De-Stress At Work: Common Workplace Stressors & How To Combat Them

Work-related stress is increasingly common in today’s busy world, having far-reaching physical, mental and emotional consequences for millions of people. Thankfully, there are evidence-based solutions available to employees in every workplace, from correctional facilities to offices. Stress-busting solutions are more sought after now than ever before, as stress is taking an increasing toll on our bodies, minds, and productivity.
Content & Publishing Manager at Insight Timer
destress at work
Content & Publishing Manager at Insight Timer

Work-related stress, also known as occupational stress, has become a global epidemic, wreaking havoc on the mental, physical and emotional health of millions worldwide. This article explores common causes and how to de-stress at work to create more calm, focus and happiness at your workplace.

The Impact Of Work-Related Stress Is Staggering

Stress is a well-known cause of home-life disruption, as being stressed-out doesn’t end when you walk in the front door. It’s also inextricably linked to increased days off work. The research says it all: In the USA, over 70% of employees report that work is a significant source of stress and it interferes with responsibilities at home. In Australia, as much as 40% of employee turnover, and 60% of absenteeism is caused by workplace stress and stress-related illnesses.

Less well-known, but equally important, is stress’s ability to cause significant health concerns, and the research linking the two is frightening.

Countless studies have found workplace stress is closely associated with the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including hypertension and weight gain, as well as outcomes such as heart disease and heart attacks. Other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, metabolic disorders, immune deficiency disorder, and gastrointestinal disorders have been closely linked to workplace stress, too. With compelling evidence of stress’ impact becoming increasingly available, there’s never been a better time to de-stress at work.

Read more: Each additional minute of a commute can increase stress levels. Discover how certain meditation practices during a long commute can be a powerful tool to bring you home to yourself in the moment and prepare you for your workday.

What Are The Main Causes Of Stress At Work?

Every workplace is unique in its own way, yet the common stressors are similar across countless professions. Whether you work in a hospital, a prison, a pharmacy or an office, employees find stress mostly stems from:

  • Precarious and uncertain job security: Uncertain work arrangements are common in healthcare, particularly hospitals, and one study found these arrangements cause significant stress in nurses and doctors.
  • Role ambiguity and role conflict: Uncertainty over your role and your exact responsibilities has been closely linked to stress.
  • Lack of autonomy
  • High incidence of work overload and overtime: Unfortunately, long hours are a common feature of many jobs.
  • Shift irregularity and recurrent night shifts
  • Loss of boundaries and increased ‘telepressure’: The urge to respond to emails and messages at all times of the day and night is a common feature of the modern workplace. A study in the Occupational Health Psychology Journal found people who felt this urge reported higher stress levels, poorer sleep quality, and more days off work due to health issues.

Read more: Do you constantly have the urge to check your phone for notifications? Discover how digital stress and smartphone addiction can be combated by mindfulness approaches.

  • A negative social environment: Negative work relationships, interpersonal conflicts, lack of peer support and social isolation all create stress. One study found the social environment of the organization played a hugely significant role in predicting depression and burnout in employees.
  • Not enough resources to complete the job well. One study of stress in correctional officers found that nearly half of them experienced high levels of stress when they didn’t have necessary resources—such as adequate personnel numbers and equipment—at their disposal.

Read more: Internationally known mindfulness expert Judson Brewer, MD Ph.D., explains the difference between stress and anxiety.

How To De-Stress At Work & Combat Common Causes Longterm

Now that we know the common causes of work stress, we can start looking at ways to de-stress and resolve stress-stirring conditions. 

These solutions range from individual strategies to strategies an organisation can use to inspire their employees to live a more calm, centred, and less distracted life—both at work and home.

1. Set Clearly Defined Boundaries

Establish non-negotiable tech curfews

The loss of boundaries between work and home life is a huge downside of technology, but it can be overcome by monitoring tech usage. Setting tech curfews of 7 pm—even if you take your work home with you—can not only urge you to be more productive but also help you be present with your family when you get home.

Create a calm inbox

Turning your email account into a ‘calm inbox’ is another strategy to relieve stress and urgency. Write a note at the bottom of your emails that says: “This is a calm inbox, checked at 10 am and 2 pm each day,” and turn off push notifications.

Instead of reading emails while you’re halfway through a task, then losing focus and feeling overwhelmed, you can read emails at set points in the day and respond and action them at that time.

