Skip to main content

How to reduce stress at work

No matter the industry or role, the pressure of work-related stress will impact everyone during their careers. It could come from the demand of deadlines, workload or frustrations around roles and responsibilities. After more than a year of job uncertainty and periods of working from home due to the pandemic, the causes of work-related stress are broader than ever. If these challenges are left unchecked, stress can lead to severe physical and mental health problems.

While stress cannot be eliminated, building a better understanding of your situation and developing coping strategies can be invaluable for managing your emotional well-being and reducing the risk of long-term illness. 

What are the sources of stress at work?

The range of stressors in a work environment are incredibly broad due to their subjectivity. Not every source of stress will apply to every person equally, but you may feel the following at some point in their career:

  • Challenging interpersonal relationships
  • Excessive or unmanageable workload
  • Difficulty achieving work/life balance
  • Physical discomfort
  • Dissatisfaction in your role.

More information about identifying and understanding stress triggers can be found in our article: What is workplace stress?

How to manage stress

While campaigns such as International Stress Awareness Week provide a broad spotlight on the prevalence of stress, the process of identifying your triggers and their impact is deeply individual. To manage your stress levels effectively, it is important to identify the aspects of the working day that generate stresses and understand how and why they impact you.

One way to do this is to keep a journal for several weeks. Note which situations cause you stress and why, alongside your reactions and responses. Reviewing this information will help you to identify patterns of stress such as bottlenecks in your week and specific tasks or situations that created tension.

With this information, it is then possible to resolve each element as its own, smaller, issue and identify ways to prevent accumulation. Breaking these into smaller pieces will also make discussions with managers or health professionals easier to approach.

6 simple ways to reduce stress at work

1. Set boundaries

For many people, the routine of working from home has caused considerable stress relating to timekeeping and the need to demonstrate they are always available for work. A February 2021 survey for Microsoft found that 53% of employees have felt pressure to be available at all times as part of working from home, while 30% said they felt the need to work longer hours at home.

While some people may be willing to take business-related calls in the evening or reply to emails at weekends, 60% of respondents to Aetna International’s Digital Health Dilemma survey said that remote working increased the pressure to respond to work outside office hours, while 66% felt it would blur the lines between work and their home life.

Regardless of where you work from, it remains vitally important to separate your work life and home life in a way that suits your circumstances. Creating clear boundaries will allow you to step away from the virtual office. This could be as simple as sticking to set working hours and taking your lunch breaks. Even if it is just an opportunity to take a few moments away from your desk, it can be an invaluable way to put a space between your work and your home life.

Boundaries should also apply to workloads. Taking on too many tasks not only creates pressure on you but having a divided focus means that nothing gets your full attention – and the quality of your work can suffer.  You may need to push back when there is no realistic way of completing a task to the standards expected in the timeframe you are given.

2. Stay healthy

Having a healthy lifestyle is a great way to de-stress. While there is a strong temptation to lean on unhealthy food to get you through a difficult day, instead try exercises such as running, bike rides and yoga, which will help to clear your head and re-energise your body.

A nutritious diet will also help. Fruit and vegetables, alongside whole grains and protein from chicken, nuts, or seeds, will help your body recover quickly from stressful situations. Where possible, reduce the amount of caffeine, sugar and alcohol in your diet to help manage your blood sugar levels and blood pressure.

Getting enough sleep is another important step towards improving overall well-being. Constant exposure to the glare of screens, from laptop to TV to phone throughout the day, keeps your brain on high alert and makes it difficult to switch off at night. Minimise the number of screen-based activities in the hours before you go to bed to give yourself time to unwind and rest. Find out more about improving sleep with these 10 tips for better, healthier sleep.

For more information, check out the article; An employee’s guide to staying healthy while working.

3. Take a break

Much like a swimmer coming up for air, it is important to allow yourself to regularly resurface from the demands of work.

This could be as simple as five minutes away from the glare of screens to rest your eyes or making the best use of your holiday allowance by planning a getaway or long weekend.

What an effective break means will vary between individuals. Sometimes taking a single day to yourself could be enough time to unwind and focus on interests and activities outside of work, so that when you return you are fresh and focused.

4. Mindfulness

Mindfulness has become an increasingly popular way to find peace in an always-on society. Taking moments to focus on breathing can be a very useful tool to centre yourself and quickly reduce stress levels.

Through mindfulness apps and videos, it is possible to incorporate a few moments of reflection into your day with quiet walks or guided meditation.

Find more about mindfulness and meditation in the workplace in our article ‘Mindfulness and meditation: 9 stress-management strategies to consider in the workplace’.

5. Talk about it

Issues with health and well-being at work are not something that should be bottled up. 

Bringing issues and concerns to your manager is a good thing for both you and the company, as maintaining a high level of staff well-being can have a dramatic impact on productivity and the quality of work produced - so it is in everybody’s best interest to talk honestly about worries and frustrations.

If you have a stress journal, discuss the key tension points of your schedule with your manager. Having a clear focus on the issues will make it easier for your manager to alleviate your concerns and make workloads more manageable.

Many companies may offer training to boost professional development. In some cases, courses on stress management or other well-being resources might be available. Do not be afraid to enquire.

Outside of the office, talking to friends and family is a great way to relieve stress. For those who aren’t comfortable speaking to friends or family, Wysa is a well-being app that includes an AI chat function, allowing you to talk about stress and anxiety at your own pace. Wysa is publicly available, but Aetna International members have access to a pro account.

If you feel that more professional support is required, counselling and advice services can be found via Aetna Well-being, which gives members access to professional services and self-help tools for improving well-being.

6. Be imperfect

Making improvements to your daily routine will help to keep stress levels at bay, but there will still be moments where you make mistakes or feel the pressure of a project not working out as planned. You’re only human, after all.

It is normal to have periods where things do not go as expected and while it can be unpleasant at the time, often these can be some of the most useful learning experiences. Allow yourself to have bad days and use the techniques above to make sure the stress is being reduced to manageable levels.

One group which faces particularly high levels of work-related stress are expats on assignment. Find out more about expat mental health and the support available.

We use cookies to give you the best possible online experience. See our cookie policy for more information on how we use cookies and how you can manage them. If you continue to use this website, you are consenting to our policy and for your web browser to receive cookies from our website.