A worrying study has shown that stress is related to 54% of long-term absences from work.1 So, clearly, how we deal with workplace related stress and our mental wellbeing is a very important issue which needs addressing.
In these challenging times, we are all more acutely aware than ever that there are many things beyond our control – from the weather outside the window and the spread of diseases around the world to the business decisions our bosses make. Feeling like we have no power over the situations we’re in can be a stressful experience. Many of us have suddenly found our offices shut, forced to quickly adapt to working from home – often with children and other family at home too – causing a lot of stress to a lot of people. Even in a ‘normal’ work situation, tight deadlines and conflict between colleagues can create a stressful environment.
Whatever your situation, it’s important to understand that even if we can’t do anything to directly affect it, we can have some control over how we react. We should also aim to limit the amount of self-inflicted stress we suffer, by improving our time management, organisation and attitude.
To help you with this, we have outlined 12 ways you can reduce your stress and be happier and calmer while working, both in the office and at home.
1. Manage your time effectively
You’re running late for work. You have a large deadline looming. Or, there’s just ten minutes before an important meeting and you haven’t prepared your report yet! How many times have you had weeks to work on a project, but somehow it ends in a last-minute panic? These situations create stress and worry, and are all too often avoidable.
Managing your time means keeping track of your priorities, not getting bogged down in unnecessary distractions and having the self-discipline to stay focused when it’s time to work. A good tip is to block off time for important things, so they don’t get squeezed or rushed.
2. Limit your distractions
Trivial distractions – such as chatty colleagues, unnecessarily long meetings or spending too long checking social media – steal your time, creating more stressful situations later on. Proactively limit these distractions, and cut down on wasted time, through actions like letting people know when you’re uninterruptable. Having a sign on your office desk or putting a note in your online calendar can help show people when to leave you alone.
You also need to learn how to say ‘no’. Whether you feel pressured, or you just want to be helpful, saying ‘yes’ to every request and favour rarely works out well and can be a stressful experience. In fact, we wrote a whole article about the reasons you might find it hard to say ‘no’.
Learning to say ‘no’ and setting realistic expectations around what extra things you can actually help with, rather than burdening yourself with more than you can handle, will help you feel much more relaxed.
3. Stop procrastinating
‘I’ll do it later’ can feel reasonable at the time, but it’s so often regretted when ‘later’ comes around. Maybe you wanted to wait for a better situation or to finish something else before getting to the next job, but all you’re really doing is piling up your jobs and leaving yourself less time to do them.
Stop making excuses to put off things you don’t want to do. You’re going to have to do it at some point, so why make things harder and more stressful for yourself? Just start now. If what you have to do is really big, break it down into bite-size chunks. This way you’ll get a sense of satisfaction as you progress through each part.
4. Focus on what’s important
There’s a difference between things that are urgent and things that are important.
Urgent jobs can feel important because they’re time-sensitive, but often they’re reactionary or just things that have been left to the last-minute. Typical examples are unexpected calls from clients, fixing tech errors and crisis-management. Important jobs, however, are ‘mission-critical’ but might not have a specific deadline (such as future planning), making them easier to overlook in the short-term.
The problem with spending your time working on urgent but unimportant tasks is that everything else gets ignored until they become urgent too. Managing your focus and priorities, and spending more time working on important tasks, will make you more relaxed, and you’ll be able to give each job the time and effort it deserves, with fewer last-minute panics.
5. Get organised
Your work will feel much calmer when you’re organised. Losing important emails or rummaging through a large pile of papers for the ones you need are stressful experiences.
It doesn’t take a lot to improve your organisation. Get rid of things you don’t need and keep specific folders for things you do. This will stop you from stressing out every time you need to find an old document, because you’ll already know exactly where it is. This is true for physical and digital folders.
If you’re working from home, setting up a dedicated space to work and keeping to a routine will help keep you organised.
