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How to stop work stress

heavy-934552_1280We all suffer from too much work stress, right? The stress never ends, a bit like Sisyphus in Greek mythology, doomed for eternity to push our heavy boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down again.

Fortunately there are actions you can take to reduce work stress. It starts by separating the distressing stress reaction from the problem that created the stress in the first place.

If they not teased apart, and solved separately, it’s almost impossible to get off the Sisyphus tread mill.

Your stress reaction involves the amygdala part of your brain  provoking biological arousal and powerful negative emotions. This reaction was really useful in our ancient past to deal with physical threats, but it’s not useful in today’s work environment.

So the first thing you need to do is get your stress reaction under control. How to do this has been outlined a previous newsletter (more here), and although it’s critical to do, I won’t be dealing with it here at all.

Once your stress reaction is under control, you will be able to creatively address the issue that caused the stress in the first place. There are three general types of problems that cause work stress, and each have a different solutions:

1.    Overload and deadline stress

This group of issues relate to the problem of increased personal workload and tighter deadlines. Everyone has more work, team leaders have more people reporting to them than ever before, the torrent of e-mails we receive is increasing, and often have to leave meetings early early only to be late for the next meeting. As a result, people take work home to do in the evenings and over the weekend.

People suffering from this type of stress say it’s like being an exhausted rat in a treadmill or being swept down a raging river, trying desperately to keep your head above the water level.

Action to take:

1.    Analyse, prioritise and take action: use urgent/important distinctions to determine your daily and monthly priorities list; delegate ruthlessly and manage your energy (more here). Where possible, say no to additional responsibilities or work (more here). Before you take on something extra, decide what you will stop doing.

2.    If after having done what you can to be more efficient in your job, you are still suffering this type of stress, the harsh reality is you have only three alternatives. These are: change the content of your job; find a different job; or accept this level of stress as your “new normal”. Sorry, there’s nothing else.

 2. Anticipatory stress

As pressure to perform builds up and our coping mechanisms reach their limit, stress can also be caused by worrying about the uncertain future. Perhaps you have to present a major proposal, or compete for your job during downsizing or reach performance targets in an increasingly difficult environment. You may worry about not performing well, being judged harshly, that your friends may desert you, or that your lack of performance will negatively impact family and colleagues.

Action to take:

1.    Plan and prioritise action steps to address the issue, identify what could go wrong and what you will do if these things happen.

 3.    Interpersonal stress

Mostly you can’t choose your work-colleagues, customers and family. If you clash with them, you may find yourself getting into unpleasant arguments. You end up feeling frustrated and incompetent.

To make things worse, if the other person is more powerful in status than you, they will probably end up imposing their will. You will probably have to do comply, but with lots of ill feeling.

Action to take (more here):

Step one: demonstrate you have heard the other person’s point of view: encourage them to explain their position fully, check your understanding by summarising their argument. (Although it may feel that they should shut up and listen to you, the most effective strategy is to allow them to talk). For example: “So if I’ve heard you correctly, you are angry because you did not get the report on time … am I right?”

Step two: explain how you feel about the issue and the need that you have which creates that feeling. For example: “I felt humiliated when you criticised me at the team meeting in front of my colleagues because I pride myself in always delivering on time and above expectations”

Step three: make a request to the other person of what you would like them to do to satisfy the need you have. For example: “I would like to ask that if in future you have a problem with my performance, you talk to me in private rather than in the team meeting. Would you agree to that?”


In conclusion, in order to deal with situations that cause you stress, you first need to deal with your emotions and the associated biological arousal. Then you can logically and creatively identify what type of problem you are dealing with and take appropriate steps to deal with it.

Resilient Leadership WorkshopResilient Leadership Workshop
Leaders learn how to keep stress positive. They assess their Team Members strategy-fitness and learn three resilience coaching techniques. The outcome is the leaders are better able to deliver organisational strategy and coach their team members when their resilience lags (read more here).


Building Resilience workshopBuilding Resilience Workshop

Team members and specialists learn how to bounce back from difficult organisation and life events, such as significant change, setbacks and hardship. The outcome is they are able to resist stressful experiences impacting on their job productivity and stay calm and healthy (read more here).


Mental Strength training

Mental Strength Training

Mental Strength training helps people keep task-focused and persistent. Mental Strength training teaches the process and tools to remain composed under pressure and less vulnerable to emotional slumps at work and at home (read more here).