Understanding Stress In The Workplace

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Stress can affect anyone. It is a collective state of mind which everyone experiences regularly. Almost everyone knows how stress and anxiety can cause problems for both employees and corporations. Many online therapy experts focus on how it can cost employees their sanity and their health. A lot of press attention also focuses on stress as a liability, costing businesses millions in terms of lost productivity.

However, stress is not always bad! There is a thing called productive stress. When present in manageable amounts, it can lead to higher productivity and greater motivation. The key here is to understand what it is about as well as how to manage stress properly. Finally, people should realize that there are some types of stress encountered in the workplace that are more helpful than others.

The Phenomenon Of Stress

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At its core, stress is a survival instinct. It is a result of the fight-or-flight response, which helps humans maximize their survival chances during times of peril. While this response might have been useful for our ancestors who were cornered by mountain lions, nowadays this response is more of an annoyance than a lifesaver.

When people perceive that they are in danger, stress kicks in. The heart and lungs work double to supply the body with oxygen and nutrients, and blood pressure rises. Attention levels increase, and people suddenly feel bursts of energy.

While these signs might make it feel like stress is a godsend, it can be harmful when it becomes chronic or too severe for the body to handle. High levels of stress increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, and they can also weaken the immune system. Psychologically, chronic stress can increase susceptibility to other mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.

Thinking, “I have to do it perfectly!” or “I should be doing more!” ramps up stress. Self-critical thoughts along the lines of “This just proves what a loser I am!” add to our burden. — Eileen Kennedy-Moore Ph.D.

Workplace Stress

In the corporate world, stress comes in two variants:

  • challenge stressors
  • hindrance stressors

Challenge stressors are objects or events which prompt employees to work harder to reach their goals. Some common challenge stressors include time pressure, heavy workloads, and aggressive personalities. Based on their name, these stressors act by challenging the status quo. They prompt employees to go beyond their current limitations to become better, smarter, and more effective.

In contrast, hindrance stressors represent direct obstacles that block the path to success. Examples of hindrance stressors include abusive managers, disagreeable coworkers, and inhumane corporate policies. These sources of stress act by directly preventing employees from doing the best they can. The lack of opportunity towards success leads to frustration and stress.

Digging into our unconscious psychic factors can give us greater understanding of how our past experiences shape our current mood and functioning. — Robin Zarel, LICSW

Using Stress To Your Advantage

Of the two types of stressors, most people prefer the challenge stressors due to their motivating aspect. When present in moderate amounts, these stressors can help employees become more motivated at chasing after their dreams. Workers become more engaged with their work, as they become more obsessed with self-improvement. This phenomenon leads to higher productivity and greater job satisfaction.

However, this can be taken too far. Exposure to high levels of challenge stressors can lead to burnout, as employees stretch themselves too thin in trying to surpass the challenges they face. Many people might also feel too overwhelmed, driving them to give up and resulting in an outcome that is the opposite of what their aim.

As for hindrance stressors, there seems to be no level at which they become beneficial. By their very definition, they tend to deter progress and cause frustration. Some people might be able to rehash them into challenges that they need to face, allowing them to get still motivated by them. For the most part, companies still stand to benefit by eliminating them as much as possible.

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Set aside time before falling asleep to unwind. Listen to music, read something relaxing or meaningful, reflect on the important moments of your day. — Snehal Kumar, PhD

Fighting Back Against Stress

Employees can do a lot to reduce their stress levels at work. Habits such as taking regular breaks and planning can do wonders in promoting calmness. Proper time and resource management preventing cramming, which is one of the most anxiety-inducing activities in the workplace. Employees should also practice adequate task delegation and communication to minimize conflicts with peers and superiors.

Conversely, employers should recognize the importance of challenge stressors in increasing productivity. They should take steps to create workplaces that are free from hindrance stressors that only sap the energy out of everyone. Finally, they should have stress management programs in place that will help them identify problems and solve them before they stress out everyone.