How to Deal With Workplace Stress


How much stress is in your life? How much of your life stress is related to your job? Here are the facts about stress as compiled by the American Institute of Stress: stress related healthcare and missed work costs employers $300 billion annually; 76 percent of people cited money and work as the leading cause of their stress, a survey of 26,000 workers in the US revealed that 60 percent were so unhappy with their current jobs they would rather just choose a new career; 77 percent of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, 73 percent regularly experience psychological symptoms due to stress; and 48 percent lie awake at night due to stress.

What exactly is the definition of stress? I found a definition of stress that says it is an individual reaction or a “dis-ease” as in lack of a comfortable feeling. Some related words are: anxiety, pressure, stressor, and strain. C. Hardy has defined stress as “when perceived and actual capabilities and responses are insufficient to meet the demands of the situation.” T. Avroba and K. James have defined it as “pressure is the aggregate of all the demands made upon you. Stress is your response to an inappropriate level of pressure. It is a response to pressure, not the pressure itself.” The American Institute of Stress also confirms that stress is a highly personalized phenomenon.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conducted a survey and found that 40 percent of workers found their jobs to be highly stressful, one quarter view their jobs as their number one source of stress, and roughly a quarter said they were often stressed out by their work. One more survey on attitudes in the American Workplace said that 80 percent of workers feel stress on the job although stress can either be stimulating or harmful. Some see stress as the force, pressure, demand you are subject to, others see it as your response to the force and still others see it as the result of your response. Nonetheless, excessive stress impacts your physical and emotional life. When it comes to the main reasons for workplace stress a 2006 “Stresspulse” survey determined that workload was the main factor followed by people issues, work/life balance, and lack of job security.

Now that we’ve got our arms around the concept of work related stress – what should we do? Deep breathing, creative visualizations, and walks around the block may not stop the stressors from coming back. A publication on stress management in work settings by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health made an interesting finding that “stress management, as currently defined, has a limited role in reducing organization stress because no effort is made to remove or reduce sources of stress at work. Focusing on the individual as the prime target for organization intervention creates a dilemma of ‘blaming the victim.’ A more appropriate application of stress management would be as a complement to job redesign or organizational change interventions.”

Here are some of the more creative stress relieving ideas that I found. Does your organization offer a special place for employees to unwind such as cozy chairs in a special area? Can your agency allow people to let off steam by playing table sports like foosball? Don’t forget the board games like chess or backgammon. How about subsidizing lunches or stocking a free snack cabinet? Eating well helps regulate hormones including stress hormones. Doctors says there is a connection between the stomach and the brain so keeping good food in your system will allow your brain to feel less stressed.

According to the Center for Mind Body Medicine the quickest way to relieve stress is to release endorphins. Some say touching, kissing, and hugging can do the trick because it releases oxytocin. (But no sexual harassment, please!)  Have you ever done a primal scream exercise or better yet, researchers at East Anglia Norwich University in England say you can reduce stress by swearing. If you rub your hoku – flap of skin that connects the thumb and the forefinger – you can also stay calm according to scientists at Hong Kong Polytech University. And finally, for all you neat freaks out there, embrace the clutter. According to work by a journalist and a professor from the Columbia Business School moderate messes can actually enrich creativity and minimize anxiety.

Yolanda Smith is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Tammy Seleski

Because I empathize with my clients (jobless, sometimes homeless and most often receiving local or state or federal benefits to survive–which are now most likely going to be cut even further, with this administration) I can’t help but feel stress. I lose sleep over how many are in need of just the basics and they are ridiculed unthinking and unfeeling idiots who want to “reduce the numbers on the dole”. If I want to reduce my stress I need our country and this administration to get it’s priorities straight. My workplace is struggling not because of lack of knowledge, foresight, or management. I work with some of the best strategists out there. We lack funds, basic funds, to do our job and with more and more people needing our services. It won’t stop us from trying, though–we’ve seen bad times and have come through them stronger. However, this current political climate and most of its policymakers are going to destroy what is decent and humane about this country. THAT is where my stress lies.

Yolanda Smith

Tammy, you’ve got to hang in there. You’re stressed by thinking about what some folks need and I’m sure those in need are even more stressed.

Lin W

The only practical suggestion here is to “rub your hoku”. The other stress relieving activities mentioned could never be done in any government agency I have worked for. Once my team of 7 shared shoulder rubs (in the company library while standing). It was consensual and optional as a stress relief activity that everyone said they enjoyed. We got reported, then blasted by the director for inappropriate behavior that could destroy the agency’s image if it leaked to the press. Seriously! Same director would probably fire me for suggesting “rub your hoku” until he read this article. But, he taught me to be prudent and to actively fear public sentiment. So, I am aghast to think of public money being spent on anything to do with (including using on breaks) comfy chairs, foosball, board games, subsidized lunches, free snacks, touching, kissing, and hugging, primal screams or swearing. OK for Google or Southwest Airlines but a government work place must be sparse, cold, quiet, and focused on efficiency or the public will scream inefficiency. Or, was my agency director wrong?

Yolanda Smith

Wow Lin. Productivity through fear. (Sarcasm.) But seriously what if your team took up a collection and hired a professional masseuse that does shoulder and neck work from one of those portable chairs that you can walk up to on the street? If you’ve never seen those – look for one to try out. It’s your own money and what the heck… do it on your lunch hour. They still give you one of those right?


The Government offered a monthly stress management support group during lunch hours, and I was told I could attend unless I took personal leave. Really! I had to get labor relations involved. I was stressed attempting to attend stress support group.


I would love to see more discussion of this aspect:
“stress management, as currently defined, has a limited role in reducing organization stress because no effort is made to remove or reduce sources of stress at work. Focusing on the individual as the prime target for organization intervention creates a dilemma of ‘blaming the victim.’ A more appropriate application of stress management would be as a complement to job redesign or organizational change interventions.”
I have experienced this (victim blaming), and despite requests for job redesign/change interventions nothing was done, so the stress continued. No amount of deep breathing, cozy chairs or free snacks can alleviate the pressure of a dysfunctional situation.
The only solution I could find, ultimately, was to look for another job. So unfortunate.