Read more: Learn about the link between being too busy all the time and chronic stress.

Identify truly urgent tasks from the rest

Saying ‘no’ to non-urgent requests is a vital component of work-related stress management. Ensure your manager clearly conveys what tasks are truly urgent, allowing you to separate them from those which can be done within a few days.

If you don’t have a manager, or you work for yourself, this important task falls to you. A good tip is to remember there can be no more than three truly urgent tasks in one day.

Perceived stress and urgency causes stress to escalate, so ensure your perception is in-line with the true urgency of your daily tasks. If something isn’t truly urgent, add it to tomorrow’s diary (or even to next week’s calendar).

2. Learn De-Escalation Techniques For High Tension Jobs

If you work in a job involving huge levels of emotional strain such as in the medical or prison professions, learning de-escalation techniques can help you stay stress-free. One study of Australian doctors who conducted at-home, after-hour patient visits found self-protection measures including de-escalation technique awareness helped reduce stress and burnout.

3. Invest In Mindfulness Training

Mindfulness is an individual strategy to fight stress at work, but it can also be encouraged by organisations. Researchers from Duke and Pennsylvania University Medical Schools found employees who participated in therapeutic yoga and mindfulness programs experienced significant improvements in perceived stress levels and sleep quality. The study concluded:

“Both the mindfulness-based and therapeutic yoga programs may provide viable and effective interventions to target high stress levels, sleep quality, and autonomic balance in employees.”

Integrate mindfulness apps into daily life

Mindfulness implementation is usually left to the individual, so you need to prioritise it rather than waiting for your company to help.

A good starting point is to set aside 15 minutes for mindfulness each day, where your workplace knows you cannot be contacted, and your phone is on airplane mode. Whether you do this outside, sitting with your eyes closed, walking through a natural space or even at your desk—15 minutes of mindfulness creates space for employees to find a moment of calm.

The most effective, modern way to learn mindfulness is through specific apps, as they coach you every step of the way. By using your own device as part of your mindfulness practice, you can receive push notifications so you can’t forget!

Insight Timer offers the world’s largest free meditation library with 25k+ audio tracks, including thousands of guided mindfulness meditation practices. We have handpicked popular practices that help to de-stress at work:

  1. Meeting Preparation Meditation Kate James 2:26
  2. Reducing Work Stress Sara Christensen 4:20
  3. Take A Moment To Pause At Work Neil Tranter 8:56
  4. Start Work Emily Toner 6:00

The effects of mindfulness have been widely studied, and as well as countless physical benefits ranging from decreasing inflammation and lowering heart disease risk, we also know mindfulness decreases the risk of depression and anxiety. Thanks to brain imaging, we’ve also discovered the grey matter in the brains of long-term meditators actually becomes thicker, particularly in the areas of sense perception, memory, and executive functioning. So mindfulness can make you smarter and better at your job!

Discover more meditations for the workplace that help to manage stress at work and accomplish tasks.

4. Request A Re-Design Of Your Contract

The threat of losing your job at any moment is hugely stressful, so take charge and request a concrete contract. This stress-busting solution requires your employer to be ‘on-board.’ If that’s not the case, it may be time to look for a more stable role. No contract is worth developing heart disease and insomnia for—both common effects of work-related stress.

5. Utilise Social Support At Work

Joining peer support groups and engaging in regular, meaningful meetings with teams and managers act as preventative stress solutions. One study found the most protective factor against suffering at work was access to ‘social support.’ This included regular meetings where management listened to employees as well as the creation of accessible social structures like events and supports within the organisation.

If your organisation doesn’t have these supports, see if HR would be amenable to introducing them. There are countless research papers on how to implement stress-relieving programs at work and your organisation has no excuse not to help.

De-Stress at Work: How To Take Action

Stress management at work is up to you and the business you work for. Whether you’re a doctor, factory worker, corrections officer or builder, the common sources of stress are all the same. Try implementing your own individual stress-busting strategies like mindfulness training and setting boundaries, and urge your workplace to hold up their side of the bargain by offering social supports and quiet spaces, as well as respecting your boundaries.

Don’t wait to become a statistic; start your de-stress at work techniques today to help you live a happier, brighter, calmer life—at work and at home.

Read more: Explore how to unhook from daily drama and stress, find inner peace and create more calm moments in your life.

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