There are the usual suspects when it comes to work stress – deadlines, a demanding boss or client, working OT all the time. And then there are the ones that creep up on you slowly but surely, contributing to your stress level. Or you may already feel the constant anxiety but can’t quite pinpoint what is causing it.
These are known as hidden stress and they are very real at the workplace. In fact, they can make your working life even more stressful because you don’t know what the triggers are. While stress is a completely normal part of your working life, chronic stress (stress that goes on and on) can have a long-term negative impact on your mental and physical health – headaches, constantly falling sick, achy muscles, anxiety about work, not being able to sleep, depression – just a few examples of what can happen when you are stressed out.
Unfortunately, hidden stress is everywhere at the workplace… and here are the ones you need to keep an eye out for.
#1 Trying to do everything
Ah, multitasking. Who doesn’t want to be able to do it all and do it well? It’s been ingrained in our work culture that to be successful, we need to juggle our work demands like a pro. And at first sign that you can’t handle it, you start to panic and feel like your boss is going to think a lot less of your abilities. It’s not just the workload that is stressing you out but more the expectations that you need to balance multiple tasks at one go or appear like you’re failing at work. Which is why when you are asked to do another thing on top of the gazillion things you are already working on, you say yes when you really should be saying no, I’ve got too many things on my plate already.
The right thing to do? Manage expectations, mainly yours. There are only 24 hours a day and even then, you aren’t supposed to be working all 24 of them! Don’t feel like you need to prove yourself. Taking on more work doesn’t exactly make you better at what you do; being able to focus on your important tasks and doing them well is what will make you succeed. Feel like your boss or colleagues are piling work on you? For your health sake, tell the truth – that you can’t manage another project on top of what you are already working on. Ask what should be a priority and that you work on those first before attempting something else.
#2 Everyday interruptions
You sit down to write that email but your colleague comes up to you to ask about a client. Once that’s done, you want to continue but oops, there goes the phone – it’s HR about a claim. It takes a good hour before you can actually get down to replying that email! You may not think much of these little interruptions but it can actually contribute to your stress level as they completely throw you off your focus and schedule. Never-ending phone calls, an inbox that keeps going ping, someone always stopping by your desk with a question.
It’s said that you are interrupted seven times an hour and distracted up to 2.1 hours a day. Which is why you never seem to have enough working hours in a day to get the job done. What you need to do is stop the interruption before it completely derails your day. If you really want to get something done and a colleague interrupts you, say “I’m sorry but I really need to get this finish. Can you come back in an hour?” Or put everything on mute (phone, email, social media) and plug in your earphones (even if you’re not listening to anything) – it’s like a don’t disturb sign without having to put up an actual sign.
#3 Other people’s stress
Ever feel down and sad when you hear a friend’s sob story? That’s because stress is contagious. Known as empathic stress, listening or watching how stressed out your colleague is will have an impact on yourself. Studies show that you actually experience an increase in the production of the stress hormone cortisol. If you’re constantly surrounded by colleagues who are always complaining about their workload or if your boss is filtering down his stress to the team, you too will start feeling anxious about work. Or maybe you have become a confidante for a colleague who just keeps unleashing her life blues to you after hours? Yups – that’s going to affect you too. So do yourself a favour, try to stay away from the unnecessary drama and focus on yourself.
#4 A messy office
Clutter on your workplace equals to clutter in your mind. Loose sheets everywhere, documents piled on top of each other. Having to search for things and being disorganised, which can make you panic when you really need to get things done. Stress caused by this can be easily managed – set 15 minutes at the end of each day to organise your desk and your schedule for the next day. Set up a filing system so you can get to things easily. Every six months, purge whatever you don’t need and get rid of the junk from your desk.
#5 Skipping lunch
How does not eating contribute to work stress? For starters, you are denying yourself that one hour break away from work so that you can have a breather. Then there is the whole gut and brain relationship – how healthy your digestive track is can directly influence your mental health. So if you’re not fueling yourself with healthy food and instead loading up on caffeine, fast food and sugar or skipping meals, you’ll find it hard to concentrate during the day and get frustrated easily (you’re hangry, that’s why!). So go on, give yourself a lunch treat – it’s recommended!
Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash