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By: Jarrod Beachum, PA-C

Working adults spend a good portion of their time at work. A week is 168 hours, and a typical 40-hour work week means we spend about 24% of our time at work. With such a large amount of our time dedicated to our jobs, it makes sense that we would want that experience to be an enjoyable experience.

However, most people cite their jobs a major source of stress that can greatly affect other aspects of our lives. In this article I would like to talk about how to identify causes of workplace stress and how to help deal with those difficult situations.

What is stress? Stress is a reaction to a situation. In general, stress occurs when we feel the situation at hand is greater than we can handle, whether it is due to the amount of time we have to complete a project, or the number of individual tasks that have to be completed, or if their an increased amount of pressure to perform at higher level.

We may feel stress when giving presentations, learning new tasks, or when the spotlight is on our department. Just as our work-related stress can affect home life, the obverse is true too; family situations that we bring into work can be another source of workplace stress.

Workplace stress can produce harmful physical and emotional responses by changing the way we perceive ourselves, and our self-worth. With unmanaged stress, it is more difficult to concentrate, make decisions, and feel confident. Result negative behaviors can include poor work performance, missing deadlines, mistreatment of fellow employees.

Physically, stress can manifest as headaches, tense muscles, a racing heart, sweating, and fatigue. Over time, stress damage is additive, leading to increase in illness and a gradual decline in physical and mental health.

So what are some specific categories of workplace stress? L.R. Murphy identified 7 main categories of stress at work. They include task design, role in the organization, career development, relationships at work, organization structure/management style, work-life balance, and workplace conditions.

Task design examples include workload, pace and variety of work, adequate time to complete a task, and how well our skills match the assigned task.

Role in the organization examples include conflicting job demands, level of responsibility, and uncertain job expectations.

Career development examples include under/over promotion, job security, lack of career development opportunities, and overall job satisfaction.

Interpersonal examples include supervisors, coworkers, threats of violence/harassment, lack of trust, and lack of methods to report and deal with unacceptable behavior.

Organizational structure/management style examples include participation (or non-participation) in decision-making, communication patterns (poor communication / information flow), little recognition for good job performance, and lack of support (such as family-friendly policies, employee assistance programs, etc.).

Work-Life Balance examples include role/responsibility conflicts and family exposed to work-related hazards.

Workplace conditions examples include exposure to unpleasant conditions (e.g., crowding, smells, etc.) and exposure to hazards (e.g., ergonomics, chemical, noise, air quality, temperature, etc.)

So how do deal with this stress? There are many strategies that can help control stress and reduce its impact. Physical causes of stress, such as poor working conditions, loud noises, small spaces can potentially re-engineered to make it more acceptable to the workers.

Workstations and equipment can be made more ergonomic to reduce effects of repetitive and strenuous movements. Greater job design is also important. A job should be reasonably demanding, account for an employee’s mental and physical abilities, give them a variety of tasks to complete, have career growth goals and a plan for development, and give the employee a certain amount of autonomy and control.

Employers can reduce stress for all employees by treating them fairly and respectfully, taking stress mitigation seriously, encourage employees to report stressors in the workplace, provide clear job expectations, and ensure proper role assignments.

Often change in an organization is very slow, and we cannot always change what the stressor is. But, we can change our attitude towards it. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a useful tool that teaches to refocus our thinking about a situation into a more positive process, allowing us to deal with a problem responsibly. CBT can even be self-led with the use of books and journals found at all major bookstores. We can also refer you to mental health counselors.

Some specific steps we can do everyday include building confidence. Take inventory of your strengths, and build on those. Even little accomplishments will add up, giving us greater confidence to take on more difficult tasks. Start each day prioritizing your schedule. Determine what has to be done, whether it is time-sensitive or other people are depending on your work to complete theirs. Talking with colleagues is important because it allows you to share a problem, and potentially gain assistance in dealing with an issue with teamwork.

Set boundaries. Set limits to when you will work extra hours, and how many tasks you can take on at one time. Diet, exercise, and sleep are vitally important at both home and work. A top-running body and mind is the best prepared to handle the daily grind. Learn to laugh. Being able to find the humor in situations will allow you to properly frame a negative or stressful situation. It helps to make it feel more approachable, instead of unbearable.

Don’t be afraid to seek support from family, coworkers, supervisors, medical professionals, or others. Being honest about your feelings will help you get the proper relief you need, and may encourage others to do the same, resulting in an even more pleasant work experience.

I hope this article lets you know that stress is a normal part of life, but one that should consume us. If you need to talk to someone about this more detail, or would like to be referred counseling services, please see us at 45 Urgent Care.