type and migraine headaches in the long run.
Asthma panic attacks
Acute stress can even lead to respiratory symptoms like shortness of breath and rapid breathing. While hyperventilation on its own might still be manageable, it can potentially trigger asthma or panic attacks in those of us who are susceptible to either condition.
The stress that accumulates over time in the workplace can even contribute to long-term issues for your heart and blood vessels. A heightened heart rate and blood pressure, coupled with higher levels of stress hormones can potentially increase your risk of hypertension, stroke or even heart attack.
How does stress affect mental health?
Stress can also negatively affect our mental health in significant ways.
Emotionally, you may find yourself feeling:
Behaviourally, you may start to experience the following changes:
- Becoming withdrawn or reclusive
- Snapping at others easily
- Being too rigid
- Tendency to cry
- Sleeping problems
- Sexual performance issues
- Smoke, drink, or engage in other substance abuse more than usual
Ways to handle stress at work
Knowing how to manage your stress at work is essential to keeping yourself healthy both mentally and physically.
Here are some practical tips for handling stress at work:
Stress alone, isn’t a big deal as long as we know how to manage it healthily. It can even be productive for us to work under a certain amount of stress for heightened productivity. Yet it is also often reasoning like this that leads us to ignore or neglect to recognise when our stress levels become an issue or problem. Be sure to check in with yourself regularly and recognise signs of acute stress so that you can start addressing it early. Prevention is always better than cure and this is true for managing stress even at work.
Develop healthy stress-coping mechanisms
While we may be tempted to bust out the pints of ice cream or indulge in some chips whenever we’ve had a difficult day at work, such stress-coping mechanisms are unhealthy for us in the long run. You should instead work towards cultivating healthy, long-term habits that allow you to relieve stress. For example, it could be as simple as setting aside a few hours a week dedicated to gaming or signing up for a yoga or kickboxing class. Picking up a new hobby can also help give you an additional outlet for stress relief and find pleasure in relaxation.
Often, when we are driven to succeed at work, we can neglect to set appropriate boundaries or fail to recognise when professional work issues have invaded our personal boundaries in an unhealthy manner. Do not treat overtime as the expected norm; you should instead communicate with your coworkers and superiors what a healthy and manageable workload is like for yourself and negotiate accordingly. At the same time, allow yourself to truly knock off by only responding to work matters during working hours and ask that others respect your right to having downtime. This can be as simple as not checking your email after certain hours or setting no contact times.
Learn to relax
Over the course of our work, we may obsess over details and get anxious about completing deadlines on time or failing to meet certain standards. These are all understandable concerns but they should not dictate your entire working life or mood. Try and adopt a positive attitude towards your tasks and remember to take every setback as a learning opportunity to be better.
Engage in team building
It may not be wise to disengage from your co-workers if you want to manage your work stress. As we spend a lot of time with our colleagues, it can be a good idea to engage in team bonding activities with them and build supportive professional relationships at the workplace. Knowing that you have people supporting you in your tasks and that you’re not alone can do a lot to reduce your workplace stress.
Eating healthily can help you stay refreshed and on top of your game at work. A healthy diet can also help ward off the negative effects that stress can have on your physical and mental health.
Take time out
It’s important that we set time out for ourselves and schedule downtime as an essential activity that we have to do. Relaxing and practising self-care can help you rebalance your priorities and ensure that you make time to care for your mental wellness.
Speak to your superior
Communicating your challenges at work to your superior can quickly help alleviate your work stress as your superior can understand your predicament better and help you make tangible changes that can help with your stress management. For example if you’re overworked, letting your superior know your current workload and capacity will allow them to reallocate your tasks or reject incoming work from other departments. Or if you are feeling stressed from not knowing what’s expected of you, honest conversations can be enlightening for both you and your superior such that you can be clearer on how you can achieve your goals and tasks, and your superior will also be aware of how he can help you achieve those goals.
Avoid workplace gossip
While it may be tempting to get involved in gossip mills at the workplace in an attempt to find something interesting, it can potentially backfire. Innocuous at first, getting yourself involved with gossip can quickly devolve into getting yourself involved with workplace conflict. If you’re already dealing with stress, learning about someone’s workplace drama or conflict can only exacerbate how you’re feeling.
Sharpen your time management skills
If you’re feeling the crunch from too many tasks and too little time, a healthy way to approach your work is to practise time management conscientiously by always prioritising your tasks. Finish one task before starting on another and don’t try to juggle too many at once. Finding your own work efficiencies will help you avoid getting stressed out by work.
Seek professional counselling
At times, it may be best that we seek professional help in helping ourselves understand our sources of stress better and learn more effective coping strategies. Whether or not you are struggling at work, going for counselling can be a good way to verbalise your thoughts and let off some steam. Having an external neutral third-party to listen without judgement can be a good and safe way to express yourself and understand yourself better.
Forget about being perfect
It’s not uncommon for us to feel stressed from trying to perform tasks exactly right or to strive for perfection. Perfectionism, taken to an extreme, however, will only lead to burn out and an inability to manage your stress. Try your best not to sweat the small stuff – if your mistake is not going to affect you in 5 months time, it’s probably something that you don’t need to fuss over.
Consider a new career
Sometimes despite our best intentions and efforts, a workplace may simply be too toxic or stressful for us to continue working in our current jobs. Remember that it is not a reflection of failure on your part, but merely a company or job misfit. In cases like this, it may be best to seek new opportunities elsewhere and avoid a sinking ship.
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