6. Work effectively
A leading cause of work-related stress is people worrying about their workloads. A common mistake people make because of this is to rush through their work to get everything done. Speed and efficiency aren’t the same thing. If you race through a task which really needed a bit longer, you risk ending up with low-quality work that’s full of mistakes, which you’ll have to redo. This ultimately takes longer and leads to more stress.
It’s more effective, and less stressful, taking things at a realistic pace and setting yourself achievable targets – like accepting you might not finish everything in one day. This is especially true when working at home. With other people around and more distractions, it’s important to find the best ways for you to work effectively.
7. Build good working relationships
When you enjoy your time working, you’ll feel much more comfortable and relaxed. We spend a large amount of our lives at work, so you should aim to build good working relationships with your colleagues. This means that when you collaborate on projects it will be a nicer and friendlier experience, and you’ll have people to talk to during the day, which will create a much happier environment for you.
When working remotely, it’s even more important to have good communication with your colleagues. It’s much easier to build relationships when you’re sitting next to each other or waiting for the coffee machine. When working remotely, have regular check-ins and try calling instead of emailing to have an opportunity to chat.
8. Talk to your manager if you have a problem
Don’t feel ashamed or worried when talking about your stresses or problems. Many people hold on to their issues, afraid of what their bosses or managers will think if they admit to being overwhelmed by their workload or that their current project isn’t going well. However, if you’re honest about your concerns, talking it through with them should help get it off your chest and let you start working together to fix the issue. This can be as simple as agreeing on priorities.
As many organisations make a sudden and unexpected shift to remote working, it’s especially important to be open and honest with your managers. You’ll create new routines together, and they may be finding the change difficult too.
9. Take regular breaks
You need to be kind to yourself. If you spend every second of every day sitting at your desk working silently, you’ll quickly burn out. Again, remember there’s a difference between speed and effectiveness, and sometimes you need to take a break to remain strong enough to complete what needs to be done. Make a cup of coffee, chat to a colleague or have a quick walk around the building – anything to break up the work and give yourself a moment to breathe.
Also, keep your work and social life separate. If you start answering work emails outside of working hours, you’ll begin blurring the lines and have no escape from the stresses of your work. Turning off the notifications from your emails in the evening will help with this – especially when you’re already working from your home.
10. Learn how you relax
It’s important to find ways to relax. Taking five minutes to do some deep breathing during a particularly stressful day, or meditating before bed, can stop you becoming too overwhelmed by your worries.
There are many ways to relax: meditation has been shown to be beneficial, but other people find exercise or yoga more helpful, and some people relax better listening to music. Try different things until you find what works best for you.
11. Have a healthy and fit lifestyle
When you exercise, your body releases chemicals that reduce the effects of stress on the body. It’s been found that just 20 minutes of physical activity a day will help raise your mood and lower your chance of developing depression.2
Due to the current coronavirus situation, it’s especially crucial to look after your physical and mental health. These are trying times and most of us are facing far more stressful moments than we’re used to. When you’re overtired or low on energy, you have less mental resilience to deal with stressful situations.
Although you may not be able to go outside for exercise, there are many videos online with routines you can do in your home. Also, ensure you get enough sleep and drink plenty of water during the day. Proximity to your kitchen makes unhealthy snacking an easy temptation, so try to limit your junk food intake.
12. Have fun
As well as taking breaks from work, you need to enjoy yourself. Just because you want to be viewed as a professional doesn’t mean you have to hide your personality. Even small things like sharing a joke with your colleagues, decorating your workspace or listening to your favourite music while you work can help you relax and make you feel happier.
You can also try setting up fun new traditions, like celebrating birthdays or spending virtual ‘tea breaks’ with colleagues. Things that help lighten the mood for the whole team will reduce stress for everyone, which will make it a much more enjoyable environment to work.
For more advice on reducing stress, take a look at our Personal Effectiveness learning solutions.
1 CIPD (2019) Health and well-being at work survey 2019
2 NHS (2018) Regular exercise may help lower your risk of depression