Whatever your work demands, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the damaging effects of stress, improve your job satisfaction, and bolster your well-being on and off the job.
When is workplace stress too much?
Stress isn't always bad. A little bit of stress can help you stay focused, energetic, and able to meet new challenges in the workplace. It's what keeps you on your toes during a presentation or alert to prevent accidents or costly mistakes. But in today's hectic world, the workplace too often seems like an emotional roller coaster. Long hours, tight deadlines, and ever-increasing demands can leave you feeling worried, drained, and overwhelmed. And when stress exceeds your ability to cope, it stops being helpful and starts causing damage to your mind and body—as well as to your job satisfaction.
You can’t control everything in your work environment, but that doesn’t mean you’re powerless, even when you’re stuck in a difficult situation. If stress on the job is interfering with your work performance, health, or personal life, it’s time to take action. No matter what you do for a living, what your ambitions are, or how stressful your job is, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your overall stress levels and regain a sense of control at work.
Common causes of workplace stress include:
- Fear of being laid off
- More overtime due to staff cutbacks
- Pressure to perform to meet rising expectations but with no increase in job satisfaction
- Pressure to work at optimum levels—all the time!
- Lack of control over how you do your work
Stress at work warning signs
When you feel overwhelmed at work, you lose confidence and may become angry, irritable, or withdrawn. Other signs and symptoms of excessive stress at work include:
- Feeling anxious, irritable, or depressed
- Apathy, loss of interest in work
- Problems sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Muscle tension or headaches
- Stomach problems
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of sex drive
- Using alcohol or drugs to cope
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Tip 1: Beat workplace stress by reaching out
Sometimes the best stress-reducer is simply sharing your stress with someone close to you. The act of talking it out and getting support and sympathy—especially face-to-face—can be a highly-effective way of blowing off steam and regaining your sense of calm. The other person doesn't have to “fix” your problems; they just need to be a good listener.
Turn to co-workers for support. Having a solid support system at work can help buffer you from the negative effects of job stress. Just remember to listen to them and offer support when they are in need as well. If you don't have a close friend at work, you can take steps to be more social with your coworkers. When you take a break, for example, instead of directing your attention to your smartphone, try engaging your colleagues.
Lean on your friends and family members. As well as increasing social contact at work, having a strong network of supportive friends and family members is extremely important to managing stress in all areas of your life. On the flip side, the lonelier and more isolated you are, the greater your vulnerability to stress.
[Read: Social Support for Stress Relief]
Build new satisfying friendships. If you don't feel that you have anyone to turn to—at work or in your free time—it's never too late tobuild new friendships. Meet new people with common interests by taking a class or joining a club, or byvolunteering your time. As well as expanding your social network, helping others—especially those who are appreciative—delivers immense pleasure and can help significantly reduce stress.
Tip 2: Support your health with exercise and nutrition
When you're overly focused on work, it's easy to neglect your physical health. But when you're supporting your health with good nutrition and exercise, you're stronger and more resilient to stress.
Taking care of yourself doesn't require a total lifestyle overhaul. Even small things can lift your mood, increase your energy, and make you feel like you're back in the driver's seat.
Make time for regular exercise
Aerobic exercise—activity that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat—is a hugely effective way to lift your mood, increase energy, sharpen focus, and relax both the mind and body. Rhythmic movement—such as walking, running, dancing, drumming, etc.—is especially soothing for the nervous system. For maximum stress relief, try to get at least 30 minutes of activity on most days. If it's easier to fit into your schedule, break up the activity into two or three shorter segments.
And when stress is mounting at work, try to take a quick break and move away from the stressful situation. Take a stroll outside the workplace if possible. Physical movement can help you regain your balance.
Make smart, stress-busting food choices
Your food choices can have a huge impact on how you feel during the work day. Eating small, frequent and healthy meals, for example, can help your body maintain an even level of blood sugar. This maintains your energy and focus, and prevents mood swings. Low blood sugar, on the other hand, can make you feel anxious and irritable, while eating too much can make you lethargic.
