How to deal with work stress at work

This month is all about self-care. And maybe by now, you’ve mastered (or at least partially incorporated) self-care into your routine. You’ve also found a self-care practice you actually enjoy, and you’ve learned to say “no.” But I’m going to venture a guess that you’re most likely practicing this self-care outside of work hours. You might not even have thought about self-care at work because work is for… working, right? Work is probably the reason you need that self-care time in the evening. Deadlines. Unreasonable expectations. The stench of microwaved salmon. Code-switching. It’s a lot.

But let’s face it. Work is one of the biggest stressors in our lives. Maybe you love your job, maybe you hate it. Your work might be mindless or challenging and mentally or emotionally taxing. You could be saving lives in the Texas Medical Center or you might be stocking shelves at H-E-B. The reasons might be different, but the fact remains that your job probably stresses you out. At least some of the time. And so often, our response to that stress is putting our heads down and powering through the day.

If you hate your job, the sources of stress are obvious. A crappy boss that you don’t respect, micromanaging you to death is going to put you in a bad mood. Gossiping coworkers can make you feel like you’ve got to be on guard at all times. Sleazy business practices might not align with your own moral compass making you question how you can do your job and still call yourself a good person. Or maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe you’re just overworked and underpaid like most of us and you wonder how you’ll make time and set aside money for the things that are important to you outside of work.

Maybe you fall into a different camp. You feel lucky to have a job you love and feel guilty when you complain about it. Even if you have your dream job, you’re not immune from work stress. Maybe it’s the drive to always be achieving more. Or maybe living up to the high standards of your work environment is makes you emotional. You feel the constant need to prove yourself. Maybe you’ve got the best boss of all time. Yourself. And the business you own requires your blood sweat and tears without the comfort of predictable income.

Whatever the source, that stress and tension from work don’t just dissolve after you leave the confines of your cubicles. You take it home with you. You feel the road rage as you make the drive home and you take out your frustrations on our partner, family, friends. Or your evenings are ruined by letting that nasty mood stick around. Then, you might engage in an act of self-care so that you can build up your reserves by taking care of yourself outside of work.

But this routine gets old and you start to snooze a little longer, really feel those Sunday night blues and look at work as a dreadful necessity. Wouldn’t it be helpful to be able to deal with work stress when it’s happening so that you don’t have to ruin your evenings and weekends by letting that stress and resentment linger and build? What would happen if you used self-care at work?

It’s true that whether you love your job or hate it,  the demands of work are stressful and drain your energy. However, if we can learn to incorporate self-care at work and in the office, it’s entirely possible to leave work at work and avoid burnout. Keep reading for 5 ways you can do just that so that you can stop letting work stress consume your life.  

When work stress takes over your life

The worst part of not dealing with work stress in the place where it happens is that it follows you everywhere. What started as work stress turns into nagging anxiety that is consuming whether you’re working or not. Complaints fly out of your mouth without a second thought and you’re on edge with the people you love. Your frustration with your boss turns into a heated argument overloading the dishwasher correctly in the evening with your partner.

At the very least, you find yourself hating a significant part of your life. Even if you’re able to enjoy the part of your life spent away from work, you’ve got that nagging idea that work is going to suck in the morning and you’ll be spending a third of your life there.

Living this way is stressful and can leave you feeling jaded. It can impact your relationships and overall life satisfaction. It can even lead to depression or anxiety, and according to research, more than a few health conditions. Even worse, using self-care at work might not always seem obvious or easy simply because the workplace can be so stressful. And you might have developed tunnel vision that could be significantly impact your wellbeing.

What managing work stress in the workplace does for you

Although you struggle with stress from work taking over your life, you have the potential to keep those feelings about work where they belong without letting it permeate throughout your whole life. You can also gain some clarity about the next course of action. Think about self-care at work and at your workplace for a moment. Are there changes you could make at work to make your life there easier? Is it time to start looking for something else? What is it exactly that’s getting you frustrated? Is that something that comes up for you in other areas of your life as well?

