Don’t Let Work Win: Strategies for Reclaiming Your Life From Work Stress


It’s something we’ve all experienced. You are drowning in emails, facing tight deadlines, and carrying a heavy workload. As a result, burnout, anxiety, and disconnect can lead to work stress, a relentless companion for many.

As Headspace’s sixth annual Workforce State of Mind report demonstrates — this phenomenon has worsened.

Between January and February 2024, more than 2,000 employees and CEOs were interviewed about their physical and mental health. In addition, nearly 250 HR leaders answered questions about their unique stressors when making benefits decisions.

The survey found that 77% of respondents reported having poor physical health due to work stress, and nearly 40% reported having serious mental health challenges related to work, such as substance abuse. The survey also found that 71% of people said it caused a personal relationship breakup.

However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Creating healthy boundaries and controlling work stress can make all the difference in the world. Although it may seem impossible, this post will give you a toolbox of strategies to keep work from taking over your life.

Understanding the Enemy: Sources of Work Stress

Let’s first understand what fuels workplace stress before we discuss solutions:

  • Workload and deadlines. A high workload, unrealistic deadlines, and an overflowing plate can put a lot of pressure on an individual.
  • Lack of control. Feeling powerless over your work environment, schedule, or projects can be extremely frustrating.
  • Poor communication. Communication breakdowns, unclear expectations, and conflicting messages result in confusion and anxiety.
  • Toxic work culture. Unhealthy competition, lack of support, or a fear of speaking out can significantly impact well-being.
  • Fear of failure or job insecurity. Having your job constantly on the line can be extremely stressful.
  • Work-life balance. The inability to disconnect from work outside of work hours leads to constant mental strain.

In order to determine what sources of stress affect you, you may want to keep a stress journal for one week. Make a note of situations, tasks, or interactions that cause you stress. Once you identify them, developing strategies for dealing with your triggers is easier.

Building Your Defense: Strategies to Manage Work Stress

Identifying your triggers is half the battle. Here are some tips to help you deal with work-related stress.

1. Setting boundaries: creating a work-life divide.

To manage stress — it is essential to create a clear separation between work and personal life. You can do this by following these steps:

  • Establish work hours. Try to keep to a regular schedule and avoid checking emails after work hours.
  • Establish boundaries with colleagues. Do not accept requests to work outside of scheduled hours unless it is absolutely necessary.
  • Utilize out-of-office replies. You should let people know when you’re unavailable so that they know when to expect a response.
  • Create a dedicated workspace. You should designate an area in your home as your “office” if you work remotely. This helps you mentally separate your personal life from your work life.
  • Develop a disconnect ritual. After work, engage in a relaxing activity, such as reading, exercising, or spending time with loved ones.

2. Detach psychologically from work.

“It sounds silly, but after a long, intense surgery, what I do to relax is play some video games to disconnect before I go home,” said an orthopedic surgeon attending a stress management class. No matter what recovery activity you choose, like reading, running, playing video games, or cooking, it’s essential you mentally disconnect from work — or the stressor at hand, suggests Alyson Meister, Bonnie Hayden Cheng, Nele Dael, and Franciska Krings for HBR.

They add that we ruminate about work well into the evening due to the accumulation of stress during the working day. For example, you may be physically present at an exercise class, but your mind replays events from an earlier meeting with a client. Studies show that even thinking about work hinders your recovery, and your mobile phone prevents you from detaching from the workplace.

“As recovery can only occur when our minds return to pre-stressor levels, we need to facilitate that process by cognitively withdrawing from thoughts of work, essentially giving our minds a break,” the authors write. Detachment improves recovery, performance, and engagement at work. It contradicts the notion that more time spent working leads to better results.

You can harness this principle by dedicating a fixed daily time to non-work-related activities, such as practicing mindfulness.

3. Optimize your workday.

Let’s go beyond boundaries and psychological detachment to make your workday less stressful.