Minimize sugar and refined carbs. When you're stressed, you may crave sugary snacks, baked goods, or comfort foods such as pasta or French fries. But these“feel-good” foods quickly lead to a crash in mood and energy, making symptoms of stress worse, not better.
Reduce your intake of foods that can adversely affect your mood, such as caffeine, trans fats, and foods with high levels of chemical preservatives or hormones.
Eat more Omega-3 fatty acids to give your mood a boost. Thebest sources are fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines), seaweed, flaxseed, and walnuts.
Avoid nicotine. Smoking when you're feeling stressed may seem calming, but nicotine is a powerful stimulant, leading to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety.
Drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol may seem like it's temporarily reducing your worries, but too much can cause anxiety as it wears off and adversely affect your mood.
Tip 3: Don't skimp on sleep
You may feel like you just don't have the time get a full night's sleep. But skimping on sleep interferes with your daytime productivity, creativity, problem-solving skills, and ability to focus. The better rested you are, the better equipped you'll be to tackle your job responsibilities and cope with workplace stress.
Improve the quality of your sleep by making healthy changes to your daytime and nightly routines. For example, go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends, be smart about what you eat and drink during the day, and make adjustments to your sleep environment. Aim for 8 hours a night—the amount of sleep most adults need to operate at their best.
Turn off screens one hour before bedtime. The light emitted from TV, tablets, smartphones, and computers suppresses your body's production of melatonin and can severely disrupt your sleep.
Avoid stimulating activity and stressful situations before bedtime such as catching up on work. Instead, focus on quiet, soothing activities, such as reading or listening to soft music, while keeping lights low.
Stress and shift work
Working night, early morning, or rotating shifts can impact your sleep quality, which in turn may affect productivity and performance, leaving you more vulnerable to stress.
- Adjust your sleep-wake cycle by exposing yourself to bright light when you wake up at night and using bright lamps or daylight-simulation bulbs in your workplace. Then, wear dark glasses on your journey home to block out sunlight and encourage sleepiness.
- Limit the number of night or irregular shifts you work in a row to prevent sleep deprivation from mounting up.
- Avoid frequently rotating shifts so you can maintain the same sleep schedule.
- Eliminate noise and light from your bedroom during the day. Use blackout curtains or a sleep mask, turn off the phone, and use ear plugs or a soothing sound machine to block out daytime noise.
Tip 4: Prioritize and organize
When job and workplace stress threatens to overwhelm you, there are simple, practical steps you can take to regain control.
Time management tips for reducing job stress
Create a balanced schedule.All work and no play is a recipe for burnout. Try to find a balance between work and family life, social activities and solitary pursuits, daily responsibilities and downtime.
Leave earlier in the morning.Even 10-15 minutes can make the difference between frantically rushing and having time to ease into your day. If you're always running late, set your clocks and watches fast to give yourself extra time and decrease your stress levels.
Plan regular breaks.Make sure to take short breaks throughout the day to take a walk, chat with a friendly face, or practice a relaxation technique. Also try to get away from your desk or work station for lunch. It will help you relax and recharge and be more, not less, productive.
Establish healthy boundaries. Many of us feel pressured to be available 24 hours a day or obliged to keep checking our smartphones for work-related messages and updates. But it's important to maintain periods where you're not working or thinking about work. That may mean not checking emails or taking work calls at home in the evening or at weekends.
Don't over-commit yourself. Avoid scheduling things back-to-back or trying to fit too much into one day. If you've got too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Drop tasks that aren't truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.
Task management tips for reducing job stress
Prioritize tasks.Tackle high-priority tasks first. If you have something particularly unpleasant to do, get it over with early. The rest of your day will be more pleasant as a result.
Break projects into small steps.If a large project seems overwhelming, focus on one manageable step at a time, rather than taking on everything at once.
Delegate responsibility.You don’t have to do it all yourself. Let go of the desire to control every little step. You’ll be letting go of unnecessary stress in the process.
