How To Manage Work Stress

What happens at work – which is where you spend a massive one-third of your life – can have a huge impact on your mental health.

Tight deadlines, long hours, job insecurity and poor relationships with bosses and colleagues can all make your job a huge source of stress. And while a little stress can be a good thing, helping you stay alert and perform at your best, when job stress is prolonged or excessive, it can result in mood swings, depression, anxiety and relationship problems.

“While we should aim for work-life balance, it’s rarely achieved,” says integrative psychologist Leanne Hall. “The key is to pay attention and know when things are out of whack. Know your signs: poor sleep, increased irritability, cancelling gym sessions and overeating are all examples of life being out of balance. When this happens, stop and reflect on your circumstances. Make changes like a better sleep routine, cutting out alcohol during the week – whatever it takes to get things back on track.”

Manage your schedule and say ‘no’

Sometimes it’s hard to stick to normal work hours, but if long hours become the norm, your mental health can suffer. So if your workload has become unmanageable, it’s a good idea to talk to your manager. It’s also important to say ‘no’ to work which is beyond your physical and emotional capabilities. This can be difficult for people who like to please their colleagues and enjoy being seen as a ‘can-do’ person, but if the demands of a task exceed your capacity, you may inadvertently let down your team anyway when the task is not completed well.

“Know your limits and be realistic,” advises Hall. “Saying ‘no’ can be softened by communicating what you CAN do. For example: ‘I can’t get that to by you tomorrow, but I can get it to you by the end of the week’. In other words, try offering alternative solutions when you say ‘no’.”  

Switch off

Taking time to rejuvenate away from work – ideally, without thinking about work during those breaks – will help reduce the impact of work stress. You can do this by leaving your workplace during your lunch-break instead of working through, and making sure you take holidays instead of letting your annual leave build up.

Switching off from technology out of hours is also vital, so avoid the urge to check your work emails at home. If you’re not able to respond to all urgent or important emails during work hours, it may be a sign that you need to talk to your boss about an unmanageable workload.

Stay healthy outside work

Studies show that people who exercise regularly have better mental health and emotional wellbeing. That’s because physical activity helps relieve tension, relaxes your mind, increases your energy levels and helps you sleep better. Importantly, it also helps improve your sense of control, coping ability and self-esteem, while providing a healthy outlet for your frustrations and distracting you from negative thoughts.

The Australian Government recommends moderate-intensity exercise (which means still being able to talk to someone) for at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week.

Staying healthy outside work also includes eating a nutrient-rich diet, having relaxation rituals and avoiding smoking and excessive drinking.

Where to get help

If you’re struggling with stress, anxiety or depression, call BeyondBlue’s 24/7 helpline on 1300 22 4636 or visit beyondblue.org.au for support resources. You can also check out This Way Up, a free online course to help reduce stress, developed by St Vincent’s Hospital and the University of New South Wales.