  • Improve your time management. To maximize your efficiency, learn time management techniques like the Eisenhower Matrix or Pomodoro Technique.
  • Create a healthy work environment. Optimize your workspace with ergonomics, organization, and distraction reduction. Further, a University of Connecticut study found that removing clutter can reduce stress and increase happiness, confidence, and less anxiety. Repeating certain behaviors like cleaning and organizing can also give people a sense of control during times of high stress.
  • Speak up. If you feel overwhelmed, do not hesitate to ask for additional resources, clarification on a task, or assistance. Clear communication can avoid misunderstandings and frustrations.
  • Delegate tasks. If you are allowed to, you may be able to delegate smaller tasks to colleagues or outsource them. This will enable you to focus on more important tasks.
  • Use productivity tools. Use time management apps or project management software to track progress and stay organized.

4. Let go of perfectionism.

If you spend extra time on that presentation or report you finished days ago, maybe it’s time to take a step back and reflect. After all, although perfectionism can have some positive outcomes, it can also lead to high-stress levels and burnout.

As such, be mindful of your high standards and focus on the effort you put in. And, when you make a mistake, try not to take it personally.

5. Adopt a growth mindset.

A growth mindset means believing you can improve your skills and abilities through hard work and feedback. You can adopt a growth mindset by doing the following:

  • Embrace challenges. Be open to learning from obstacles, and embrace failure as a learning experience.
  • Negative thinking must be challenged. Stress can be reduced by recognizing and challenging negative thought patterns.
  • Focus on controllables. Don’t focus on things you can’t control (work demands) but on things you can, such as your reaction, time management, and self-care habits.
  • Seek feedback. Don’t be afraid to seek constructive feedback on your performance and goals. The feedback you receive can come from a variety of sources, including your peers, mentors, coaches, and customers.
  • Celebrate your achievements. Don’t forget to acknowledge your accomplishments, no matter how big or small they may be. You will feel more motivated and satisfied at work if you do this.

6. Prioritize your own self-care.

By taking care of yourself, you will be able to manage and prevent stress on a physical, emotional, and mental level. The importance of self-care differs from person to person, but here are some things you can do to prioritize it.

  • Take part in physical activity. It is proven that regular exercise relieves stress. As such, take up an activity you enjoy, whether it is a brisk walk, a gym membership, or a dance class.
  • Try out relaxation and mindfulness techniques. Managing stress and reducing anxiety can be achieved through techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga.
  • Engage in healthy habits. Be sure to get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, and limit the consumption of alcohol and caffeine. In addition to building resilience, these practices promote physical and mental health.
  • Make time to pursue hobbies and interests. Invest time in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. This will give you a mental break and recharge your batteries.
  • Seek professional help. Take steps to manage stress and improve your quality of life by seeking help from a therapist or counselor if you feel overwhelmed.

7. Look for humor in the situation.

Humor can be a great stress reliever when used appropriately in the workplace. Lighten up the mood by sharing a joke or funny story when you or others around you take work too seriously.

8. Build and maintain healthy relationships.

Relationships are the foundation of a happy and fulfilling life. They provide companionship, love, security, and emotional and physical support. Furthermore, healthy relationships can improve physical and mental health, boost your self-esteem, and provide support.

With that said, to foster and strengthen your relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners, try these tips:

  • Invest in quality time. Give your attention and time to the people you care about. It could be a weekly date night with your partner, a board game night with friends, or simply putting away your phone while having dinner with your family.
  • Deepen communication. The key to successful communication is openness and honesty. Additionally, you should actively listen to your loved ones, share your feelings, and be willing to compromise.
  • Nurture the bond. Show your appreciation for those who are important to you. You should thank them for their support, compliment them, and show them that you care by physically touching them (if necessary).
  • Shared experiences. Take part in activities that you both enjoy. These could range from taking a cooking class to hiking. It is through shared experiences that bonds are strengthened, and memories are created.
  • Positive conflict resolution. Disagreements will always exist, but how you handle them matters. Instead of pointing fingers, focus on finding solutions.
  • Be supportive and encouraging. You can support and encourage your loved ones by being a source of encouragement for them. Be there for them in times of difficulty and celebrate their successes.