Be willing to compromise. Sometimes, if you and a co-worker or boss can both adjust your expectations a little, you’ll be able to find a happy middle ground that reduces the stress levels for everyone.
Tip 5: Break bad habits that contribute to workplace stress
Many of us make job stress worse with negative thoughts and behavior. If you can turn these self-defeating habits around, you'll find employer-imposed stress easier to handle.
Resist perfectionism. When you set unrealistic goals for yourself, you’re setting yourself up to fall short. Aim to do your best; no one can ask for more than that.
Flip your negative thinking. If you focus on the downside of every situation and interaction, you'll find yourself drained of energy and motivation. Try to think positively about your work, avoid negative co-workers, and pat yourself on the back about small accomplishments, even if no one else does.
Don’t try to control the uncontrollable.Many things at work are beyond our control, particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control, such as the way you choose to react to problems.
Look for humor in the situation. When used appropriately, humor is a great way to relieve stress in the workplace. When you or those around you start taking work too seriously, find a way to lighten the mood by sharing a joke or funny story.
Clean up your act. If your desk or work space is a mess, file and throw away the clutter; just knowing where everything is can save time and cut stress.
Be proactive about your job and your workplace duties
When we feel uncertain, helpless, or out of control, our stress levels are the highest. Here are some things you can do to regain a sense of control over your job and career.
Talk to your employer about workplace stressors. Healthy and happy employees are more productive, so your employer has an incentive to tackle workplace stress whenever possible. Rather than rattling off a list of complaints, let your employer know about specific conditions that are impacting your work performance.
[Read: Mental Health in the Workplace]
Clarify your job description. Ask your supervisor for an updated description of your job duties and responsibilities. You may find that some of the tasks that have piled up are not included in your job description, and you can gain a little leverage by pointing out that you've been putting in work over and above the parameters of your job.
Request a transfer. If your workplace is large enough, you might be able to escape a toxic environment by transferring to another department.
Ask for new duties. If you've been doing the exact same work for a long time, ask to try something new: a different grade level, a different sales territory, a different machine.
Take time off. If burnout seems inevitable, take a complete break from work. Go on vacation, use up your sick days, ask for a temporary leave-of-absence—anything to remove yourself from the situation. Use the time away to recharge your batteries and gain perspective.
Look for satisfaction and meaning in your work
Feeling bored or unsatisfied with how you spend most of the workday can cause high levels of stress and take a serious toll on your physical and mental health. But for many of us, having a dream job that we find meaningful and rewarding is just that: a dream. Even if you're not in a position to look for another career that you love and are passionate about—and most of us aren't—you can still find purpose and joy in a job that you don't love.
Even in some mundane jobs, you can often focus on how your contributions help others, for example, or provide a much-needed product or service. Focus on aspects of the job that you do enjoy, even if it's just chatting with your coworkers at lunch. Changing your attitude towards your job can also help you regain a sense of purpose and control.
How managers or employers can reduce stress at work
Employees who are suffering from work-related stress can lead to lower productivity, lost workdays, and a higher turnover of staff. As a manager, supervisor, or employer, though, you can help lower workplace stress. The first step is to act as a positive role model. If you can remain calm in stressful situations, it's much easier for your employees to follow suit.
Consult your employees.Talk to them about the specific factors that make their jobs stressful. Some things, such as failing equipment, understaffing, or a lack of supervisor feedback may be relatively straightforward to address. Sharing information with employees can also reduce uncertainty about their jobs and futures.
Communicate with your employees one-on-one. Listening attentively face-to-face will make an employee feel heard and understood. This will help lower their stress and yours, even if you're unable to change the situation.
Deal with workplace conflicts in a positive way. Respect the dignity of each employee; establish a zero-tolerance policy for harassment.
Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions that affect their jobs. Get employee input on work rules, for example. If they're involved in the process, they'll be more committed.
Avoid unrealistic deadlines. Make sure the workload is suitable to your employees' abilities and resources.
