In 2020, the American Psychological Association sounded a loud alarm bell. Stress levels among Americans had reached such a high level that they considered it a national emergency.
Stress was an endemic problem in our society well before the pandemic disrupted our lives. The World Health Organization declared it the “health epidemic of the 21st century” in 2017. But the increased uncertainty, health concerns, and significant changes Covid 19 brought with it have only exacerbated the issue.
Although many factors contribute to this mental health emergency, stress at work remains a common contributor. 64% of employed Americans report that their work is a source of stress.
For those in high-level roles, the issue is only amplified. Executives take on increased responsibility and, with it, longer working hours and the pressure of managing the future of their companies and teams, as well as their own workloads.
This demanding work schedule leaves executives at a high risk of stress. And stress is associated in turn with burnout, a recognized condition, with symptoms that include extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating and thinking, and increased negativity.
This work-related stress isn’t only a concern for the mental wellbeing of executives. It also has an impact on their physical health.
Short-term stress can lead to headaches, difficulty sleeping, and digestive issues. Continuing to feel stressed in the long term has even more serious consequences. Research has linked stress with a range of chronic diseases, including:
- high blood pressure,
- a lowered immune system,
- stomach ulcers, diabetes,
- cardiovascular disease.
If you are experiencing work-related stress, you are not alone. The impact of a demanding job and long working hours leaves many corporate executives under extreme pressure to perform.
There are strategies you can develop that will help you manage stress at work. Some of these are habits you can incorporate into your working day, while others may require changes to your life outside the office.
1. Understand Your Main Stressors
Before you start trying to troubleshoot your work-related stress, take some time to identify where the main pressure is coming from.
Perhaps your workload is simply too much, leaving you feeling overwhelmed. Maybe your work schedule has taken over your life to an unmanageable extent, giving you no time for rest, relaxation, or to pursue other areas of interest.
You might feel that your efforts are going unrecognized by your colleagues. Or your daily tasks might feel unrewarding because you are constantly having to deal with problems and setbacks.
Of course, you are likely experiencing a combination of these issues. But identifying which are most pressing can help you prioritize solutions that will relieve some of the strain.
As well as understanding the main causes of your stress, learn to recognize what increased stress levels look like for you. Often it comes with physical symptoms, such as a raised heart rate, tense muscles, feeling hot, or being suddenly uncomfortable.
You may also notice changes in your behavior. Your temper might be shorter, and you might speak more loudly. Or you may be someone who becomes quieter and more distant when your mind is preoccupied with stress.
Being able to recognize when your stress levels are rising helps you to put coping strategies in place.
Don’t forget that this is not a moment to judge yourself or to fight the stress. Acknowledging what you are feeling is a necessary part of learning when you need to make changes.
2. Take a Break
In the face of workplace stress, one immediate solution is to temporarily remove yourself from the situation. This is easier if you are on your own at your desk. But even in meetings, you can request a short break to let everyone regroup.
Stepping away from your workload when there is so much to do can be a difficult task. It is tempting to press on to get as much done as possible.
But stress often clouds our thoughts and stops us from performing at our best. Taking a short break gives you the breathing space to clear your mind and feel calmer, instead of becoming overwhelmed.
Try to schedule regular breaks throughout your working day, including a decent interval of time between meetings. You can supplement these regular breaks with an emergency breather when you notice your stress levels are rising.
According to Forbes, more than 90% of leaders find they manage stress better when they take a short break from what they are doing.
If you can, go outside to give yourself a change of environment. A walk can also help. But even some quiet time spent taking deep breaths can make a huge difference to your frame of mind.
3. Brush Up on Time Management Skills
A demanding workload is a common feature of executive roles. If you’ve identified this as one of your main sources of stress, putting some new time management techniques in place might help you feel more organized and on top of your tasks.
If someone else manages your diary, you will need to involve them with this step. Block out time where you aren’t available for meetings or calls, so you know you will be able to focus when you need to.
You likely have a lengthy to-do list already. But a step many people miss is allocating time to tasks. Make it a priority at the start of your day to work through your to-do list and plan when you will tackle each item throughout the day.
You can use an online calendar to visualize what your day will look like. This gives you an easy tool to map out what you can reasonably accomplish in the time available, including regular breaks.
Not only does this keep you organized, but it also saves you from having to decide which item to work on next.
Muting your email notifications is another useful technique to maintain focus and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.
If your workload is consistently more than you can accomplish in the time available, you may need to look at delegating some of your tasks. There may be members of your team who would relish the opportunity to increase their skills and responsibility.
You may also need to have an honest discussion with other members of the management team about the resources available. If they are also feeling overwhelmed, there is a wider strategic issue that needs addressing.
4. Reclaim Your Life-Work Balance
The rise in home-based and online working has meant the separation between work and home life has quickly become blurred. If you were working overtime before the pandemic, you might find that your hours have only increased.
If work is causing you anxiety and you do little else, it makes sense that your stress levels will become harder to manage.
Pushing back on long working hours can be tricky, especially if your workplace culture expects people to go above and beyond. But you are likely to be more productive in the time that you are at work if you are rested and fulfilled by your non-working hours.
If you are working at home, give yourself a cut-off point where you will shut down the computer and mute your work emails. If you are in the office, make it a habit to stop working when you leave. And then make sure you leave at a decent time.
It isn’t only about working shorter hours. What you do with your leisure time can also have a significant impact on your stress.
There is evidence that people who spend time enjoying their hobbies are less likely to experience stress and depression. This includes music, art, crafting, sport, or spending time in nature. Socializing with friends and family can also help to reduce stress, provided it doesn’t become just another item on your to-do list.
5. Prioritize Your General Health
When work-related stress is occupying your mind, it is easy to let your physical health slip too. Making the time to eat well, get enough sleep, and move your body regularly might feel impossible when you have so much to do.
These are basic things, but they make a significant difference to your ability to manage stress, both at work and at home. So, they need to be a priority, even if that feels unreachable at first.
Exercise brings many benefits to your physical and mental health. Stress reduction is one of them. According to Harvard Health, even a 20-minute walk can help to decrease your stress levels and clear your head.
Getting enough sleep can be hard when circling work pressure stops your mind from switching off at night. But research from the American Psychological Association suggests that a good night’s sleep can reduce stress, especially in those whose stress levels are high.
It can take some time to build healthy habits and then see their effect. However, you’ll find you are better able to cope when your basic needs are met.
Breaking Free of Work Stress
No one’s work is completely stress-free. But feeling continuously overwhelmed by your workload is worrying news for your health, as well as your productivity.
The suggestions in this article can help you to find a better balance. However, sometimes your stress has remained so high for so long that you need a proper break to rejuvenate.
If you are struggling with work stress and would like to talk through your options, contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help.