Stress isn’t always bad. A little bit of stress can help you stay focused, energetic, and able to meet new challenges in the workplace. It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation or alert to prevent accidents or costly mistakes. But in today’s hectic world, the workplace too often seems like an emotional roller coaster. Long hours, tight deadlines, and ever-increasing demands can leave you feeling worried, drained, and overwhelmed. And when stress exceeds your ability to cope, it stops being helpful and starts causing damage to your mind and body—as well as to your job satisfaction.

You can’t control everything in your work environment, but that doesn’t mean you’re powerless, even when you’re stuck in a difficult situation. If stress on the job is interfering with your work performance, health, or personal life, it’s time to take action. No matter what you do for a living, what your ambitions are, or how stressful your job is, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your overall stress levels and regain a sense of control at work.

Common causes of workplace stress include:

  • Fear of being laid off
  • More overtime due to staff cutbacks
  • Pressure to perform to meet rising expectations but with no increase in job satisfaction
  • Pressure to work at optimum levels—all the time!
  • Lack of control over how you do your work

According to research, the percentage of Americans who are stressed at work is high, and it’s only getting higher. According to the CDC’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, studies have found the number of Americans who are “extremely stressed at work” range between 29 percent to 40 percent. Unfortunately, work stress has significant health consequences that range from the relatively benign—more colds and flu—to the more serious, like heart disease and metabolic syndrome. But, because stress at work is so common, finding a low-stress job may be difficult or impossible for many people. A more realistic choice would be to simply adopt more effective strategies to reduce stress at work. Here are some stress management techniques to try.


If you’re currently working, you probably know what it feels like to be stressed on the job. A must-do project arrives without warning. Three emails stack up for each one you delete. Phones ring, meetings are scheduled, a coworker drops the ball on a shared assignment.

All of us can benefit by learning skills to manage fear and anxiety on the job. Several skills taught in cognitive behavioral therapy may help, including these:

Relaxation strategies. Relaxation helps counter the physiological effects of the fight-or-flight response. For example, progressive muscle relaxation helps reduce muscle tension associated with anxiety. To practice this skill, sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Working from your legs upward, systematically tense and relax each major muscle groups. Hold the tension for 10 seconds; release tension for 20 seconds. Each time you release muscle tension, think “relax” to yourself. This skill and many other relaxation strategies can help reduce symptoms of anxiety.

Problem-solving. Problem-solving is an active coping strategy that involves teaching people to take specific steps when approaching a roadblock or challenge. These steps include defining the problem, brainstorming potential solutions, ranking the solutions, developing an action plan, and testing the chosen solution.

Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to the present moment with curiosity, openness, and acceptance. Stress can be exacerbated when we spend time ruminating about the past, worrying about the future, or engaging in self-criticism. Mindfulness helps to train the brain to break these harmful habits. You can cultivate mindfulness skills through formal practice (like guided meditation) and informal exercises (like mindful walking), or try mindfulness apps or classes. Mindfulness-based therapies are effective for reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Reappraising negative thoughts. Chronic stress and worry can lead people to develop a mental filter in which they automatically interpret situations through a negative lens. A person might jump to negative conclusions with little or no evidence (“my boss thinks I’m incompetent”) and doubt their ability to cope with stressors (“I’ll be devastated if I don’t get the promotion”). To reappraise negative thoughts, treat them as hypotheses instead of facts and consider other possibilities. Regularly practicing this skill can help people reduce negative emotions in response to stressors.

Since many people spend a significant part of the day at their jobs, it’s not shocking that work can be a major source of stress. Performance evaluations, customer relationships, job standards, coworkers and more all serve as stressors for many employees. When employees are stressed, it can poorly affect their job performance, causing them to be less productive and potentially make more mistakes. However, there are steps that can be taken by employers to reduce employee stress levels.

Encourage Physical Activity

An abundance of research exists that showcases exercise and its ability to reduce stress. Exercise is essential for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress significantly. Studies have shown exercise reduces fatigue, improves alertness and concentration, and enhances individuals’ general cognition. Creating an environment that makes it easy for employees to exercise regularly can reduce stress. Consider encouraging employees to get outside and walk during lunch breaks, or try offering discounted gym memberships or other incentives to promote wellness.

Recently, studies have measured the detrimental effects of sitting at a desk for a full eight hours a day. To help your employees move more throughout the day, try installing desks that can be converted to standing desks, or encouraging them to schedule small stretching breaks during the day. Not only does stretching improve physical health, but the small disconnect from a project can also help to re-focus your employees. Adequate health coverage and other benefits also offer peace of mind to employees, which can help to reduce their stress. When people are covered, they are more likely to treat health issues in the early stages, which saves time, money, and ultimately stress.

Communicating to your employees about the values of decompressing means nothing if you’re in the office all of the time. In order to show the importance of down time, stretching and exercise, you as a leader must incorporate these practices, too. When you’ve allowed yourself to reduce your own stress, you will likely be able to communicate with your employees more effectively, so don’t forget to schedule your own stretch breaks and use your vacation days.

Employee stress leads to fatigue, poor job performance, burnout and more. As an employer, there are many ways in which you can foster an environment to encourage your employees to relax a little. Reducing work place stress can lead to a more productive and energized work force, and it can also be used as a recruiting tool for attracting top talent. Take some of the steps above to make your employees happier.

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