The Stress Epidemic: Tips to Reduce Work Stress

Stressed woman carrying papers

The Stress Epidemic at Work

A new study of workers in the U.S. and United Kingdom came to the conclusion that we are in the grip of a “stress epidemic.” That’s because 94 percent of the 1,600 workers surveyed said they suffer from stress. Many said stress is having a negative impact on their home life.

A major study in Australia found one-third of workers suffer from a mental health disorder, mainly stress, anxiety and depression. The study, called Australia’s Biggest Mental Health Check-In, surveyed 3,500 employees in a variety of industries.

These studies in developed countries around the globe are a warning that our stressful societies are creating increasing mental health issues in the workplace and in our personal lives. There’s an urgent need to lessen these stress levels and take a more comprehensive approach to mental health that decreases the stigma and focuses on prevention.

These studies in developed countries around the globe are a warning that our stressful societies are creating increasing mental health issues in the workplace and in our personal lives. There’s an urgent need to lessen these stress levels and take a more comprehensive approach to mental health that decreases the stigma and focuses on prevention.

Living with unrelenting stress day after day, week after week, and year after year takes a toll on our mental health. Research shows that the physical effect of stress on the heart, immune system, and hormones acting on the brain can make it difficult to concentrate and can lead to anxiety or depression. These issues have a spillover effect on spouses, partners, children and the community.

Stress Leads to Burnout

The survey of American and British workers by the global management organization Wrike found that one-quarter of those who responded said they expect to burn out within a year if they can’t lower their stress levels. Many were already looking for less stressful jobs.

The danger of workplace stress is that the resulting irritability and anxiety multiplies and affects personal relationships. Half of those surveyed said their stress from work affects their home life at least once a week and some said every day. And half of those in the study said the stress caused them to lose sleep, another factor that can lead to physical and mental health issues.

One of the insights from the Australian study is that only 17 per cent of participants who had anxiety, depression or chronic stress were seeing a therapist. And even more concerning is that many of those whose symptoms aligned with these mental health disorders were not aware that they were suffering from them. One of the executives interviewed about the study said some employees “knew something was wrong, but they didn’t know what.”

The issues were revealed through wearable technology like smartwatches that allowed scientists analyze heart-rate data, stress levels and sleep patterns.

Researchers concluded that some in the Australian workplaces who were not aware of the stress-related issues only realized the problem when it created a crisis.

5 Ways to Lower Workplace Stress

  1. Employee wellness programs: Take advantage of mental health benefits offered at work, such as an Employee Assistance Program that cover counseling.
  2. Managers can reduce the stigma: Many in the Australian survey said they were not comfortable discussing mental health issues with their supervisors. That change has to come from the executive level. So if you’re a manager, be a factor in that change, or if you’re not a manager, do what you can to encourage that change within the company.
  3. Find a less stressful job: You can’t always always find a better job quickly, but talk to friends and associates who can help you locate a company where there’s a commitment to employee wellness on all levels. Just the effort to change to a better situation could help alleviate some of the daily stress, because feeling in control of a situation is a positive factor in mental health.
  4. Have outside sources of relaxation: Create a routine that allows you to leave workplace stress at the office. Practice yoga, mindfulness meditation, tai chi, swimming, running, gardening or walking outdoors to keeps things in perspective.
  5. Build a support network: Connect to community or professional groups that allow you to share your concerns about work or give you a chance to focus on more positive projects and create new relationships. If work stress is having a negative impact on your home life, these different groups can create a sense of support that takes the burden of dealing with your stress off your spouse, partner or other family members.

References

Bolden-Barnet, Valerie, “Study: 94 Percent of US and UK Workers Report High Work-Related Stress,” HR Dive, Sept. 11, 2018

Hansen, Brianna, “Crash and Burnout: Is Workplace Stress the New Normal?”, Wrike, San Jose, California, Sept. 6, 2018

Crannage, Ali, “Stress and Mental Health – What Is the Impact and How Can We Tackle It?” MQ: Transforming Mental Health through Research, London, England, May 16, 2018

Young, Evan, “A Third of All Australian Employees Affected by Mental Illness,” SBS News, Special Broadcasting Service, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, April 18, 2018

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