3 MIN READ | Health Psychology

How to Manage Stress at Work

Dennis Relojo-Howell

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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A host of research has revealed that stress at work is one of the leading causes of people being off sick. Stress has been traditionally defined either as a stimulus (often referred to as a stressor that happens to a person such as a laboratory shock or loss of a job), or as a response characterised by physiological arousal and negative affect, especially anxiety.

Most experience stress at some point during their working life. Although there is such thing as good stress (eustress), some people find it less manageable than others.  

Without smart habits for dealing with situations that could be stressful, work life can be a whole lot more burdensome.


Stress affects people differently.  Some people seem to thrive on extremely stressful lifestyles, while others struggle to cope with everyday life. 

The latest estimates from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) show that:

  • The total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2015–16 was 488,000 cases – a prevalence rate of 1,510 per 100,000 workers.
  • The number of new cases was 224,000, an incidence rate of 690 per 100,000 workers. The estimated number and rate have remained broadly flat for more than a decade.
  • The total number of working days lost due to this condition in 2015–16 was 11.7 million days. This equated to an average of 23.9 days lost per case. Working days lost per worker showed a generally downward trend up to around 2009–10; since then the rate has been broadly flat.
  • In 2015–16 stress accounted for 37% of all work-related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health.
Stress affects people differently. 
  • Stress is more prevalent in public service industries, such as education; health and social care; and public administration and defence.
  • By occupation, jobs that are common across public service industries (such as healthcare workers; teaching professionals; business, media and public service professionals) show higher levels of stress as compared to all jobs.
  • The main work factors cited as causing work-related stress, depression or anxiety were workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support.

So what can we do about it?

  1. Be realistic of what you can achieve in a day. This is the most important tip, at least for me. I don’t want to be overworked. I know how much work I can get done in a day and I just stick with it. It’s not helpful if you bite off more than you can chew and then berate yourself for not getting it done. Valerie Jackson, a  medical doctor from Indiana University, explains that realistic time management and organisation plans can improve productivity and the quality of life. 
  2. Think about the three fundamentals of energy. What are these three fundamentals? Getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and exercising a couple of times a week. When you manage these three areas they can create a difference for your mood, energy, outlook of life, and how well you can handle stress.
  3. Watch out for signs of stress. These include: being anxious, irritable or depressed feeling; experiencing apathy, loss of interest in work, difficulty sleeping, and having concentration problems.
  4. Learn to distinguish between ‘urgent’ and ‘important’. Since we don’t have all the time in the world to every task all at once, we should learn how to prioritise. Urgent tasks demand immediate action while important tasks can wait at a later time. 
  5. If you think you had enough, ask for help. Consulting a professional, like a therapist or a counsellor, or talking to a colleague, a friend, family member, or a someone from support group, is an effective step in taking control of the stress and managing it properly.

Takeaway

As an employee, it is important that we look after ourselves. Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean that you have to do a massive overhaul on your lifestyle. Take things one step at a time, and as you make more positive lifestyle choices, you’ll soon notice a decrease in your stress levels.


Dennis Relojo-Howell is the world’s first blog psychologist and founder of Psychreg. He also writes a regular column for Free Malaysia Today


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