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Managing Stress in the Workplace

by Sidne Buelow, Ph.D.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Managing Stress in the Workplace.

by Sidne Buelow, Ph.D.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Managing Stress in the Workplace

by Sidne Buelow, Ph.D.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Freud said that ‘love’ and ‘work’ are the two main areas of life, so I see coping with ‘Workplace Stress’ as very important to our well-being. Persons living thousands of years ago, in temperate climates, as hunters and gatherers, had significantly more leisure time than we do today. Full-time work today amounts to about 36%, or a little over a third of one’s waking time spent at work. And many people work overtime or at a second job.

Areas of work stress include feeling frustrated by a current situation (e.g. dealing with an irritable customer or co-worker), or threatened by some possible change looming in the future (e.g. seasonal increase in work hours), or experiencing conflicting expectations. Environmental factors include things like poor lighting, crowding, and difficulty accessing resources. Then there is the added strain of internal states, like physical illness, and home stress or poor sleep from staying up with a sick child. Stressors may be positive, like accepting a long-desired promotion.

Under stress the body produces ‘fight or flight’ stress hormones and neurotransmitters, such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. Some short-term results of the ‘fight or flight’ response include increased alertness, increased heart rate and breathing, and more alert senses. When the reaction is intense, the result may be panic, with attendant ‘paralysis of action’, or anger, with clouded decision-making.

As the stress response becomes chronic, the person may exhibit poorer concentration and memory and may be less organized in his coping. Physical problems may begin to develop, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and suppression of the immune system. For example, researchers have found that medical students are more likely to get infections during final exams. So, a little anxiety helps alertness, while moderate to high anxiety interferes with functioning.

Snapping or being rude, often reacting out of proportion to what is going on, being chronically late, lacking energy to get ordinary work duties done, doing sloppy work, or missing normal deadlines may signal that you are feeling overstressed and in need of renewing and adding to your coping skills.

How stress affects people is not necessarily negative. Some people feel challenged by negative stressors and develop greater toughness or sturdiness. In part, the difference lies in how a person interprets a given stressor. Do you see a particular stressor negatively – as a threat, a loss, or as harmful? Does you view it as merely inconvenient? Do you consider it ‘not a problem’ or as a ‘challenge to be solved’? Re-framing a stressor as a challenge can help you regain your sense of humor and creativity.


Pause – Delay response

  • Take a deep breath
  • Say "let me think about that" and delay your answer
  • Count to ten and take a walk
  • Visualize a pleasant memory or place in you mind

Prioritize & Re-Prioritize

  • Think flexibly—What is urgent, what will slowly improve things, what can wait?
  • Will this matter in five years? 100? Practice saying "No" diplomatically
  • Write your daily hassles on slips of paper. Make two piles: throw away what is out of your control
  • Keep yourself at the top of your list & make time for yourself and your family every day


  • Laugh at jokes
  • Celebrate birthdays, new babies, weddings
  • Have potlucks
  • Have silly contests

PRN Consult & Negotiate

  • Listen & be curious, before you speak your mind
  • Seek help searching for a ‘Win-Win’ solution
  • Learn about assertive communication
  • Do items on your ‘to do’ list really belong to someone else?



  • When someone offers feedback well or poorly, consider if there is anything in what they are saying that is something for you to work on.

Publicly Venting

  • This sets up a lose/lose situation, with lots of bad feelings left over, is not usually very satisfying after the words are said, and adds to low morale.


  • "The show must go on" and it is important to be able to set aside personal problems BUT it is also valuable and a relief to be able to say, at least to a co-worker in private, how you feel. That it is not a great day. That you are not in a good mood. It helps keep your team members from wondering what they did or said to bother you and allows them to offer some support. You DO NOT have to explain your feelings or why it is an off day, just share your feelings.

Perpetuating the Problem (Triangulate/Blame)

  • If others come to you with problems about other workers, others departments, supervisors – "stay calm, stay connected, stay out" according to the advice of Harriet Lerner in Dance of Anger. Resist giving advice. If you listen, do it briefly, to help the person identify for themselves how they are going to work on the problem. Encourage them that you trust them to sort it out and offer emotional support.

The top photograph was by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash. We are grateful.

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