Stress At Work

Listen to an excerpt of
Stress, It’s All In The Mind
by Cliff Simon and Patricia Stewart at


Benjamin Franklin once said, “ In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” With apologies to Mr. Franklin, he forgot to include stress. Every person feels stress at some time during their life. Often, we see it as a bad thing. We commonly see our stress caused by a host of irritating hassles over a period of time, or an ongoing, difficult situation. Stress affects different people in different ways. Something that causes you a great deal of stress may not affect your friend or coworker in the same way.

Job stress is much like any other form of stress, but can often be more difficult to deal with because we are very aware of being on display at our jobs. We are under pressure to look and act professionally. If you have handled stress at home in ways you would not comfortably handle stress while at work, then you may have also lost your coping mechanism. This, in itself may cause more stress.

What causes stress at work?

•    Control – I once was a team leader in a group home for disabled adults. I loved my clients and the people I worked with, but I, and many of the other team leaders did not feel supported by the supervisors or our employer. We felt that we had a great deal of responsibility but little control or decision-making authority. This placed us at greater risk of stress and burnout. Individuals in this situation can often develop medical problems due to chronic stress.

•    Increased responsibilities – Unexpectedly, my employer laid off half of the team leaders at the various group homes and arranged for those remaining to each take responsibility for two residences instead of just one. I had just been given double the workload. I had no choice but to accept the new duties. Increased responsibility can also be difficult for those of us who have problems saying no to added duties. If this sounds like you, it is important to work on how to say no without feeling guilty.

•    Competence – With my increased workload and greater stress level, I began to doubt my competency to do my job. I also was insecure about my future with my employer. If they could lay off so many people, could they not also get rid of me? Job security and feelings of lack of competence are major sources of stress for many people.

•    Clarity – An important source of stress for me was the lack of clarity in my job. With the change in the organizational structure, my duties would change wildly from day to day. There seemed to be little purpose or structure in the company. Rather than formulate a plan or goal and stick with it, the organization seemed to follow whatever belief system was popular. A rudderless ship is a stressed ship.

•    Communication
– Do you enjoy going to work every day? Do you know what is going on in your department or the company as a whole? If there is poor communication and you do not feel that you can express your concerns, and more importantly, feel listened to, then you will experience stress. Communication was nonexistent with my employer.

•    Support – When my father passed away, instead of a supportive environment at work, my employer behaved as if my father’s death was very inconvenient for them. I was given three days off, then I was expected to return to work and perform my job as normal. I felt unsupported and unvalued. The stress I felt was making it more and more difficult for me to feel satisfied in my job.

•    Significance – With the lack of acknowledgment from my employer, for the work I did, it became more and more difficult to take pride in my work or to find it meaningful. I hated going in to work every day. I was under such great stress that I was becoming ill. For my own peace of mind and for my health, I decided to quit my job. Later, I discovered that major sources of stress such as the ones above often lead to burnout. Employees can become unhappy and less productive in their work.

Job stress can affect your home life as well. While low levels of stress such as a jammed photocopier may not be noticeable, and slightly higher levels of stress can be positive, challenging you to act in a creative and resourceful way, high levels of stress are harmful and can lead to chronic disease.

What can you do about stress at work?

•    Talk to your supervisor. If you have a performance evaluation on a regular basis, use the time to clear up issues. However, if the issue is pressing, don’t wait. Arrange to talk to your supervisor as soon as possible. Don’t leave it up to others to begin a dialogue.

•    Manage your time well. Sometimes, issues between you and your boss, may actually be your fault. Be solutions focused. Leave your job at the office so you have some time to relax on your time off.

•    Unplug. You don’t have to be available to your office 24/7. That is a recipe for stress. Turn off your cell phone, blackberry and laptop. Voicemail and email are available so you won’t miss anything. Make the technology serve you. Don’t become a slave to it.

•    Know when to quit. If you are completely miserable at your job, and the above suggestions haven’t helped, maybe it’s time to change jobs. Research other similar jobs, or even a job you have never tried before. It is surprising how many skills are transferable between seemingly unrelated careers. Who knows, you may find that leaving that lousy job was the best decision you have ever made.

Stress is a fact of life for most people. While you may not be able to get rid of stress, you can look for ways to lower it.  Practice a work/life balance to maintain a healthier lifestyle and to reduce stress.

See which of these ideas work for you:

•    Exercise. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress. Walking is a great way to get started.
•    Write. It can really help to write about the things that are bothering you.
•    Change negative thinking to positive thinking. It’s possible that the other driver did not mean to cut you off in traffic. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
•    Do something you enjoy. A hobby can help you relax. Volunteer for a charity or do work that helps others. Feeling a sense of accomplishment can be a great stress reliever.
•    Learn ways to relax your body. This can include breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises, massage, aromatherapy, yoga, or relaxing exercises like Tai Chi.
•    Practice “being in the moment.” Use meditation, imagery exercises, or self-hypnosis. Listen to relaxing music. Look for the humor in life. Laughter really can be the best medicine.

-Patricia Stewart, Co-author of Stress, It’s All In The Mind with Cliff Simon,

Listen to an excerpt of Stress, It’s All In The Mind  By Cliff Simon and Patricia Stewart at

Life is far too short to be miserable.
Find ways to de-stress and relax that work for you.
Take a deep breath and find the positive things in life.