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Managing Stress in the Workplace

Sidne Buelow, Ph.D.,

Staff Psychologist, Pine Belt Mental Healthcare

Adapted from 5/31/00 Presentation, All rights reserved

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

Prioritize & Re-Prioritize


PRN Consult & Negotiate



Publicly Venting


Perpetuating the Problem (Triangulate/Blame)

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