When we choose to implement self-care at work, there is a possibility for more enjoyment once you get home. What’s more is you’ll find yourself a happier and more effective employee. It’s easier to be productive when you’re able to reduce negativity. You’re also less likely to make rash decisions that end up coming back to haunt you.

You have the ability to implement some intentional acts of self-care while you’re working and reduce some of the workplace baggage you carry around so that you can get really clear about what matters. But that’s just the starting place for self-care at work, because you also need a few ways to inject calm into your workplace. But don’t worry, you know I always have tips for your mental health and wellbeing.

Incorporating Calm, 5 Tips for Self-Care at Work

Yes, it’s true you may be feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or even burnt out from work, but it’s possible to keep that work stress from overflowing into other areas of your life. What’s more, is that practicing self-care at work can help you gain clarity about what changes you want to make to get control over the situation.

The key to reducing your work stress is to deal with it when it starts, rather than letting it fester and build. If you can address bothersome things as they occur, one incident doesn’t dominate your entire day. A quick reset can make that a reality for you.

It might sound like this is going to take hours out of your workday, putting you even farther behind, but making this adjustment is not as difficult as you think. Instead of reducing your productivity, you’ll find yourself more energized and motivated in your work. Keep reading to learn 5 ways to practice self-care at work.  

Take a lunch… away from your desk

I have been guilty of eating lunch at my desk for my entire adult life. There can be many reasons for lunching at your desk – the need to feel productive, to be seen as a hard worker, social anxiety to name a few. But one of the reasons you struggle with work stress is that you just don’t take a break. But when you take the time to step away from the stressor for a bit, you’ll find it easier to refocus your efforts, notice things that weren’t apparent before to continue on for the remainder of the day.

Do you have a job where you’re constantly dealing with people? No problem. Your lunch break doesn’t have to involve socializing. Maybe you find a quiet spot to eat and while you listen to your favorite podcast or watch a YouTube video.

And if your work is solitary, grab a buddy and dissect last night’s episode of the Bachelor together. Make your lunch time work for you.

Practice Mindfulness

Another way work stress can bleed over into other areas of our lives is that we don’t take enough time to get curious about what’s really bothering us, and we take the stress into task after task. It makes sense that our work concerns continue to build and build and follow us around for the rest of the day. It’s no wonder that after not taking a moment to take care of ourselves, we don’t show up as our best selves for the people we love.

Enter Mindfulness

You can do this in a number of ways. You’ll want to try out a few different strategies to see which one(s) fit for you.

  • A simple way to start is by practicing a deep breathing exercise. I like 5-4-5 breathing. Close your eyes, inhale for a slow count of 5, hold the breath for a 4 count and exhale for another slow count of 5. It’s quick and easy and can be repeated as many times as you’d like.
  • If you’re into meditation, finding a quick guided meditation on YouTube, or using an app like Calm or Headspace can be great for refocusing and calming your mind. You could also step away from your desk and do a walking meditation.

Celebrate the wins

It’s so easy to get caught up in what could be better and what is still unfinished, but taking a moment to write down what you’ve accomplished can give you a sense of purpose in your work and the motivation to keep going.

You can also use this as a chance to practice gratitude. What about your job is worth celebrating? Even if you hate your job, I bet you can find something. Maybe it’s your work bestie or merely the fact that you’ve got a steady paycheck. It might look something like this: This job sucks, but it allows me to have fun on the weekends. Or this isn’t my dream job, but I’ve made some great friends because of it.

Set yourself up for success

It can be tempting to bolt out of the building when the clock strikes quitting time. But taking just 5 minutes to tidy your desk, review the day, and set up tasks for the following day can prevent you from having a frazzled start to your morning. It will also help you leave work at work. And if you’re someone who likes structure, click here to steal my Daily Debrief worksheet.

Work stress is a fact of life. But preventing work stress from taking over your life can relieve those Sunday night blues and petty fights with your partner. Stressors happen, but it’s entirely possible for you to gain more control over your response so that one stressful event doesn’t have to ruin the day. If work is causing you anxiety, Tailwinds Counseling can help. Click here to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation.