Stress less at work

Studies show that we work best when we have an appropriate level of stress.

There’s so much to do and fret about, but all that worrying is actually keeping you from doing your job and making you feel more stressed. Stress is a normal reaction to life’s different challenges, including work, but when it becomes overwhelming, your mood, morale and work can suffer.

A certain amount of stress can help boost work performance and satisfaction. “Studies show that we work best when we have an appropriate level of stress, so we feel challenged, masterful and useful, especially to others, which can help us find meaning in our working lives,” says Dr. Nasreen Khatri, a clinician associate at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute. Not being challenged enough can actually breed boredom and increase stress, she adds.

When stress becomes toxic

Stress in mega doses can become toxic. “Too much stress on an ongoing basis can impact memory, mood, and cognitive functions such as decision making and social judgment,” says Khatri. It also increases the risk of developing mental illness, such as depression, and worsens other chronic diseases, such as hypertension or diabetes.

An online survey conducted by Ipsos Reid found that more than 20 per cent of employees in Canada say they currently suffer from depression. Another 16 per cent of respondents report they have experienced depression in the past.

Workplace stress can stem from anything from concerns about job security, feeling a lack of control or engagement, to interpersonal issues and poor job fit. For boomers, stress from other parts of their lives can especially intersect with work. “The sandwich generation (caring for later-launching children and aging parents at the same time) is expanding sideways—more like a pizza. Now it includes lateral or peer relationships, caring for siblings, partners, ex-partners, friends and others,” says Khatri. Those additional concerns and responsibilities can compound work stress.

Financial worries may plague boomers too and increase concerns about job stability, security, ageism, retirement, children’s education costs, eldercare and one’s own health. “Add to the mix a possilbly longer work horizon needed to adequately prepare for retirement, and life can feel pretty stressful.”

Taking control

How you deal with life’s lemons makes the difference between letting stress get to you and getting the job done, staying healthy and happy. Here are some more ways to manage workplace stress:

  • Make small changes. Okay, so you’re not quitting your job tomorrow. So start by changing some small things that are within your control. Bring in some music you enjoy, which can help to energize and calm your mind. Try coming in early so you can focus without coworkers distracting you—and you get to leave on time too.
  • Talk to the boss. “Talking to someone you trust about your work issues and approaching managers you feel comfortable with in a positive, productive way can be useful,” says Khatri. You may be able to discuss flex time or work from home options, or other ways to manage your workload.
  • Invest in your personal life. Enhancing other parts of your life can balance out any negativity from work and take your mind off work stress. “Eating well, exercising, rest, and a sense of community and shared values with others help to build context for our working lives and bring richness to our journey,” says Khatri.
  • Check your mood. Stress can lead to depression or make it worse. Signs of trouble include low mood, lack of usual level of enjoyment from activities, lack of energy, sleep and appetite disturbances, trouble concentrating and making decisions.

If you feel your mental health is suffering due to stress, see your doctor. As Khatri explains, “We often don’t see ourselves objectively when we’re too stressed for a long time. It’s always worth it to get the ‘check up from the neck up.’”

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