Keep in mind that building strong relationships takes time and effort. However, consistently working on building a support system will lead to deeper connections and stronger bonds.

9. Spark joy (and less stress) in your daily grind.

How do you spend most of your workday? Do you feel bored or unsatisfied? If so, you’ll experience high stress levels, which will in turn affect your mental and physical health.

While landing your dream job might seem out of reach, you’re not stuck. The good news? It is possible to cultivate satisfaction in your current job.

  • Shift your perspective. Consider how your work contributes to the bigger picture. There may be a valuable service you provide or ways you can help others.
  • Find the little joys. Even the smallest things can brighten your day. Are you a team player who enjoys collaborating with colleagues? Don’t miss out on those interactions.
  • Change your mindset. Positively viewing your work can make a big difference. Approach your tasks positively, and focus on what you can control.

With these adjustments, you can transform your workday from a source of stress into fulfillment.

10. Switch from multitasking to focused chunking.

When conquering our to-do lists, we used to believe that multitasking was the key. In reality, juggling multiple things at once rarely goes smoothly, as most of us have experienced. After all, this can lead to confusion and mistakes.

Chunking, however, is an effective alternative. Dedicating focused blocks of time to specific tasks can achieve better results and a calmer mind.

11. Address systemic issues.

Although personal strategies are important, systemic issues can also contribute to work stress. You can change the environment by following these steps:

  • Talk to your manager. If workload or unreasonable expectations are causing problems, have an honest conversation with your manager. Proposing a few solutions, like a flexible work schedule, might improve your workflow and reduce stress.
  • Change the company culture. Does your company promote a healthy work-life balance? Encourage companies to implement policies that promote mental well-being, such as flexible work arrangements or mental health resources.
  • Ask for new responsibilities. When you’ve been doing the same thing for a while, ask if you can shake things up, like a different grade level or sales territory.
  • Make a transfer request. Changing departments might enable you to escape a toxic work environment if your organization is large enough.
  • Unionize (if applicable). In some workplaces, unions can play an important role in advocating for worker rights and fighting against unfair practices that lead to stress.

12. Make rest a priority.

We glorify busyness in our culture so much that relaxing feels wrong.

The art of rest, however, is crucial for managing stress effectively. That means you need to get back to a pre-stressed state to recover from stress. In the end, engaging activities are great, but moving constantly from one activity to another is not rest. It is the same thing as work but in a different format.

With that said, end the jam-packed schedule of free time. Instead, you need to create space for genuine unwinding. Remember not to turn downtime into a chore. Also, use your mental health and vacation days, not just accumulate them. After all, you need to allow yourself to disconnect and recharge completely.

FAQs

I constantly feel stressed about work. Is this normal?

Although some work-related stress is inevitable, feeling chronically overwhelmed is not. In some cases, it can indicate a work-life imbalance.

What are some signs of work-life imbalance?

Symptoms include burnout, fatigue, neglecting hobbies and relationships, and sleep disturbances.

I feel pressured to be available 24/7. What can I do?

  • Challenge the pressure. Do you really need to be available all the time? Ask your manager what your expectations are.
  • Use technology. To manage expectations during non-work hours, many email systems offer “out-of-office” replies.

There is never enough time for me or my loved ones. How can I carve out personal time?

  • Schedule it. You should treat your personal time the same way you treat your work time. Take time out to enjoy hobbies, relax, or spend time with your family.
  • Delegate and automate. You can save time by delegating chores or using time-saving tools.

My job seems to be the source of all my stress. What if changing careers is the answer?

  • Consider all options. How can you find a better balance between your current role and company culture? A career counselor may help you explore your options.
  • Start with small steps. Develop new skills by updating your resume, networking, or taking online courses.

Image Credit: Andrea Piacquadio; Pexels

The post Don’t Let Work Win: Strategies for Reclaiming Your Life From Work Stress appeared first on Calendar.



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