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Stress at Work – When Your Job Drives You to Breaking Point

At last the weekend has landed! We all know the buzz of the Friday feeling. Two days to unwind and take a break from the hectic workday. But what if stress at work becomes too much? What if the weekend never offers enough respite and we already start dreading Monday on Friday? You’re about to find out where stress at work can lead and what you can actively do about it.

How does stress actually arise at work?

Stress at work can be caused by many things. Sure, deadlines are stressful, but often there’s a lot more to it. Our working world has undergone a drastic change in recent years – many have had to adapt to working from home, making their “home office” a digital workplace. It seems that we have arrived at the cutting edge of work culture, but the innovations also harbour some risks. What sounds like progress and convenience at first can actually be a burden for many people. Because maintaining a work-life balance when working from home is not that easy. Mentally switching off from the laptop at the end of the working day can be a big challenge. Social interaction with colleagues often falls by the wayside and we may miss the casual small talk at the water cooler more than we expected.

But even before the pandemic, workplace stress had many different triggers. These could be factors that influence how we think, feel and behave at work. For instance, basic aspects of the working environment, such as noise, lighting and ventilation. Countless overtime hours, an excessive workload and shift work can also pose a great psychological burden and contribute to stress at work.

When daily interaction is stressful

Besides environmental factors, the social structure of the workplace and the way colleagues interact can cause increased psychological stress at work. Colleagues bad-mouthing each other? How about the notorious boss who goes ballistic about every little thing and scares people witless with fits of temper? If the working atmosphere is not right, this can be a direct cause of stress and psychological strain. Moreover, your own personal standards can also trigger stress and place you under strain when the demands are too high. One example of this is when we tend towards perfectionism.

Negative impacts of stress at work

High psychological strain at work means: having the feeling that it’s all getting too much for you at work. Thoughts about work won’t leave you alone. You ruminate and it becomes a challenge to fall asleep. If the high stress persists over a longer period, negative impacts on both your mental and physical health are not uncommon. Inner restlessness, irritability, anxiety and sleep problems are among the classic symptoms of persistent stress at work. Various physical complaints can also occur, ranging from muscle tension to stomach ulcers, but these are actually due to the psychological stress, which is why we call them psychosomatic complaints. 

Burnout – These days it’s a familiar and widespread phenomenon in the world of work. Burnout, which produces symptoms similar to depression, is triggered by being overworked, usually in a professional context. As such, burnout is one of the potential long-term impacts of sustained stress in the workplace.

4 ways of dealing with stress at work

Do you sometimes feel powerless, as though you have no influence over the causes of your stress at work? Don’t despair! Here are some strategies you can employ to actively lower your stress levels.  

1Rapid relief – SOS tips

There are numerous different steps you can take to get rapid relief from stress at work. For example, it’s not just a cliché to go and get some fresh air: a short walk gives you the chance to clear your head, think about something different and breathe deeply. Simple things like listening to your favourite music on your headphones, decluttering your desk or setting an alarm to remind you to take breaks can also help in times of acute stress. 

Relaxation exercises can help you calm down when you are under acute stress. For instance, you could try progressive muscle relaxation or a short meditation session. Our article Finding inner peace also guides you through some relaxation exercises. These techniques have been proven to positively affect stress hormones in the body and reduce our stress levels significantly.

2Lasting relief

In the long term, you can also achieve greater balance in your life by taking more time for activities that do you good. During stressful periods at work, the things that we value, things that bring us joy, often get neglected. It could be a relaxed dinner with friends, a yoga class (even online), or curling up with a cup of tea and a good book at the end of the day.

3Social support – a sympathetic ear

Your social environment can be a crucial source of support when it comes to dealing with psychological strain and stress at work. Meet up with a friend with a sympathetic ear, or perhaps someone who has experienced similar difficulties. They might be able to give you some advice or valuable tips, like their own favourite strategies for beating stress. In any case, sometimes it just helps to talk and to know that you’re not alone. 

4Open dialogue – tell it like it is

Open communication in the workplace often plays an important role. Psychological wellbeing at work tends to improve when all sides show understanding and a willingness to hear each other out. One effective way to achieve such an atmosphere is by holding regular staff meetings where everyone can clearly communicate their expectations of one another. Do you work at a company that has yet to set up regular feedback sessions? Why not suggest it to your employer? It’s the only way they can hear insights from you about your day-to-day work and see things from your perspective. In the best-case scenario, you can work together to bring about a truly supportive working environment while also lowering your own stress levels and achieving a healthy work-life balance.

Nevertheless, if stress at work is getting out of control, you are the one who gets to say: enough is enough. You can take the decision to walk away. Drawing a line under the past and moving on is not a weakness – you can see it as your inner strength. Because you’ve taken matters into your own hands, you’ve recognised what’s good for you and what’s not and acted accordingly.

Reduce stress with HelloBetter 

Do you feel like you’re under too much psychological strain at work? Do your thoughts revolve entirely around work, do you even find yourself stuck on this mental merry-go-round at night? In such cases, it can help to get additional support. With our online psychological course Stress Management, you will learn effective strategies to help you when you feel stressed, exhausted and overworked in your everyday life or if you suspect that a burnout could be around the corner. Have a look and see if it’s for you.

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Our articles are written by psychologists and reviewed by psychotherapists.