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How to Better Manage Work Stress

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Work stress is unavoidable from time to time. But if it happens all the time, it can lead to more serious consequences, like burnout. Burnout at work isn’t something that happens quickly – it happens gradually. It’s a result of long periods of stress and not properly taking care of yourself, among other factors. It can’t be cured quickly, either. But if you do what you can to manage your stress and overall health, you’ll be able to prevent burnout and lead a better life at work and at home.

Address your stressors

If it often seems like the more responsibilities you have, the more stressors you have, then it’s time to address your stressors. Don’t put off doing so because that only creates more stress. For example, if you’re stressed out by the number of emails you get each day, see if there’s a way to whittle the number down, such as deactivating automatic notifications that you don’t need to read. Then, set up specific times of the day to answer emails so that you’re not constantly checking your inbox.

Stressed about an upcoming promotion? Sure, working 12-hour days might help you get that promotion, but think about what you will be sacrificing by doing so, such as your health, well-being, and time with your family. Is that promotion really worth it? More importantly, are you actually working efficiently during those 12 hours, or is there a way you can work better in less time and still have a shot at reaching your goal?

Take breaks to move around

No matter where you work or what you do – whether you’re an office worker, freelancer from home, or even a professional gamer – in this day and age, you likely work long hours at a computer. This behaviour can not only cause us mental stress. You just got another 10 emails you have to answer right away, but it can also cause our bodies physical stress. Even if you have decent posture, staring at a screen for long hours strains your eyes, neck, and back.

That’s why it’s crucial for workers to find a way to break away from their desks for small periods throughout the day and, most importantly, at the end of the work day. During this time, avoid screens and keep active. Walk around the office or outside, and do some basic neck and back stretches. Your body and mind will thank you. 

Set boundaries

To help better control work stress, it’s necessary to set work-life boundaries. Taking your work home with you might be unavoidable once in a while, but don’t make it a habit. Go in early or stay late to grade papers or finish a high-priority project. If you work from home, have a separate work-only area if possible, and set clear working hours. Don’t check or answer work emails from bed or after a certain hour, either. Play it by ear, and set boundaries as needed when you see that work is starting to seep too much into your day-to-day life.

Setting boundaries is an important step to take with coworkers, too. If you’re a ‘yes’ person and feel like you constantly have to help others, it’s time to set some boundaries. You can’t do it all, and others shouldn’t expect you to. Sure, helping each other out once and a while is fine, but if it becomes a habit, you know what you need to do. It’s time to start saying no when a coworker asks for some extra help on a project, or to take over tasks that he or she is clearly able to do.

Take care of yourself

In order to manage stress at work, you also need to take care of yourself outside of work. Exercise regularly to help combat stress, even if you don’t feel actively stressed. Stay hydrated and eat nutritious foods, and remember to keep junk food in moderation. Make time each day for something you love to do, and treat yourself when needed. If you take good care of yourself, you’ll feel better both at work and outside of work, and you’ll be better able to handle any stressors (and potential stressors) that come your way.

Jason Smith did his degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh.  He has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being. 

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