Clarify your expectations. Clearly define employees' roles, responsibilities, and goals. Make sure management actions are fair and consistent with organizational values.
Offer rewards and incentives. Praise work accomplishments verbally and organization-wide. Schedule potentially stressful periods followed by periods of fewer tight deadlines. Provide opportunities for social interaction among employees.
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Get more help
STRESS… At Work– Causes of stress at work and how to prevent it. (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)
Stress at Work(PDF) – Help and advice for dealing with job and workplace stress. (Acas)
Coping with Stress at Work – Common sources and the steps you can take. (American Psychological Association)
Workplace stress management strategies for business managers – Actions you can take to relieve stress for your staff. (Bupa)
Last updated: October 7, 2022
If your job is causing you so much stress that it's starting to affect your health, then it may be time to consider quitting or perhaps even asking for fewer responsibilities. You may need to take a simple break from work if stress is impacting you from outside your job.
A change in the way someone thinks or feels can also be a sign of stress, for example:
- mood swings.
- being withdrawn.
- loss of motivation, commitment and confidence.
- increased emotional reactions – being more tearful, sensitive or aggressive.
Stress is generally indicated as a deviation from normal functioning of body and mind. Stress can approach in an organization due to many reasons such as control over work, managerial style of manager etc. Stress in limited quantity is beneficial to organization and employee as well.
- Crying spells or bursts of anger.
- Difficulty eating.
- Losing interest in daily activities.
- Increasing physical distress symptoms such as headaches or stomach pains.
- Feeling guilty, helpless, or hopeless.
- Avoiding family and friends.
- Be open about your symptoms.
- Be upfront about your feelings. Don't leave out any details.
- Listen to your doctor's advice.
- If needed, book follow-up appointments.
- Explain your situation clearly and what you feel triggers your predicament.
- Keep one day meeting-free. ...
- Work from home if possible. ...
- Protect your time away from the office. ...
- Fit in exercise. ...
- Make family a priority. ...
- Take vacation. ...
- Schedule blank time.
Being burned out means feeling empty and mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don't see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress feels like you're drowning in responsibilities, burnout is a sense of being all dried up.
- Work! In addition to financial reasons, working can be important for your self-esteem and it adds to your social identity.
- Tell a trusted coworker. ...
- Educate yourself. ...
- Practice time management. ...
- Plan and prepare. ...
- Do it right the first time. ...
- Be realistic. ...
- Ask for help.
There are six main areas that can lead to work-related stress if they are not managed properly. These are: demands, control, support, relationships, role and change.
While quitting a job that leaves your mental health in a poor state may sound like a clear-cut decision, it's far from it. Financial and social considerations are critical to consider, along with the commitment—warranted or not—many people feel towards their employer.
Work-related stress can aggravate an existing mental health problem, making it more difficult to control. If work-related stress reaches a point where it has triggered an existing mental health problem, it becomes hard to separate one from the other.
What Is Job Stress? Job stress can be defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Job stress can lead to poor health and even injury.
Job stress makes employees more prone to error, poor work performance, mental health issues, burnout, and conflict in the workplace. If job stress goes unaddressed, organizations pay the price in higher rates of turnover, disengagement, and absenteeism.
- Use guided meditation. Guided meditation is a great way to distract yourself from the stress of day-to-day life. ...
- Practice deep breathing. ...
- Maintain physical exercise and good nutrition. ...
- Manage social media time. ...
- Connect with others.
- Headaches and migraines. When you are stressed, your muscles tense up. ...
- Depression and anxiety. ...
- Heart problems. ...
- Upset stomach. ...
- Obesity. ...
- Problems getting pregnant. ...
- Menstrual cycle problems. ...
- Decreased sex drive.
Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed up your reaction time, and enhance your focus—preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.
- “You're not alone.”
- “I'm your #1 fan!”
- “It's ok to take a break.”
- “How can I help?”
- “Your feelings are valid.”
- “You've done it before! You can do it again.”
- “Focus on one thing at a time.”
- “I'm here if you want to talk.”
