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How to Manage Stress in the Workplace


Projects, meetings and deadlines; all combined can make for a stressful work week, which can take a toll on one’s health in the long run, says a chief of psychiatry at Harris Health System.

“Stress is simply a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium,” says Dr. Asim Shah, chief of psychiatry, Harris Health’s Ben Taub Hospital and professor at Menninger Department of Psychiatry, Baylor College of Medicine. “In other words, it's an omnipresent part of life.”

In today's economic upheavals, downsizing, layoffs, mergers and bankruptcies have cost thousands of employees their jobs. People at every experience level are dealing with increased tension and uncertainty. 

Most medical experts agree that a little stress can be good as it keeps us active and alert. But long-term, or chronic stress, can have a detrimental effect on your health. Work-related stress is the most common form of stress and all jobs have stressors.

According to the American Psychological Association's 2012 Stress in America Survey, 65 percent of Americans cited work as a top source of stress. Only 37 percent of Americans said they were doing an excellent or very good job managing stress.

“As we cannot control outside stressors, we can alter our reaction to them, and that is what we all need to learn. Low salaries and excessive workloads are the most common workplace stressors,” Shah says, “Any work that has fewer opportunities for growth or advancement, or that isn't engaging or challenging and lacks support, can also cause stress.”

If stress is not controlled, it can cause problems such as headaches, sleep disruption, temper tantrums, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, depression, obesity and heart disease. Some people with excessive stress often start unhealthy behavior like overeating, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs and alcohol, Shah adds.

However, it’s important to remember that some stress is normal and actually needed to foster a successful life. A little stress can cause motivation and work drive. The major problem starts when a person is unable to recognize when normal stress changes to significant and pathological stress, and it becomes uncontrollable or unmanageable.

According to Shah, there are six ‘E’s to managing stress:
• Exercise regularly: Running, yoga, muscle relaxation and breathing exercises can contribute to a healthier lifestyle.
• Express yourself: Let your feelings out; talk to people, laugh, cry and express anger when appropriate.
• Enjoy events: Try to find ways you can enjoy life, hobbies and activities. Volunteer somewhere or play sports.
• Establish discipline in life: Spend quality time with family on a regular basis.
• Eat healthy: Avoid fatty foods and eat a balanced diet
• Enough sleep: Sleep is key to a better start of the day; make sure you sleep at least six hours each night.

Shah says implementing a few of these stress tips can help lead to a healthier lifestyle and stress-free environment for years to come.