Work-Related Stress & Mental Health

Mental Health / Workplace Health

We can all face pressure at work, regardless of age, experience or job title. Sometimes pressure can motivate and make us more productive. However, too much pressure can become stressful and affect our happiness and quality of life, leaving us feeling physically and mentally unwell.

There are different techniques you can try to help manage stress at work, but if you have been experiencing it for some time and it's affecting your daily life or causing you distress, you should consider seeking further support.

Signs and symptoms of work-related stress

Understanding more about stress in general, how to recognise the signs and ways to cope can really help. If you're experiencing stress in the workplace, you might notice changes in the ways you work, because of the way your thoughts and feelings affect you.

These changes can make it harder to be productive, and can negatively impact your behaviour and quality of work. If you're constantly under pressure in your job, this can lead to burnout – a state of physical and emotional exhaustion.

Emotions

Common emotional changes include:

  • feeling withdrawn, losing your drive and motivation
  • decreasing self confidence
  • intense emotional reactions – for example, being more tearful, sensitive or aggressive

Thoughts

Common changes to our thinking patterns include:

  • jumping to conclusions without considering the facts
  • minimising successes due to focus on challenges
  • maximising problems, making them feel much bigger than they are
  • automatically jumping to the worst-case scenario
  • holding yourself responsible for negative outcomes
  • turning a positive into a negative

Behaviour

Common behaviour changes:

  • avoiding certain tasks
  • working longer hours
  • working through holidays
  • taking extra time off work

Common causes of stress at work

There is no single cause of stress at work and what may lead to feelings of stress differs from person to person. These 7 main areas may cause work-related stress or issues if not well managed:

  • a lack of control of our workload
  • high demands on our time and energy and lack of clarity about responsibilities
  • fear of redundancy or changes
  • poor line management and lack of support
  • difficult relationships with colleagues
  • bullying or harassment in the workplace
  • workplace discrimination

Other factors can also affect how prone we are to stress and how we deal with it, like our life experiences, upbringing and environment.

How to deal with work stress

Here are some ideas to help you manage work-related stress and pressure.

Work out what you find stressful

It's important to identify what's making you feel stressed. Do you have too many responsibilities and not enough time in the day? Is there a lot of change or uncertainty? Are you finding relationships with co-workers difficult?

Try noting what's making you feel overwhelmed or anxious at work as it happens. Understanding why you are stressed can help you work out what to do next.

Focus on what you can change

Once you know what's making you feel stressed, work out what's within your control to change and what's not. For example, you may have no control over what hours or days you work, or when you take your lunch, but consider the things you can control.

Try to find other ways to bring some enjoyment to your working day. Can you make time to be sociable, or go for a walk before or after work? If you're worrying about things that are out of your control, like potential redundancy or having lost your job, getting some advice on your options can help.

Learn how to deal with stress in the moment

When we feel under pressure or anxious, our heart beats faster, our muscles tense up and our breathing changes. Try taking 3 long, slow, deep breaths (also known as belly breathing). Notice your stomach expanding, filling with air, and then returning to normal as you breathe out.

This type of breathing helps to bring your heart rate back to normal, so can feel really calming. Deep breathing can also be used to prepare for situations where you might feel panicked, anxious or nervous – like an important meeting or interview.

Try these meditation videos to learn more relaxing breathing techniques.

Talk to someone you trust

Talking about how you feel and the pressure you're under can help. Speaking to your manager or a colleague gives them a chance to help improve things for you.

It doesn't have to be someone at work though – it could be a friend or a family member that you confide in – or if you want to talk to someone else, there's support out there. Mind has an online support community called Side by Side.

There are also free NHS talking therapies available in England for anyone aged 18 or over, and you can refer yourself without having to see a GP.

Build your resilience

Difficult issues at work might be unavoidable – but you probably already successfully manage challenges in many areas of your life, no matter how big or small. If we can respond, adapt and behave in healthy ways, we are better able to deal with tricky situations. This resilience helps us to bounce back from life's challenges.

Looking for practical solutions to solve a problem can also help build resilience. Could you do something differently, or would it be worth waiting until tomorrow or next week to tackle a work situation? Small things, like shifting your perspective, reframing negative thoughts and looking at problem solving in a practical way are good cognitive behavioural techniques (CBT) skills.

See things differently

Making a conscious effort to change the way you view an issue or feel about a problem at work could help ease some of the pressure you feel.

For instance, if something at work is worrying you, is there a way to look at it that makes more sense? If you really cannot change it, is there a way you can at least accept it and find something you can learn from it?

A shift in mindset can also help if you're having issues with relationships at work. It can help to remember that you never know what other people are dealing with, and approaching everyone with kindness goes a long way.

Focusing on the positives and feeling gratitude can help relieve stress. Each day, try listing 3 things in your life you're thankful for, however small.

Set boundaries and switch off

When you're feeling the pressure, setting clear boundaries to your day can help – this is particularly important if you work from home. Try to leave work worries at work and switch off in your free time.

How you start and end your day can make a big difference. If you tend to wake up just before you are due to start work or leave the house, you might find it helpful to give yourself time to get into work mode by waking up earlier.

Or if the first thing you do is reach for your phone to scroll, try to replace this habit with something else that you really enjoy, like reading a few pages of a book or a quick stretch to help you feel energised.

Look after your physical health

Our physical health has a big impact on how we feel. At times of stress, it can be easy to develop unhealthy habits, which can make you feel worse.

Try to think about different ways you can be healthier while you're at work. Bring movement into your working day as much as your job allows. Set yourself manageable goals, like adding just 5 more minutes of movement to your day. Go for a walk in your breaks, and do simple stretches whenever you can. Plan ahead and make healthy, well-balanced lunches that you'll really enjoy eating. Remember to drink enough water, too.

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Mental Health Helplines & Web Chats

Samaritans
Action Mental Health
Association for Post-Natal Illness Helpline
Aware NI - Support Groups
Aware NI - Online Support Groups
Mind - Side by Side Online Community