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How to manage stress and depression in your workplace

Overwhelmed and stressed by your ever-growing to-do list at work? You’re not the only one. Most of us find our jobs stressful at times. We may feel we have too much to do without enough support or resources. We may have too little job satisfaction or problems with managers or co-workers. Or we may worry about outsourcing or economic downturns.

Stress can be defined as the degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of pressures that are unmanageable.

Mental Health Foundation, 2018

If you have missed time at work due to job-related stress, or if it’s led to physical illness, family issues, and other concerns, you may have noticed that often these feelings go away after the crisis has passed. However, sometimes feelings of stress remain and can affect your work, your relationships, or your overall well-being. Don’t ignore stress as it can also be a sign of depression or other physical or mental health concerns.

How much stress is too much?

Stress can be good for you — it can be beneficial and motivating, especially at work. If you never push yourself, you won’t get results. But if you push yourself too hard, you may burn out before you reach your goals.

What are the signs that you’re pushing yourself too hard?

  • trouble falling asleep, interrupted sleep or oversleeping
  • eating too much or having no appetite
  • feeling very sad, “down,” or tired
  • crying or feeling tearful frequently
  • trouble focusing or concentrating
  • muscle aches or tight muscles, especially in the neck, back, or shoulders
  • avoiding family or friends
  • criticizing or snapping at people
  • headaches, stomachaches, or backaches
  • jaw clenching or teeth grinding
  • increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • being less productive at work
  • feeling “on edge” or generally tense; unable to relax
  • feeling nervous, frustrated, or irritable
  • no longer finding pleasure in once pleasurable activities


How to identify and cope with stress at work

Do you feel like you’re drowning in a sea of work responsibilities? One way to begin to cope with the pressures you face is to make a list of all your sources of stress. Then identify the most important ones and deal with these first. For example:

Too much work? Ask your manager to help you set priorities.

What should you focus on when you feel overloaded? Can some deadlines be extended or some tasks delegated? Tackle admin with mini blasts of productivity. Reduce the clutter at your desk or workstation. Use headphones or take other steps to reduce distracting noises. Develop a better system for responding to calls, emails, and texts that are adding to your stress. Try apps such as Asana which allows you to categorise certain tasks so that you can keep track of everything that needs to be done. Even small changes can make you feel more in control at work.

Are there blockers beyond your control?

If so, talk with your manager to see if there are ways to remove them or propose solutions on how to manage them better. Let your manager know if you might benefit from more training, a new software program, or a more flexible schedule.

Would training help?

What training is available for you? Do you know what skills you need training in? Does your company offer on-site training or do you have to be trained elsewhere? How do you go about requesting this? Get advice from a colleague, your manager, or a mentor.

If there has been a significant change at work, were your stressors there before?

Is your stress a long-standing issue or directly related to what’s going on now? Deal with the situation directly. Avoid complaining to co-workers, customers, or others who can’t help you solve the problem. Instead, talk with a trusted mentor or friend to come up with strategies for dealing productively with the situation.

Might another type of work assignment better suit your skills and interests?

Talk with a friend or mentor. Also, consider the potential risks and benefits of talking with your manager about applying for another type of assignment. If you’re a manager, do you need to increase your skills? Has your role been expanded or changed?

Consider meeting confidentially with human resources (HR) if you think your manager is a source of your stress or if talking with your supervisor hasn’t helped.

HR may be able to suggest ways to handle the situation or tell you about helpful resources your manager hasn’t already suggested. Your employee assistance program (EAP) can also offer support and resources on coping with stress.


How to cope with stress in your personal life

The power of  “No.” Learn to say no. Cut back on some after-work activities. You don’t need to give a reason for turning down a request or invitation. Just say, “Thanks for thinking of me, but I have another commitment.” Read James Altucher and Claudia Azula Altucher’s book “The Power of No: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance, and Happiness” to get some useful tips that will help you get back control of your life.

Get moving to manage stress. You can reduce stress by getting 30 to 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week, research has found. Go for a brisk walk on your lunch hour. Make it fun by finding an exercise buddy or wearing an activity a tracker like Fitbit that counts your steps and lets you see your progress.

Take steps to maintain your health. Bring a healthy lunch or snacks to work. Avoid skipping your lunch break, which depletes your energy and mood later in the day. Avoid the use of alcohol or other drugs as a means of coping with stress. Get regular medical checkups. Try to sleep at least seven hours every night. Organize family schedules – using apps such as Cozi and OurHome helps delegate tasks by giving each family member a calendar and a colour, and then combining the schedules in one easy-to-read spot, so everyone knows exactly what they need to be doing and when.

Make the most of your commuting time. Listen to a great book or upbeat music on your way to work. Using apps like Blinkist or Audible helps you fit reading into your life. Build a few extra minutes into your commute, so an unexpected traffic jam doesn’t leave you feeling frazzled. If you sometimes don’t have time for breakfast, keep a few healthy snacks in your briefcase or car, so hunger doesn’t make you feel grouchy before your workday has begun.

Spend time every day on an activity that makes you feel relaxed and happy. Play with a pet, read a story to your little ones, or spend a few minutes in a park. Call a friend who makes you feel good. Activities like these can clear your head and leave you feeling refreshed.

Take vacations. If getting out of town isn’t possible, take “staycations” at home. Time away from work can recharge your batteries. Make the time to get away. Better yet, start saving for your next big holiday. By putting money aside for a holiday will help you have a goal and keep you focused and calm. Use apps like Monzo or Pouch to help you with easy day-to-day savings. It’s like having an online coin jar!

Seek financial counselling if necessary. If your family finances are a source of stress, look for a trained debt counsellor who can help you discuss your options. Your EAP has helpful resources.


Relaxation techniques you can do at work and, well, everywhere!

  1. Breathe deeply. Inhale slowly through your nose, and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Try to do this ten times once or twice a day at work. This can help to reduce stress all day. Practice deep-breathing exercises at home, too.                                                                                                                                                                                                             
  2. Learn other relaxation techniques you can do at work. You might try mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or chair yoga (which you can do while seated). Or close your eyes and visualize yourself staying calm before you start work each day. You can choose a restful screen saver or put a photo on your desk to help you relax. Or download an app like Headspace or Calm.                                                                                                                                     
  3. Try meditation or journaling. Just five minutes a day can help reduce stress.

Are you stressed or depressed?

It’s estimated that 16.2 million adults in the United States, or 6.7 percent of American adults, have had at least one major depressive episode in a given year.

You may be struggling to differentiate workplace stress from other issues. Symptoms of stress can also be indications of another mental health issue, such as depression.

Depression is more serious and long-lasting than stress, and some of the signs include:

  • a decrease in productivity or performance
  • taking more sick days or being late more than usual
  • unprovoked outbursts of anger
  • having less energy or getting tired easily
  • loss of interest or pleasure in ordinary activities
  • isolating oneself from friends and family members
  • feeling worthless or feeling very guilty for no reason
  • changes in appetite or weight
  • memory difficulties and difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • chronic aches and pains that don’t respond to treatment
  • frequent crying episodes
  • suicidal thoughts or talk of suicide (seek professional assistance immediately)

Don’t suffer in silence – Ask for help

If you, your employees or people leaders are dealing with stress and depression at the workplace, talking with a mental health professional can help. Research has found that most people who get help for stress and depression benefit from treatment. So if you have any of the symptoms above for more than a few weeks or if they are interfering with your work or your relationships, the best way to cope with it is to work closely with a trained professional.

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Let us help your employees, and people leaders understand mental health issues and the impact they can have in the workplace. Discover our full suite of Workplace Learning Solutions that include work, health, and life learning sessions, specialized learning, inter-cultural learning and workplace development.

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