Office Space: ten steps to avoid work-related stress

No matter how much we love our career, we can all experience feelings of stress at our busiest moments. When these feelings become constant, however, the risk of developing a mental health problem like anxiety or depression increases. Practising positive habits and stress management is now essential within the modern workplace to ensure we remain […]

Office Space: ten steps to avoid work-related stress

By Natalie Lorimer

No matter how much we love our career, we can all experience feelings of stress at our busiest moments. When these feelings become constant, however, the risk of developing a mental health problem like anxiety or depression increases. Practising positive habits and stress management is now essential within the modern workplace to ensure we remain resilient and able to perform at the top of our game.

Explore The Mind Map’s tips for avoiding work-related frustrations below.

Recognise signs of stress

When we feel busy or overwhelmed at work, stress can creep up on us all too easily. It is therefore important to spot the signs of stress early, helping you to get a head start at finding preventative strategies that work best for you.

Symptoms of work-related stress can be physical, emotional, and behavioural. You may feel unable to cope with tasks, become forgetful and unable to concentrate, experience a lack of confidence, or lose motivation. Emotional symptoms can include feelings of anxiety, depression, irritability, or sensitivity. Some of us may even experience physical symptoms such as stomach pains, headaches, difficulty sleeping, or a tightness in the chest.

Tracking your symptoms using a journal or diary can be a helpful way to discover whether your feelings are signs of work-related stress. You can then share these observations with a senior colleague or a doctor who can offer support.

It is also important to remember that work-related stress can present itself in unique ways to different people, meaning that your colleagues or friends may have entirely different experiences with stress. No matter what your unique symptoms are – it’s important to address them.

Be clear on your requirements

Do you ever feel like senior colleagues are asking more of you than you expected? Communication is often key when it comes to stress in the workplace, and a lack of understanding about your own responsibilities could significantly contribute to feelings of irritability or pressure.

When tasks seem to be piling up or our priorities are constantly changing, we can quickly become overwhelmed.

This can lead to a loss of motivation through sheer exhaustion or low confidence. A quick word with the boss may offer the best solutions, giving you the mutual opportunity to discuss their expectations of you and the most effective way of meeting these targets.

Set realistic work goals

Those of us prone to perfectionism may experience elevated levels of work-related stress if we feel we haven’t achieved as much as we would like to throughout the working week.

While we all want to reach our goals and complete tasks to the best of our ability, a constant pursuit of the best possible result or outcome can often be unrealistic. A fast-paced work environment can limit the time available to achieve everything we set out to pursue, and often larger projects can require more detailed attention with less instantaneous results. If we attempt to juggle multiple projects at once to achieve many results, the quality of our work is more likely to suffer.

We can alleviate high stress levels when we approach tasks from a more realistic perspective, which often involves setting out to do our best and rewarding ourselves whatever the outcome.

Stay organised and get ahead

A frequently updated diary or planner can be your best practical weapon against work-related stress. If you find yourself unable to keep track of multiple deadlines or accidentally skipping over essential tasks within a massive to-do list, setting aside some time to sit down and physically write out a schedule on paper can help create order and prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed. This is a particularly useful tool to those of us who respond well to visual cues and learning aids, as we can absorb our schedule far in advance.

Plus, better organisation provides a great excuse to treat yourself to new stationery.

Build supportive relationships with your work colleagues

Supportive colleagues can become valuable allies when work-related stress hits. While it can be difficult to talk to the people we work with about mental health and stress, a brave first step can often lead to permanent solutions.

Sometimes problems are best solved when approaching them from a different perspective, and other colleagues may offer new creative solutions to a problem that has been contributing to your own high stress levels. If you feel a task is too big to complete on your own, asking another colleague to help share the workload can alleviate the pressure and boost the quality of the end result.

Embrace the power of ‘no’

Sometimes saying ‘no’ can feel like we are breaking the rules of the workplace. We might feel very lucky to have a job, and that declining a request to take on new responsibilities could be perceived by colleagues as making a fuss or refusing to be a team player. This can be particularly difficult for individuals who are self-employed or working on a freelance basis. In reality, saying ‘no’ can sometimes be the ultimate act of self care.

Often it’s more sensible to say ‘no’ when we feel overwhelmed. Taking on too much at once can have a negative effect on the quality of the work that we produce, which can then result in a dent in our self confidence on top of any stress that we may be experiencing. Speak to a senior colleague or a close friend in the workplace and propose sharing the workload to relieve any pressure you feel.

Start your day with positive habits

It is important to recognise when stresses from home are carried over into the workplace. A morning routine that consists of running frantically around the house in search of possessions, guzzling coffee during rush hour, and arriving at the office with minutes to spare will often act as a slippery slope towards burning out by lunchtime.

There are plenty of positive habits that you can practice to help get your workday off to a productive start. Make sure to get enough sleep and set an alarm to ensure you have time to spare when getting ready to leave for work each morning. A healthy breakfast will keep your mind alert and stomach full. Finding ten or fifteen minutes to practice mindfulness before tackling a busy schedule can also set us up well for a more focussed day, allowing us to find space to reflect on our feelings within the present moment and set out our short term intentions. You may also find it relaxing to listen to upbeat music or a podcast on your commute to help your mind focus on something stimulating, rather than predicting the day ahead.

Eat a healthier lunch away from your work space

Many of us can be tempted to eat lunch while sitting at our desk and answering a few extra emails. The popularity of pre-packaged sandwiches and supermarket ‘Meal Deals’ have actually been fuelled by our grab-and-go eating habits during the workday.

Though a BLT washed down with a fizzy drink in front of a computer screen can satisfy our stomachs, this lunchtime ritual may be less satisfying for the mind and our wallets. Taking our lunch away from our desk can provide a well earned break from the work space and allow our minds to unwind and refocus. Switching to a homemade lunch could also save money and provide a healthier option, giving your body and mind the best fuel it needs for a productive day.

Keep your work space clean and practical

The little things can sometimes make a big difference, and an untidy or uncomfortable work space can actually contribute to feelings of stress at work and ultimately affect our productivity. This could be anything from a chair that makes your back ache, an overly chatty desk neighbour, or losing that all important spreadsheet under piles of paperwork.

Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to their ideal work environment, so spend some time identifying your own; whether that be a minimalist desk space and absolute silence, or some chill tunes on your headphones and all that paperwork in colour coded folders.

Find some essential work-life balance

Whether you have secured your dream career or would like to make some changes, it’s just as important to nurture our life away from the workplace and find balance.

Setting aside time to relax with loved ones and pursue various hobbies can help us detach from a headspace centred on work, limiting the opportunities for stress and overwhelming thoughts to take over. Sports activities such as football, swimming, or running can boost positive chemical responses within the brain that elevate your mood, while creative interests such as painting, playing an instrument, or photography can help you narrow your focus and briefly escape everyday pressures.

If you would like more information about free mental health services near you, visit our interactive map. The Mind Map also offers online and in-person counselling with accredited therapists, who are available to book via our website.

If you require emergency help, contact Samaritans via phone on 116 123.

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