At some point in our working lives, we have felt the strain of work-related stress and the toll it takes on us. Unreplied emails, messages, challenging assignments, crazy deadlines, and unscheduled meetings are some examples which have no doubt plagued us and have caused such stress. To further complicate the above, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened what was already a growing and largely unaddressed mental health issue in the workplace.
Stressful elements can occur regardless of whether you are working at the office or working from home, no matter what field of work you are in, and yes, even if you enjoy what you do. For some, especially during this pandemic, many stress factors transpire from the realities of working in public during a global pandemic that raise significant health and safety concerns.¹ For others, working from home bears its own challenges. Meanwhile, there are the unfortunate ones who find themselves suffering a pay cut, which then heavily contributes to their stress and anxiety due to the added financial challenges. Thereafter, when work related stress becomes chronic, it can be overwhelming and harmful to health – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
What are the common factors that cause workplace-related stress?
Identifying and understanding stressful situations which we face is important in order to manage them better in the future. Generally, some of the common workplace stressors are:³
- No work-life balance
- Low salaries
- Excessive workloads
- Few opportunities for growth or advancement
- Work that isn’t engaging or challenging
- Interpersonal conflict
- Conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations
Let’s take a look at some key statistics compiled by Health Careers on work-related stress before the COVID-19 pandemic:²
- 35% people experience daily work-related stress worldwide
- 21% report that working long hours is the most frequent job-related stressor in the UK
- 40% of Japanese workers lose sleep over work-related stress and anxiety
- The incapability of establishing a good work-life balance is one of the leading causes of stress in the work environment
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, new work-related stressors have emerged. Some of these stressors are:⁴
- Worrying about the risk of being exposed to the virus at work
- Taking care of personal and family needs while working
- Managing a different workload
- Lack of access to the tools and materials needed to complete tasks
- Uncertainty about the future of your workplace and/or employment
- Learning new communication tools and facing technical difficulties
- Adapting to a different workspace and/or work schedule
Generally, how does workplace stress affect well-being?
Continuous exposure to work-related stressors will indeed affect mental health in the long run.⁵ Burnout caused by work-related stress has also proven to be linked with symptoms of anxiety and depression. Often, this sets the foundation for serious mental health issues. A study has found that younger people who continuously face heavy workloads and extreme time pressure on the tasks at hand are more likely to experience major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.⁶ Chronic stress can also lead to insomnia and high blood pressure too.
Extreme levels of stress at work can affect physical health as well. Disrupted bodily functions and increased vulnerability to disease will occur as a result of repeated activation of the fight-or-flight response. For example, repeated release of the stress hormone cortisol can weaken the immune system and increase the risks of developing autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.⁷ Chronic stress can also affect health by impeding healthy behaviors such as exercise, nutrition-balanced eating, and sleep.
Facing work-related stress can also cause one to experience a litany of problems such as headache, stomach ache, sleep disruption, short temper, and difficulty in focusing. It can also further contribute to health complications such as depression, obesity, and heart disease.³ To address these problems, people who experience chronic stress tend to manage it in unhealthy ways such as stress-induced binge eating, indiscriminate snacking, smoking cigarettes, or drinking alcohol.
Coping with work-related stress during the pandemic.
Here are some tips to help you manage stress better during this time:
1. Track your stressors
Keep a journal entry for a week or two to track and identify which situations create the most stress and how you respond to them. Record your thoughts, feelings, and information about the situation, including the people and circumstances involved and how you responded.³ Healthline suggests that as you note down your triggers and reactions, ask yourself:⁸
- How did this make me feel? (Afraid, angry, upset?)
- What was my reaction? (Did I take a break or stress eat?)
- What are the ways to resolve it? (How can I find solutions to this stressor?)
2. Develop healthy responses
Instead of attempting to tackle stress with unhealthy food, smoking or alcohol, do your best to make healthy choices when you feel the tension rise. Exercise is an excellent way to unwind, especially if you are working from home.³ Yoga is also a good option, but any form of physical activity is advantageous. Set aside time for hobbies and favorite activities. It can be anything from reading a novel, listening to music, or learning a new instrument. Getting sufficient and quality sleep is also essential for effective stress management. Form healthy sleep habits by limiting your caffeine intake late in the day and minimizing stimulating activities such as browsing the computer or smartphone at night.³
3. Sharpen your time management skills
Occasionally, feeling overwhelmed by work boils down to how organized you are. Whether you are working from the office or at home, it would be beneficial to set up a priority list at the beginning of your work week by preparing tasks and listing them according to importance.⁸ Setting efficient breaks in between tasks will allow the mind and body to rest and recharge, and in turn minimise the stress faced.
Experiencing stress from work, whether during or after the pandemic or in general, is something that can’t be avoided. Despite the causes, there are numerous ways and methods that can be applied to keep the stress at bay and further aid in one’s well-being. We should learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of work-related stress as they arise instead of trying to avoid ignoring or suppressing them.⁹ Recognizing and acknowledging signs and symptoms of stress is the foundation to establishing means for building resiliency, managing symptoms, and seeking help when it is needed.
1.Workplace Stress and Anxiety After COVID-19
2. 15 Alarming Workplace Stress Statistics & Facts for 2020
3.Coping with stress at work
4. Employees: How to Cope with Job Stress and Build Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic
5. How to handle stress at work
6. Work stress precipitates depression and anxiety in young, working women and men
7. Lifetime Stress Exposure and Health: A Review of Contemporary Assessment Methods and Biological Mechanisms
8. How to Keep Work Stress from Taking Over Your Life
9. Workplace Stress and COVID-19