Managing Workplace Stress in Challenging Times

Stress occurs when our bodies feel an unfamiliar external stimulus, causing the feeling of threat. There are two types of stress: healthy and unhealthy. Hans Selye, an endocrinologist, developed the general adaptation syndrome, where he theorized that humans undergo three stages of stress. The three stages are:

  1. Alarm – is essentially where our bodies experience the initial fight or flight symptoms.
  1. Resistance – is where our body produces a high metabolic rate. We may start to feel irritability, frustration, and poor concentration. In response to the increased activity, our body will attempt to recover and repair itself until it reaches its normal limits or starting point.
  1. Exhaustion – when our body can’t return to normal, it will experience prolonged stress and can end up draining our bodies. This stage is where fatigue, burnout, depression, anxiety, and decreased tolerance occur.

Using the above concept of the general adaptation syndrome, we notice that healthy stress can be recognized as the ‘alarm’ stage. Healthy stress is beneficial because it can motivate us to continue with a task and work under pressure. On the contrary, unhealthy stress can be identified as the ‘exhaustion’ stage. This state is where the stress we feel does not bring productivity. Instead, it depletes us of our energy.

Understanding the importance of healthy and unhealthy stress is highly crucial in our day-to-day lives. Due to the pandemic changes in our lives, we have increased workplace stress. Reasons that many people have been experiencing workplace stress could range from fear of being laid off from work to poor time management due to working from home.

Our society has also romanticized the notion of “hustling” or “grinding” – the idea of working hard to attain success. While this determination and grit are beneficial, these can pressure one to do work constantly. This can be dangerous because we risk overwhelming our minds and thus adding on unnecessary stress. The common warning signs of workplace stress can include:

– Anxiety, irritability, depression

– Burnout, fatigue, apathy

– Difficulty sleeping, eating, concentrating, and engaging with others

– Body and muscle aches

– Using substances or drugs to cope

– Decreased libido

Coping With Workplace Stress

Remember that unhealthy stress occurs when our body is overworked and drained. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in our work tasks and responsibilities that we forget to check on ourselves. We need to start making it a habit to take breaks at work. Allow this time to step away from what you are doing, take a deep breath, and think clearly about your next steps.

Some ways we can decrease workplace stress are to:

  1. Have open conversations with our co-workers, managers, and supervisors. We must not shy away from turning to each other for support. Keep in mind that a healthy workforce cannot function with unhealthy employees, so start on building a support system at the very place that is known to cause stress.
  1. Stop over-scheduling yourself. Often, we can get motivated to win promotions in work by saying yes to every task and agreeing to every responsibility. This can lead to the dangerous act of overwhelming ourselves. Don’t be afraid to accept new challenges but do them at your own pace.
  1. Develop healthy lifestyle choices Various scientific research has proven the benefits of adequate sleep, nutritious foods, and regular exercise. Using these three components in our daily lives will immediately result in our bodies starting to feel refreshed, energized, and more robust. In turn, it will help alleviate the stress that we are experiencing.
  1. Take a break to recharge and relax Remember that unhealthy stress results from over-exhaustion. To avoid this, we must take the time away to recharge our energy and balance our thoughts and emotions.
  1. Have good time management. When work piles up in our schedule, it can be easy to drown in deadlines. We can all achieve time management by having the discipline to delegate our tasks a little bit each day to avoid overworking ourselves.

Stress can be daunting even for the most organized individual. When mishandled, it can cause a state of distress. With the alarming events that our world is experiencing, it is becoming increasingly challenging to manage our time and find time for self-care. But the silver lining is that we are not alone, and there are many resources available for us, such as those listed on