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Stress Awareness Month: 8 tips to deal with stress at work

April is Stress Awareness Month. Are you feeling overwhelmed right now?  You might be experiencing stress. 

Stress is a very normal reaction to pressure – it can happen to anyone at any time.  Most of the time, a bit of stress is good for us.  It can motivate us to make positive changes in our life. 

But when we start to feel overwhelmed or unable to cope, stress can start to have negative effects. 

Too much stress can affect our mood, relationships and self-esteem.  It can make us feel physically and mentally tired, and can lead to a form of exhaustion called ‘burnout’. 

If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may be at risk of burnout: 

  • Feeling tired and irritable at work 
  • Feeling unable to ‘switch off’ from work outside your working hours 
  • Feeling very negatively or helpless about things that are happening at work
  • Feeling unable to get on top of your ‘to-do list’
  • Avoiding people or deadlines; putting things off 
  • Feeling a lack of enjoyment in your job 

Sadly, ignoring these signs will make things worse.  Burnout does not go away on its own.  But there are things you can do.  Have a look at our top tips below and see if any might work for you: 

  1. Get away from the screen 

If your job involves working at a computer or laptop, too much time in front of the screen can increase your stress levels.  Take a five to 10 minute break from the screen at least every hour to combat screen-stress.  During the break, do some stretches, look outside, get some fresh air if possible, and a drink of water.  If online meetings last longer than an hour, excuse yourself during the meeting for a ‘comfort break’.  Try to reduce the number of virtual meetings in your day by phoning colleagues instead. 

2. Enjoy your commute to work 

If you commute to work, try changing your route or mode of transport every so often to add variety and interest to your working day.  Consider whether you could walk or cycle as part of your journey.  If you work from home, add a ‘mock commute’ to the beginning and end of your day.  Grab a coffee at your nearest café before you start work, or go for a walk around the block when you finish work.  This time can help you to unwind and switch off, separating your work and home time. 

3. Take a holiday 

Have you got any annual leave days left?  Book a holiday or a short break.  Even just one day off work doing absolutely nothing can help you to feel more refreshed.  When we’re busy at work we can fall into the trap of thinking that we can’t take time off, but taking a holiday makes us more productive when we return to work – so think of it as an investment of your time and energy.  If you’ve got no annual leave left, talk to your boss about other options – you may be able to take unpaid leave. 

4. Connect with others 

Sometimes when we’re feeling overwhelmed we can shut ourselves off and avoid other people.  We often don’t feel in the most sociable mood.  But talking to other people can really help when we’re feeling stressed.  Try to connect to your colleagues in some way – meet for coffee (virtually, if needed), or arrange to get together outside work.  Your connections outside work are important too – talk to family or friends, or find ways to meet new people in your local area. 

5. Find a hobby 

Doing something outside your work hours that you really enjoy can help you gain a sense of work-life balance.  Consider starting a new hobby – you could learn a new sport, or play a musical instrument, learn a language, or join a cause for something you are passionate about.  Find time to spend on this hobby for at least two hours each week (the more, the better!).  You may have other responsibilities outside work (e.g. parenting, housework) but make sure you find time for yourself too. 

6. Improve your sleep 

Sleep is one of the most important things when it comes to stress.  There are many ways to improve your sleep, including: get plenty of natural light during the day, eat healthily, get some exercise, limit caffeine or alcohol in the evening, switch off your phone/tablet/television an hour before bedtime, dim the lights before you go to bed, make sure your room is cool, use curtains or blinds to block out the light, de-clutter your bedroom, listen to soothing ‘sleep music’ when you go to bed, or have a relaxing soak in the bath. 

7. Get moving 

Exercise is also really important for combatting stress.  Physical activity can help reduce nervous energy and can help you sleep better; it can also help to positively change your mood and increase your self-esteem.  Find a form of exercise that you enjoy, and try to walk as much as you can during the day.  You could set yourself a challenge such as running a 5km race or learn to dance.  Housework and gardening can also be good ways to stay active.  If you have a physical health condition or disability, ask your doctor for advice about what you could do. 

8. Get advice or support 

If you feel your job is making you feel stressed, talk to your boss or human resources (HR) adviser.  Your employer has a legal duty to look after your health and safety at work, and that includes stress.  There are many ways you can get support with stress.  Check out the NHS guide, or find your local talking therapy (counselling) service.  The Samaritans also offer free confidential support if you need someone to talk to.  If you need help in a mental health crisis, further details can be found here. 

If you’re suffering from stress or burn out, check if you’re eligible for employment support from Work Well.