What to do when feeling stressed: Signs of stress and how to resolve them

Women in yellow top with hands on her head whilst looking at a laptop

More than ever, being able to resolve feelings of stress is a critical part of everyday life. Learn how to stay on top of it with the help of our actionable advice.

Our jobs can play a huge role in our mental health, but understanding when work is becoming a little too much or when that work-life balance is starting to slip too much in one direction is the key to resolving feelings of stress or worry. Whether it’s physical illnesses or mental struggles, any work-related stress is an important issue to recognise.

There can be stressful elements to any job, from tight deadlines to presenting to stakeholders, but it’s key to learn how not to let stress take over our lives. With the help of some effective strategies that you can put to good use, we’ll explore how you can minimise work-related stress now and in the future.

The importance of mental health

Maintaining our mental health is so important because it can affect our lives in all sorts of different ways. When we’re not functioning at our best mentally, it can be tough to carry out the things we take for granted or enjoy doing. At this point, it might become more of a challenge to maintain relationships or complete tasks to a certain standard – two things which are going to be vital in the workplace.

Like strengthening a muscle, improving our mental health doesn’t just happen overnight. But when we get into the habit of being kinder to ourselves, removing the things that might trigger us, and using proven strategies in stressful situations, we can work on our mental health in a positive, proactive way, just like how we might exercise at the gym.

Stressed employee with headache looking at a computer screen

The signs of stress at work and how to spot them

Stress looks different to different people. So, while there’s no definitive top 10 causes of stress at work, there are some warning signs that tend to be more common than others. Whether it’s in yourself or your colleagues, be on the watch for things like the following…

  • Irregular hours

The core 9 to 5 hours of many jobs are there for a reason, providing us with boundaries that let us switch off while we’re not in work. But when these boundaries begin to blur,  we should become concerned. Whether it’s coming in earlier, working later or continuing with tasks during the lunch hour, the issue is easily noticeable – and it’s often due to an increase in workload that’s difficult to complete during regular working hours.

  • Becoming more withdrawn

When we feel stressed, it’s easy to retreat into our shells and shy away from things we used to relish, whether it’s a new work challenge or socialising with colleagues. And although certain employees can be more introverted than others, it’s when those who are usually very talkative (which might even be you) begin to withdraw that we should take note.

  • Increased time off

Are you or other employees taking more time off? Whether it’s annual leave or sick days, the message is clear: the workplace is somewhere people feel stressed, and they’re trying to avoid facing the nerve-racking situations that it creates.

  • Increased irritability

When we’re stressed, it can be hard to roll with the punches. Emotions run high, and things like jokes, passing comments, and changes at work might be met with more sensitivity and irritability than we might be used to. This can leave even the most laid-back employee feeling upset and exhausted at the end of the day.

  • Lapses in memory

If you’re making simple errors in your work, you’re confusing dates or deadlines or you’re becoming more and more indecisive, then others will probably be able to tell.

  • Visible tiredness

A stressed-out employee is probably having trouble sleeping at night. If you’ve noticed yourself or other employees looking more lethargic, then there’s a good chance that things have been stressful lately.

How to handle stress at work

If things have been stressful at work for you lately, there are lots of things you can do to ease these negative feelings, including the following:

  • Make a note of your triggers

Keeping track of the situations that create the most stress, and then writing down how you respond to them is a good start. Note down your reactions, feelings, and any other relevant information. Were particular people involved, or were there any other circumstances that might have affected your response? Doing this can help you find patterns in your reactions – once you know what things make you respond in certain ways, you can begin to work on improving your responses.

  • Know what’s expected of you

Sometimes stress and burnout can be a result of miscommunication. When things are unclear, you might end up doing more than is necessary – and that’s when the early starts and late finishes can start creeping in. Likewise, if your duties seem to be changing at a moment’s notice, then stress levels are likely to rise too. Before things get any worse, try talking to your line manager about exactly what it is that you’re supposed to be doing, including any targets you should be meeting.

  • Establish boundaries

When people can be reached in seconds it can be hard to truly clock off. Even after a day’s work, an email can land in your inbox. Before you know it, a “quick request” has added another hour or two to your working day. Establishing firmer work/life boundaries can stop anything job-related from impeding on your much-needed downtime. Make it a rule not to check email from home in the evening or avoid answering the phone while you’re eating dinner.

  • Try some mindfulness techniques

Things like meditation, deep breathing exercises and mindfulness have all proven popular as of late. And with good reason: dedicating your attention to something as simple as your breath has been shown to alleviate feelings of stress. Stress has a tendency to make peoples’ thoughts spiral out of control, but by maintaining focus on the present moment, you can learn to not let your thoughts get carried away.

If mindfulness isn’t your thing, then physical activity is still a tried-and-true stress buster. Anything that gets the pulse pounding, whether it’s yoga or weightlifting, can be a real positive. Build on that by limiting your caffeine intake and reducing the amount of screen time before bed, too. Your sleep will definitely thank you.

  • Talk to your boss

Instead of bottling things up, try talking things through with your boss. After all, they should be taking employee wellbeing as seriously as possible. Be honest with them about what’s stressing you out, how it’s affecting your productivity and that things are starting to creep into your life outside of work. From here, you can begin planning how to tackle these things and improve your work performance.

  • Seek out additional support

There’s nothing wrong with leaning on professional help if things are really starting to negatively affect you. If your work has an employee assistance programme, for instance, try seeking that out. Alternatively, you could try talking to a trained professional instead. Through counselling and talk therapy, someone who’s well-versed in guiding people through challenging situations and changing certain behaviours can help you out massively.

Female sat on couch smiling at another employee.

How to not let work stress you out at home

Working from home, whether it’s full-time or through a hybrid model, is seemingly here to stay. And while some people love the remote approach, the boundaries between work and home are more blurred than ever – so it’s vital that the latter doesn’t begin to interfere with the former and affect the time you should be using to relax and recharge.

Keep the following in mind to make sure you’re keeping the two separate:

  • Create a routine that includes a clear start, a lunchtime you stick to and a firm end to the day
  • Create an actual workspace that puts you in the right headspace for a day of productive work. This gives you an office you can “leave” once you’re finished with your duties
  • Take regular breaks, give yourself time to stretch or practice certain mindfulness techniques throughout the day
  • If you’re around your family, let them know there are certain hours when you don’t want to be distracted

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