If your stress will prevent you from going to work for more than 7 days then you can request a sick note from your GP. You can self-certify for the first 7 days which includes non-working days as well. How long can I self certify for? You can self certify for the first 7 days of illness.
Can I be fired while on stress leave? Stress leaves are protected by law. Employers do not have the right to fire you while you are on stress leave.
- Speak with a mental health care provider.
- Determine your FMLA eligibility.
- Meet with the human resource department.
- Finalize plans with your healthcare provider.
- Return the appropriate paperwork to your employer.
- Specify how you will take your leave.
While quitting a job that leaves your mental health in a poor state may sound like a clear-cut decision, it's far from it. Financial and social considerations are critical to consider, along with the commitment—warranted or not—many people feel towards their employer.
If you find yourself in a situation in which it is emotionally, physically, or mentally draining (or worse) for you even to show up to work, let alone get excited and perform at a high level—you need to leave.
Yes, a worker can quit their job due to stress and still receive employment insurance (“EI”) if they can prove that they had no reasonable alternative but to resign. Normally, workers who quit their job voluntarily are not entitled to EI.
“If you have communicated your needs clearly and taken responsibility for your part in what may be going on, and if you've asked for reasonable adjustments to be made and still, nothing changes, it may be time to leave.”
If you need more help, a supervisor might be the best person to talk to, given they may be informed about resources that could help with mental health. Human resources can be a good option as well, but be mindful that HR typically has the company's best interest in mind, Adewale says.
Talking about your mental health doesn't need to be scary or over-complicated, you can start the conversation by simply saying, “I need to get something off my chest” or “I need to talk, do you have time to listen?” Just remember to tell your boss only what is necessary.
- Remove the expectation of dealing with emails outside of work hours.
- Set hard deadlines for the end of your workday.
- Use your commute to clear the mental clutter of the day.
- Write tomorrow's to-dos today.
- Set aside time for hobbies, interests, and things that you truly care about.
It may seem like a simple thing, but one reason why good employees quit is that they don't feel like they're respected or trusted at work. Whether they feel like they're not respected by their boss or by their coworkers, these negative feelings can build up, eventually causing them to decide to leave.
What is a toxic work environment? A toxic work environment is one where negative behaviors—such as manipulation, bullying, yelling, and so on—are so intrinsic to the culture of the organization that a lack of productivity, a lack of trust, high stress levels, infighting, and discrimination become the norm.
- Check in with your mental health. ...
- Reflect on the source of your feelings. ...
- Envision your ideal life. ...
- Make time for breaks. ...
- Adjust your daily habits. ...
- Explore different careers. ...
- Give yourself rewards. ...
- Save up to take time off.
It's theoretically better for your reputation if you resign because it makes it look like the decision was yours and not your company's. However, if you leave voluntarily, you may not be entitled to the type of unemployment compensation you might be able to receive if you were fired.
Make an appointment with your doctor for your symptoms. Tell him or her about any changes in your sleep, diet or mental state. If these are stemming from factors in the workplace, your doctor may prescribe stress leave for a few days.
You may still receive EI regular benefits if you voluntarily leave your job to follow a spouse, common-law partner or dependent child to a new place. Visit the EI Benefit Entitlement Principles for more details, or contact Service Canada for any questions about the EI program.
Maybe. If you work in a high-stress job and have a lot of anxiety, there's no doubt that taking some time off or changing to a less stressful career will help your anxiety. If you find yourself asking “should I quit my job because of anxiety?” then it might be time to reevaluate your work situation.
What Is Workplace Anxiety? Workplace anxiety involves feeling stressed, nervous, uneasy, or tense about work, which could include anxiety about job performance, interactions with co-workers, or even public speaking. Workplace anxiety is common—around 40% of Americans report feeling stressed during their workday.
- You want room to grow. ...
- You're experiencing problems with a supervisor or boss. ...
- You feel undervalued. ...
- You feel unmotivated. ...
- You notice a high turnover rate. ...
- Talk with your supervisor. ...
- Identify your ideal job.