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5 ways to reduce stress at work

Clear your desk, plan your work, take breaks, get some help

Image from Adobe Stock

Officially, 595,000 workers in Britain suffered work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2017-18 (HSE). I imagine the true figure is far higher.

A little stress at work isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. Most of us will be stressed at some point in our jobs, but when it gets overwhelming and causes us problems, we need to sort it out. Here’s how to get started…

Find out why you are stressed

If we’re going to solve work-related stress, we need to know exactly why it’s happening. Are we worried about an uncertain position? Is our workload to big (the most common reason according to the above HSE study)? Bad relationship with the boss? Bullying? Once we identify the reason, we can start to come up with clear solutions.

However, we may not be able to take full action straight away, or the solution may take time. So here are some other steps that can help reduce stress at work.

Declutter your desk/office

If you have papers piled high on your desk, all sorts of stuff cluttering it, then it’ll give you a subconscious feeling of being busy and take up attention in your mind. If every time you go to your desk, you have to search for a spot to put your teacup, and then think about where you need to move the clutter too, you’ll become frustrated and stressed.

If something’s useful but not right now, put it in a drawer. If it’s something you’ll never use again, get rid. If it’s a photo of your family, keep it there because it’ll be motivational!

Plan your work

This might be difficult for those with unpredictable workloads, but if at all possible, plan your work. If you’re constantly firefighting, playing catchup, planning can be a real help. To-do lists are easy enough, or even scheduling your time. In my experience these are great ways to reduce stress and improve your enthusiasm for your job.

In one job I had several weekly and monthly tasks, so I had a diary in which I wrote them all down. In the morning, I could just look at the list and know what had to be done that day. I was prepared and wasn’t worried I’d forget anything.

“God I’ve got so much to do today!” Well, if it’s all swimming around in your head disorganised, it will seem a lot. But see it written down, even put into time slots in the day, and it’ll all seem far easier.

Take your breaks and switch off

One reason many of us get stressed at work is because we don’t take proper breaks, and we burn out. Taking breaks is vital, even if it’s just a few minutes mid-morning and mid-afternoon alongside your lunch break. Make sure you take your lunch break – it’s not just for food, but also to refresh you, get some fresh air and rest your brain. Getting away from your desk is great, but be sure you do something energising, like going for a walk or reading a book, or just chatting about sports or TV with a colleague. Don’t just sit in the break room staring at Facebook on your phone – that won’t energise you. And definitely eat healthily too!

After clock-off time, leave your work at the office, or at least have a cut-off point. Maybe no work after 8pm. Or you could say, “Right, I won’t work until the kids are in bed, then I’ll do an hour, after that I’m off for the night!” Have time for yourself, otherwise you’ll feel like you are constantly doing everything for your employer. Even then, be sure to use the time productively, like on a hobby or quality time with friends and family. Don’t just veg in front of the TV for four hours every night – that’ll just stress you out more (I’ve been there!).

Get help if you need it

If most people suffer work-related stress now and then, then it’s not a weakness – it’s natural. So if you need help, ain’t no shame in asking for it. Of course if your boss is an unsympathetic tyrant, then don’t go to them, but find someone who can help you. Ask for some of the pressure to be taken off you temporarily, ask for help with your work, talk through your problem with a counsellor or coach. But keeping it to yourself doesn’t just mean the stress continues, it means you will eventually feel totally alone, and feel worse.

Remember, stress at work will happen sometimes. That’s life. But when it really makes you unhappy, it’s time to take action! The above steps are a good start.

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