Responding to Workplace Stress

My older brother talks a lot these days about retiring. When I ask about his plans he’s a bit vague except for knowing he wants to play golf and read books. When I recently suggested he’s too young to retire, might need to use his brain, and would likely be bored within a year, he simply replied, “I’m exhausted, I need to get out….my soul is tired.”

A good friend of mine who always has energy to burn and is never ill, has spent the past week flat on his back too sick to get out of bed for more than an hour at a time.

Another colleague, who recently bought a first home, found out this week that eight people at her husband’s company were laid off. She’s finding it hard to concentrate on her work worried that he might be next.

As for me, I’m so tired the first time I tried to write this column, I fell asleep staring at my computer.

Today organizational pressures and demands are taking a toll. As a result, employees, even those who aren’t worried about losing their jobs, are stressed out, anxious, and just a bit more jittery than usual.

Stress affects us physically, manifesting itself in a range of symptoms including colds, flu, backaches, stiff necks, tight shoulders, headaches, difficulty concentrating, depression, and fatigue.

When we’re exhausted and stressed, most of us, myself included, don’t tend to treat ourselves well. Too much coffee, too many not-so-healthy food choices, not enough sleep, and too little exercise slips into our daily routine.

So what can we do to better manage workplace stress?

Exercise. In addition to a regular exercise routine, build in stress breaks. For example, every hour or so, get up from your desk and walk around or get out for some fresh air. Do some deep breathing or shoulder rotations, or just close your eyes for a minute or so. A friend of mine has even initiated walking meetings. While everyone may not initially be keen on the idea, meeting participants soon find that the walks generate clearer thinking in addition to reducing stress.

Set boundaries for balance. One of my friends blocks off Saturday morning to Sunday evening as sacred family time. During that time period, he turns off his cell phone and won’t even check his e-mail.
Even though you may not feel up to it, make the effort to have a life beyond work. Friends, hobbies, sports, and other leisure choices are important for balance.

Rethink Priorities. When I feel stress from the demands of my job, I remind myself that it is, after all, just a job. A good friend of mine used to help me keep things in perspective at work by reminding me that we weren’t brain surgeons. After all, she would say, “We’re not leaving people on the operating table with their skulls open if we walk away at 5:00 o’clock”. It’s a perspective that makes me stop to ask myself whether or not a task really needs to be completed that day.
Sometimes, rethinking work may simply mean making a list of priorities. I’ve found that just cleaning off my desk can make me feel more under control thereby reducing my stress. I’ve also learned its okay to ask for the extension of a deadline. 

Relax and recharge. We all need to be reminded that pushing one’s self at maximum capacity 100 percent of the time results in little or no long-term performance gains. Time to relax and recharge is critical for innovation, clear thinking, good health, and meaningful relationships.

Count your blessings. In challenging times, it’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of negativity. Reduce your stress by keeping focused on the vision you want for your future, as well as all that is well and good in your life.

Pay attention. Be aware of how your body is responding to stress. If you feel your head throbbing, jaw clenching, shoulders tightening, or heart racing, recognize that it’s your body’s response to stress and time to do something about it (see above). 

Most importantly, do make taking care of yourself a priority. I’ll try to do the same…after my nap. 

Posted on 03-15-09


I found your article to be thought provoking and you also raise many good things to consider. I’m glad I came across this website and saw your article.  It helped me out with a paper I had to write for a class I’m taking for my major at my university.  I will be citing you as a source.  Thanks for the great article.

•Posted by open golf  on  04/23/12  at  03:44 PM

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