PETALING JAYA: I picked up smoking because it is like a short escape from work, says Salleh, a product brand manager.
He resorted to smoking after his stress-eating gave him bad acid reflux, and he isn’t the only one who has sought distraction through a bad habit.
Job stress occurs when work pressure is so overwhelming that we find ourselves unable to cope with it.
If this stress continues, it may damage our physical wellness and hurt our mental health.
The World Health Organization (WHO), in an article on occupational stress, includes the lack of workplace support and the sense of not having any control over work as contributing factors to the stress.
Daily stressors from our life outside work may also worsen the condition and impact our mental health.
“Prolonged, unresolved stressors that overwhelm our ability to cope or manage can leave us feeling isolated, without help and support,” says clinical psychologist Goh Lei Kheng.
We begin to develop a general sense of worthlessness, helplessness, fatigue, loss of motivation and dread going to work, she adds.
“This can negatively impact other aspects of our life and compromise our quality of life,” says Goh.
“My heart feels very uneasy and heavy going in to work. Once I reach the office, I am just counting the hours to go home,” says Isabella, a sales manager.
“My bosses want results at all cost and I feel left out by my colleagues because I don’t speak their lingo. You do want to have that sense of belonging.”
Isabella turned to smoking in hopes of alleviating some of the negative feelings.
“When we experience high stress levels and it negatively impacts our ability to function at work, we may engage in ineffective coping mechanisms – such as blaming ourselves, emotional eating and drinking – to numb the negative feelings,” explains Goh.
She adds that high stress can make us more irritable, angry and cynical, and these feelings may then worsen workplace relationships.
Talking to your colleagues can sometimes be helpful, says Salleh.
“Usually my colleagues are able to understand where I am coming from because they know the culture of the company,” he explains.
However, getting empathy from the right people is important.
If your co-workers listen but are just waiting to tell you to “snap out of it” or “just chill”, then they may not be the best people to go to.
It is also counter-productive when instead of listening to your problems, they lament about their own issues.
Sue, a marketing manager, can relate to this.
“People at work are stuck in the same ‘whirlpool’ of problems. You end up in a cycle of the same noise. Talking to them just feeds the whirlpool and promotes gossip,” she says.
“We should manage work stress proactively by eliminating stressors. We should also monitor our stress level and manage it before it worsens,” says Goh.
There are things that we can do to help ourselves when work stress becomes overwhelming. And it may be important that we start doing this early on.
Separating work and your personal life may not be easy, but necessary to lower your stress level.
“Refrain from bringing work home or working extra hours,” says Goh.
Doing this may compromise your sleep, mealtimes, leisure hours or family times, she adds.
The Mayo Clinic in the article Work-life balance: Tips To Reclaim Control suggests that you can limit how much work flows into your personal time by limiting the times you check emails on your smartphone.
“If you access email first thing in the morning, you tend to focus on and respond to other people’s issues rather than being proactive about your own needs,” the article states.
Reset your expectations
“Check in to see what your physical and emotional needs are. Acknowledge that a job can only help fulfil certain needs,” says Goh.
Identifying what your job gives you – financial stability, social support or a sense of achievement – and what it can’t, this may help you put things into perspective.
“Have realistic expectations, assert your needs and limits instead of giving in to excessive work demands,” Goh says.
Take a mindful break
There is research that says taking a walk in the park during your lunch break may help you with your stress.
“Taking mindful breaks can help you regain mental focus from intense emotional states such as anxiety and overbearing stress,” explains Goh.
“It is also very helpful to check-in with yourself to see how you are doing in terms of stress levels.”
Take care of yourself
Being healthy can give you an edge when it comes to coping with stress. The Mayo Clinic suggests eating a healthy diet (such as the Mediterranean diet) and getting enough sleep by turning off your tech devices before going to bed.
Setting aside time for fun and relaxation every day is important too. Try doing something active, says the Mayo Clinic, and bring your friends and loved ones with you.
Ride a bicycle to work
If possible, change the way you commute to work. This may help improve your tolerance to stress and boost your work performance.
A recent study published in International Journal Of Workplace Health Management found that cycling to work can reduce stress compared to driving.
This means you get a better start to the day.