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Stress and anxiety in the workplace: Strategies for the employee


Mental wellbeing

Stress and anxiety have a useful role in our everyday life. Stress, for example, helps us to acclimate with changes. Anxiety on the other hand assists in detecting threats. They become a problem when the tension lingers and starts to affect our daily lives.

In this article, we look at how to cope with stress and anxiety in the workplace from the point of view of the employee. See here to read about managerial point of view.

Sustaining mental health

Employees have limited possibilities to influence their environment. For example, they aren’t usually able to decide how much work they will do or even what tasks they have to complete.

This creates an inflexible perimeter of what a person is able to do in order to tackle tension in the workplace. One of the few things that an employee can do is to take breaks to unwind.

Why is relaxation important?

A common mental health improvement article often suggests to basically ‘feel good’. Different ways to do this include meditation, joga, hobbies, or spending time with people we like. While such advice might feel simple and perhaps a bit superficial, it’s important to heed this counsel because it’s one of the few things a person has control over.

“A person has at least some control over what ‘feel good’ activities he would like to do daily,” explains psychologist Helina Harro. “These types of articles aim to raise awareness about stress and give realistic ways how a person can help to mitigate tension.”

Stress is perceiving mental and emotional tension. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, helping us to adjust to new circumstances, so it is beneficial for us in the short term. When we are stressed, our bodies get a higher level of adrenaline and cortisol. Those hormones aren’t meant to sustain over a longer duration. When these levels remain higher than usual, they start to affect our health negatively both mentally and physically.

You can influence the level of hormones in your body and one of those ways is relaxing by doing ‘feel good’ activities.

How to give your body a break?

“There are ways of how we can consciously try to bring down our level of stress and affect the hormones in our body. For example, by focusing less on worrying thoughts,” describes Harro why ‘feel good’ techniques are necessary. “Worrying itself is something that has a habit of persisting. This usually includes thoughts about the future, such as creating negative ‘what if’ scenarios. But also about the past, reliving past events and how we could have done better. We use relaxation methods in order to come back to the present.”

These exercises included, for example, meditation techniques. A popular recommendation is yoga due to its focus on the person’s body, breathing and environment. “Looking at the leaves on the tree, listening to birds sing or watching how the snow melts – these are moments where I’m not actively and directly focused on worrisome or anxious thoughts. This gives my brain and body a chance to at least take a short break,” says Harro.

We need to take moments where we focus on the here and now. This aids our body to step out of a constant state of stress.

Resting is trainable

The more we do self awareness exercises, the more this skill develops. As time passes, we learn how to remove ourselves consciously from a difficult situation, where we have fight or flight reactions. We bring ourselves to the here and now moment, that most often in reality is safe and solid.

By being in the current moment, we give ourselves a chance to perhaps calmly and consciously take charge of what is creating stress, anxiety and worry. “I can deliberately see what is creating this tension and how can I solve it,” explains Harro.

However, taking care of yourself is not the solution

“The ‘feel good’ relaxation methods and generally ‘taking care of oneself’ isn’t the final solution for stress and anxiety. This is a short term solution in a situation where the conditions that are creating the tension, aren’t changing,” Harro clarifies why taking care of oneself is just one side of the coin.

Relaxation and self-awareness techniques deal with the symptoms. Unfortunately, that’s why they also push the responsibility to the person who is suffering under stress. “This is your problem, your stress, you deal with it,” says Harro, why this kind of advice can sometimes be frustrating.

Often, the conditions that create the tension and constantly keep feeding it don’t change. In that case, the relaxation techniques are additional obligations that the employee needs to deal with. In an already too fast paced life, this is another thing the person has to take the time to start doing daily.

“Some like to hit a punching bag and will feel extremely relaxed afterwards. Others like to linger in a warm bath. In any case, it’s something I have to start planning to have every day,” sais Harro as examples of how something that we have enjoyed in the past can become a tedious duty.

This is especially dangerous when these methods are recommended from the workplace. “We will give you 20 hours worth of work when you have eight hours but you should take care of yourself to avoid stress,” says Harro as an example.

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