Proven ways of dealing with stress in the workplace

Happy Stick Men

Stress is not always a bad thing but, when it is out of control, blighting everyday life, you need to take action.

Simple enough, you may think, but when it comes down to it, stress can be so inhibiting to our natural and productive train of thought, that ‘doing something about it’ is a mammoth mountain to climb. Understanding what stress is, and how it affects us as an individual, is the first step in your defence mechanism against it.

Understanding what triggers your stress reaction, and what they are, is important with a common cause of stress is work. We need a balanced view of stress to be able to deal with it.

Have you ever heard of eustress?

Possibly not, simply because it is its cousin – stress – that causes problems and issues. Eustress is the direct opposite of the stress that causes us to be anxious, nervous, insomniacs and so on.

Think for a moment about the deadline looming in the next day or two. There seems to be a mountain of tasks to complete, not everyone appears to be pulling their weight, and you are still waiting on an email from another department with the information and data that you need.

This final push, this surge of energy and adrenalin that allows you to meet both the deadline and expectations is a perfect example of eustress. It is a positive sense of propulsion towards a goal. It is temporary; it is not causing detriment to your health, and it is something that you can also deal with emotionally.

What turns eustress into negative stress?

It is the feeling of being overwhelmed. When the demands are too high, outstripping physical and emotional capacity, stress starts to eat away at the core.

It is not always an overnight flip from positive to negative stress either. It can build slowly over time and just when you think you have it under control, up it pops again.

It is a very real issue for both the employee and the employer. On one hand, you recognise someone as being stressed, but an employer can either choose to ignore it, or meet it head on. Finding ways of helping stressed employees without patronising them can be tough; it takes a Human Resource manager with skill and empathy to be able to deal well with such a situation.

Prevention as we know is better than cure. And this is why many employers are now taking the threat of stress in the workplace seriously. The Office of National Statistics published the days lost to stress figures for 2013 in the UK, and it made for sobering reading; 131 million days were lost from the economy by people being too unwell to work, the primary cause being stress.

Happy Stick Men

With these figures and the potential impact all too obvious, many forward-thinking employers are now actively encouraging staff to note what causes them stress at work, and provide ways and means of alleviating the issue.

An individual response

Spotting the signs of stress can make all the difference but, with so many pieces of conflicting advice, what are the best ways of dealing with stress?

It is such a personal thing that a one-size-fits-and-cures-all approach will not work but, collating ideas and trying them out could yield some surprising results. Some are based on psychological responses, and other suggestions are about the physical defence against stress.

Which of these proven ways of dealing with stress will you try?

#1 Positive outlook and response – stay in control

Stress can reduce us to a moaning wreck. Thus, you need to fight back with a positive mental attitude. But it can be tough which is why this technique works because you have to make a mental effort to change that negative inner voice.

Give the inner voice a boost but physically acting in a positive way too. How are you sitting right now? Slumped on the sofa, or slouched at your desk?

Sitting up straight and ‘carrying’ yourself in a positive way can help to exude a positivity that is contagious. Many psychologists believe that sitting and standing straight gives the mind a sense of power. This uprightness is the perfect buffer in your defence against stress becoming deeply embedded in you.

#2 Get organised

The groans are audible but, you know that the pile of paperwork overflowing from your in-tray, your desk, your drawers and so on, is not helping you to control stress. It is compounding it.

Take a leaf out of the book of some of the top CEOs of the biggest global companies;

  • Get organised and back in control of your workspace – sort the papers, file them, recycle them and so on. If you don’t need it, either get rid or find the person who does.
  • Stay organised – rather than put something down and think you will file it later, do it now. When you are ready to complete a portion of a task, even if it is a small bit of it, finish it by dealing with it.
  • Plan your next day – when you are in control of your physical workspace, you should start the process of closing down the day by making a plan for the following one. Spend 5 to 10 minutes planning what you need to do tomorrow morning.

#3 Learning to say ‘No.’

This is possibly the toughest process of starting to deal with your stress, and there is time when this will not go down well.

The underlying principle is simple enough – accepting unrealistic goals sets you up not so much for failure, but certainly for a large amount of negative stress that can and probably does, make you ill.

Ambition is a separate thing entirely; remember eustress and pushing yourself to achieve? Recognise when it is one thing, but you recognise when it is someone piling the pressure on to get something done.

As we said, in principle this is easy but in practice, this can be a lot tougher. Hence, you may need to learn the art of negotiation.

#4 Self-disciple and management

Not being able to get on with a task is a leading cause of stress. In some ways, the increasingly ability to work for home that many employers are now providing is one way of dealing with this but, if it is not a possibility then you need to start practicing the skill of self-discipline and management.

Interruptions in some cases cannot be avoided so here is a great tip; before you break off from your work to answer the phone and so on, make a quick note on a post-it note of where you were at, and what you were going to move on to next.

#5 Embrace it

Is It almost too ludicrous? Possibly but there are studies that show people who embrace short-term negative stress can turn it into eustress. This comes down to attitude and having a positive outlook.

Dealing with stress is not easy. It is, in part, about us making some changes in how we see things, breaking old habits and routines but, this matched with a positive and supportive employers, can make work a whole better place to be.


Jackie Price is a Director for OnSite Plus, a company that offers high quality corporate massage to clients across the UK. At the forefront of helping people combat stress in the workplace, OnSite Plus are all too aware of the damage it can cause to both employee and business.