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work stress

Managing work stress

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Feeling ongoing stress about work? You’re not alone. But how much stress is too much, and what can you do support a healthy stress response.

Feeling stressed out by work? You’re not alone, with a recent survey showing that around three out of five Australians experience stress at work on a regular basis.And while a certain amount of short-term stress can actually be helpful because it increases alertness and supports performance, too much stress can be the exact opposite.So how much stress is too much? What causes it? And, importantly, what can you do to avoid or manage the impact that work stress can have on your life? Here’s what you need to know.

What’s behind ‘workplace stress’?

In simple terms, work-related stress is the result of the demands of your job exceeding or outweighing the resources you have for meeting and managing those demands.

Specifically,the factors that contribute to work stress include things like:

  • Working overtime, being unable to take breaks and taking work home
  • Having unrealistic targets or deadlines
  • Having little control over how you do your job
  • A lack of the proper resources or equipment required to do your job
  • A lack of support from colleagues
  • Insufficient clarity about your role
  • Feeling like you don’t have the right or necessary skills for the job
  • Poor communication with colleagues
  • Doing work that requires high-level decision-making, is emotionally disturbing or requires a large amount of emotional involvement.
  • Being bullied or discriminated against, encountering conflict with someone at work, receiving little recognition or reward for a job well done, or experiencing poorly managed or seemingly unfair situations can also contribute to work stress.The warning signs that you may be too stressed by your work While everyone experiences stress in slightly different ways, there are some physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms to look out for that indicate your work stress may have reached an unhealthy level.

    Physical symptoms

  • Feeling fatigued or very tired
  • Experiencing trouble sleeping
  • Frequent headaches and muscle pain or tension
  • Digestive or gastrointestinal symptoms, like nausea, diarrhoea or constipation, or a change in appetite
  • Feeling more agitated, fidgety or restless than usual
  • A fast, pounding heart rate or feeling like your breathing is fast and shallow
  • Psychological symptoms

  • Mild anxiety and persistent low mood
  • Experiencing burnout
  • Having trouble concentrating, remembering things or making decisions
  • Feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope
  • Noticing a pattern of negative thinking or worrying excessively
  • Having racing thoughts
  • Behavioural symptoms

  • Irritability, mood swings and noticing you have less patience
  • Taking more sick days than usual
  • Underperforming at work
  • Experiencing problems with relationships outside of work
  • Feeling uninterested in things that you’re usually interested
  • Minimising the impact of mild work stress

    A few different strategies may be helpful for managing work-related stress, as well as preventing it from having such a big impact in the first place. Consider:

    • Changing how you think and what you say to yourself. The way we think about external situations – like workload or a deadline – can add to, or alternatively help to reduce, our stress levels. In fact, research shows that identifying and pushing back against unhelpful, negative thoughts and ‘self-talk’ is an effective way to manage work-related stress. Whenever you notice yourself thinking or saying negative things about something regarding work, consider the effect it has on your stress levels and then review and reframe your thoughts and self-talk to be more helpful.
    • Improving your time management. This may include tactics such as prioritising tasks, keeping and using a to-do list, scheduling difficult tasks for times of the day when you feel most alert, eliminating distractions, delegating tasks, and learning to say ‘no’ to things that aren’t your responsibility. When used in combination with positive self- talk, these kinds of time-management strategies have been shown to be very effective at managing work-related stress.
    • Adopting some healthy lifestyle behaviours. Making the effort to get enough sleep and physical activity, as well as eating a healthy diet and cutting back on alcohol use are all research-backed ways to help reduce work stress. Trying to spend more time outdoors and engaging with relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga, can also help. You might also like to consider taking a supplement that can help reduce the symptoms of stress.

    And remember to seek support if you need it. This could be from your employer or a colleague, family and friends, or in the form of professional counselling from a psychologist.