The Growing Issue of Workplace Stress

How Mindfulness Can Reduce Stress in the Workplace

by Paul Jozsef

The Growing Issue of Workplace Stress - Paul Jozsef Counselling & Coaching | Westmount

With 62% of workers reporting that work is their main source of stress, it is necessary for both employers and employees to be mindful of their mental wellbeing in order to defend against the impact of workplace stress. There are several ‘easy to do’ solutions to the growing issue of stress. The most efficacious of these is mindfulness. When mindfulness is practiced within the workplace, it has been shown to reduce the level of stress, as well as, boost workplace morale.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a stress-relieving technique that can be utilized to deal with the daily stressors of the workplace. Most of us spend a large part of our week working and when the workplace is stressful, this can begin to weigh heavy on our mental health and overall wellbeing. So, what is mindfulness? Mindfulness is a mental state that is achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment, concentrating on and accepting your thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgement. By practicing mindfulness, it may help you find a few moments of peace and help you let go of some of the stress you are experiencing. Mindfulness is often utilized in therapy and meditation as a means of reducing negative overthinking, personal judgement, and even help cope with depression and/or anxiety.

Stress Can Be Good or Bad

Stress is a normal part of life and one may be surprised to hear this, but not all stress is bad stress. Stress is your body’s reaction to adverse or very demanding circumstances that require you to respond, react, or adjust. This is not an inherently bad feeling to experience. Stress becomes harmful when these feelings become overwhelming. The body tends to react to stress both physically and emotionally. You may experience stress from your environment, from your thoughts, or your body. Stress is not always a reaction to a negative life event. You may experience feelings of stress after major positive milestones such as the birth of a child or a promotion at work. Regardless of what causes stress, what matters most is learning to cope with it in a healthy, productive way so that you can maintain good mental health and wellbeing.

Workplace Stress

Since most adults spend a large portion of their time at work, this can become a major source of stress. It is normal to experience stress in the workplace, but it can become overwhelming to the point that it becomes harmful. Work-related stress is commonly defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses occurring when the requirements of the job do not align with your (the employee’s) skillset, capabilities, abilities, resources, or comfort level. While stress at work quite literally comes with the job, it is not healthy to ignore. Instead, it is important to acknowledge and learn how to deal with it before it leads to not only mental distress, but even physical injury.

Good Work Stress and Bad Work Stress

Like we touched upon before, work-related stress may not always be a bad thing. There are many instances where work-related stress can help push you forward in your career. For example, when you have project deadlines, you may experience feelings of stress because of the time constraint. While of course in your mind this is an irritating feeling in the moment, it does help you push through and reach the deadline, no matter what. This is in turn, teaching you to have a good work ethic and not only dedicate yourself to the project, but have accountability for yourself and for adhering to the time constraints. These ‘pushes’ can help drive you to want to do more, achieve more. If you are given a sizeable workload, you may experience a similar type of stress. The same idea applies here. This makes you push yourself to complete your work in a timely manner. Work-related stresses that help you move forward and grow are not negative stressors, but ones that can help you advance in your workplace.

On the contrary, and quite, unfortunately, negative work stress is the more common type of stress experienced by employees. On average, employees spend about 40 hours per week at work. While this may seem like just under two full days, when spread over five days a week, this time feels much longer and events that occur tend to have a more significant impact. When work-related stress starts to invoke feelings of anxiety, irritability, depression, or fatigue, or you experience trouble focusing or even experience physical symptoms such as an upset stomach or muscle tension, this is where the stressors become negatively impactful. Of course, you may experience these symptoms for other reasons, but if you feel stressed and start to notice these symptoms, it may be time to focus on implementing methods of relieving these stresses before they have long term impact on your mental health and wellbeing.

Causes of Job-Related Stress

There are no set parameters for what may or may not cause you stress from work. However, one of the primary reasons people experience stress has to do with the requirements of the job. Many workers experience times at work where they are asked to perform a task that is outside of their scope of knowledge or initial job outline. In these cases, you may feel pressured to deliver but worry about your ability to do so. Not having support from your team is another common reason for experiencing stress. If you do not feel supported in the work you do or the ideas you have, you may worry about your value to the team. Lack of morale can also cause stress. It is important that workers feel appreciated and inspired to work. Poor management and an unpleasant work environment are also reasons most people experience stress. Unfortunately, people need to make money to live, so they often feel stuck in a bad place, working for someone they do not like, and this is a heavy burden to have to bear when contemplating work the next day.

Stress Impacts Mental Health

Stress can have both physical and mental effects. Stress may lead to depression, often as a result of effects on the brain’s ‘reward system’ (the part that would typically invoke feelings of pleasure when engaging in joyful activities). Stress causes the release of chemicals in the brain that impairs the function of the prefrontal cortex, which oversees higher-level thinking. This may cause anxiety, depression, and/or aggression. Stress may leave individuals feelings anxiousness, restlessness, a lack of motivation, irritability, and sadness, all-natural feelings when experienced in fleeting moments. However, if experiencing chronic stress, the impact can strongly affect your life and health, and may, in severe cases, lead to depression.

Employers Can Help Reduce Stress

As an employer, it is important to take your employees’ mental health and comfort into consideration. Mentally and emotionally satisfied employees will work harder and more efficiently. Encouraging physical activity (whether through small breaks to walk around a bit or through offering discounted gym memberships) will help relieve stress. Exercise is also known for reducing fatigue and improving concentration, both of which benefit business. Create an office environment that encourages movement and allows short breaks. Take the time to make your employees feel valued. This communication provides security to your employees.

You Can Relieve Stress at Work

Taking care of your body, in turn, takes care of the mind. Prioritize being physical in the workplace and out. Make sure you eat healthily and get enough rest at night. A very impactful stress-relieving technique is practicing mindfulness. When you experience stress, find a calm, quiet area away from the office to take a few minutes to focus on yourself. Close your eyes, focus on your breathing and tune out the surroundings. Open your mind and let go of judgement. Focus only on the present moment – your feelings, your sensations, and your thoughts. Recenter yourself and return to the moment. You may experience a refreshed, calmer revitalized feeling.

While life may be full of opportunities to experience stress, it is important to learn to deal with these stressors healthily and effectively, rather than try to suppress them. Work is a very commonplace of stress, but with a few minutes of mindfulness each day, we can improve our feelings regarding these stressors, reduce their impact on our mental health, and improve our mood as well, leaving us ready for anything ahead.

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