Recently I was catching up with a couple of ex-work colleagues of mine and the conversation turned, as it so often does, to that holy grail for mid-life career professionals… managing workplace stress to achieve some semblance of work-life balance.
And, of course, what we know to be true is… this is an ongoing challenge right throughout our working lives.
As I reflected on this conversation in the days afterwards, I realised that while my working life is not completely stress-free, I have achieved a level of balance that works for me.
How did I manage that?
Well, like so many other things about my career over the last few years, I made some intentional choices.
You see… as someone who worked in high-pressure environments for most of my career, I totally get the toll workplace stress can take on your life. It’s hard to feel like you’re thriving when you’re constantly exhausted and overwhelmed by the demands of your job.
Workplace demands often outweigh your ability to manage them
Whether you’re tasked with unreasonable deadlines, dealing with difficult colleagues, or juggling multiple projects, work-related stress is not uncommon and, if left unchecked, it can and will take a toll on your mental and physical health.
The UK’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE) estimates working days lost due to work-related stress, depression and anxiety account for 55% of total working days lost in 2021-22… up from 51% pre-pandemic.
And in Australia, a study by the Australian National University, in 2017, found people who work more than 39 hours a week are at a higher risk of developing mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.
So… the impacts of not managing your workplace stress are real… and serious! And they can negatively impact every aspect of your life including your self-confidence.
But… it’s not like you can just flip the table and quit… and that’s probably adding to your stress. Concern about job security and impacts on your finances are likely to add the overwhelm that’s keeping you stuck.
The first step is to recognise that stress is a normal part of life, but there are ways to manage things so it doesn’t consume you. Here are some actionable steps you can take to feel more in control and create a healthier balance that works for you…
5 steps to managing workplace stress and create a healthier balance
1. SET SOME BOUNDARIES
It’s easy to blur the lines between work and personal time, especially when technology allows you to be connected 24/7. Set specific hours for work and stick to them as much as possible. Communicate your availability and turn off your work phone or computer outside of those times. By creating clear boundaries and letting others know about them, you create a sense of separation between work and personal time, which will help you feel more in control and signals to you and your loved ones that your time with them is about them… and not shared with your work.
2. PRIORITISE YOU
It’s super-important you prioritise taking care of yourself. This is key to managing your stress. And, I know this is tough one when you have a million other “outside work” commitments as well. Focus on getting enough sleep and exercise, taking breaks throughout the day, and spending time doing things that you enjoy. It might seem counterintuitive but making time for self-care will help you feel more energised and focused when you’re at work.
3. PRACTICE USING THE WORD “NO”
As an ambitious professional, you probably feel pressured to say yes to every new opportunity. Repeat after me, “It’s ok to say no!”. It’s important to recognise your limits and learn to say “no” when you need to. Taking on too much will lead to you feeling increased stress levels… and is often the quick route to burnout. The thing is, when you say “yes” to things, you’re always saying “no” to someone else… and that someone is usually you. Your time, your mental wellbeing, your stress levels.
4. DEVELOP YOUR SUPPORT CREW
Social support is a key factor in managing stress. Make time to connect with friends and family, or even co-workers, outside of work. Having others to talk to, to seek advice or guidance from, or even just to listen to you have a rant, can help you feel more resilient and less alone. Don’t be tempted to hide your experience from those who care about… you’ll often be surprised when the support will come from.
5. SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
Finally, don’t be afraid to seek support when you need it. If your stress levels are impacting your mental health or overall wellbeing, consider seeking professional help. This can be in the form of therapy, counselling, or even speaking with your doctor. It’s important to take care of yourself and seek help when necessary.
Finding balance and managing your workplace stress requires a proactive and intentional approach, so experiment to find what works best for you. Need some help finding the right balance that works for you? Get in touch, I’d love to help you out.