Workplace Stress is becoming all too commonplace within the Canadian workforce. With 62% of workers reporting that work is their main source of stress, it is time to better manage our levels of stress and mental health concerns. One of the most efficacious methods of combating workplace stress is mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a term that has garnered a lot of attention over the past few years. It has emerged as an effective tool to help combat the ever-growing issue of mental health issues within the workplace. Mindfulness is the mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, whilst acknowledging and accepting your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. The ‘objective’ of mindfulness is to allow yourself to observe your feelings and thoughts without judgement or criticism. Mindfulness is often used in meditation, as well as, some forms of therapy as a means of lowering stress, reducing negative self-talk and inner judgement, and defending against mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression and stress.

What is Stress?
Stress is the body’s reaction to adverse or overly demanding circumstance. Experiencing stress is a normal part of life, however, it can feel overwhelming at times. You may experience stress as a result of interacting with your environment (work, school, home life), physical effects on your body or your overactive thoughts. Unfortunately, stress may also result from positive changes in your life such as a work promotion or the birth of a child. It is important to learn to manage your stress healthily to ensure good mental health and keep from further distress.

Work, a Major Cause of Stress
If you experience feelings of stress at work, you are most certainly not alone. Work-related stress can arise when harmful physical and emotional responses occur when the requirements of your job-related tasks or duties do not align with your capabilities, skillset, resources, or comfort levels. Work-related stress may seem like something completely normal to experience, and to some extent, it is. However, it is crucial that this stress is dealt with, rather than ignored; neglecting the symptoms of stress as it can impact your mental health and potentially lead to physical injury.

Good Work-Related Stress Vs. Bad Work-Related Stress
The average Canadian spends roughly 40 hours per week at work. If you are experiencing negative stress in the workplace, this is a large percentage of your time spent ‘stressed out’ and discontent. It is important to recognize ‘bad’ stress so you can combat these symptoms and lead a healthy work-life. Common symptoms of negative workplace stress include feelings of anxiety, irritability, depression, fatigue, have trouble concentrating, or physical symptoms such as an upset stomach or muscle tension. Of course, these issues may not be directly related to workplace stress, but they are indicators that you should pay attention to. Negative workplace stress can have a physical and emotional impact on your wellbeing.

Not all work-related stress is negative. Some forms of stress may motivate. ‘Challenge stressors’ are an example of good workplace stress. This type of stressor works to help an employee reach their goals and help them achieve growth. For example, setting time constraints on projects or giving a sizeable workload would both help the employee strive to achieve more and accomplish their tasks within a reasonable timeframe. Any work-related stressor that serves the purpose of motivating, without causing undue strain may be good.

Causes of Stress in the Workplace
There are countless reasons why someone may experience workplace stress. One of the most common causes are the requirements of the job. Unfortunately, many workers encounter situations where they are being asked to do something outside of their scope of knowledge, capabilities or comfort levels. When this happens, it is completely normal to experience negative stress, as you begin to worry about how you are going to accomplish your task. If you work with a team who does not support you and/or your ideas, you may also experience negative stress. This may lead to low morale, which in turn may cause further stress. Having poor managers or a subpar work environment are also common causes of stress in the workplace.

How Stress Negatively Impacts Mental Health
Living with stress can impact your mental health. Traumatic events that cause feelings of stress can lead to anxiety and potentially, depression. Stress causes the release of neurochemicals that impair the function of the area of the brain in charge of higher-level thinking. These neurochemicals, namely, cortisol and norepinephrine, are released when we experience feelings of stress, heightening reactive tendencies by lowering reflective tendencies. This, in turn, may leave you with feelings of anxiousness, restlessness, a lack of motivation, irritability, and sadness. These feelings are normal when experienced sparingly. However, if you are stressed for prolonged periods, the impact can strongly affect your emotional wellbeing.

How Employers Can Address Stress in the Workplace
Employers have the power to help reduce the prevalence of workplace stress. When employees are stressed, it can affect their job performance and productivity; nurturing an employee’s mental wellbeing is beneficial for all parties.

Employers can encourage physical activity. Exercise has been known to reduce stress, reduce fatigue, and improve concentration. By creating an office environment where it’s easy for employees to get up and move around, you can help mitigate the harmful effects of workplace stress. Another way to help is to encourage employees to take a walk during lunch or offer discounted gym memberships.

Management can reduce workplace stress by making their employees feel valued. When an employee feels like they are disposable, this can create a state of job insecurity and stress as they worry about doing enough to continue being a part of the team. Managers should take a moment every so often to communicate with their employees to let them know they are a valued part of the team. Making them feel secure in their position will help reduce stress levels. By being proactive and participating in these destressing activities alongside employees, office morale will be bolstered, which in turn, often leads to a reduction in workplace stress.

How You Can Reduce Your Stress at Work
There are several techniques you can employ to help reduce your workplace stress and create a calmer environment. Taking care of your body will have a positive impact on your mental wellbeing. Start exercising regularly, get enough sleep, and eat healthily. Try to prioritize your work tasks and plan your day’s schedule so you aren’t scrambling for time to complete last-minute tasks you may have neglected.

Mindfulness is another helpful tool that can help you reduce your job-related stress. If you begin to feel overwhelmed at work, take a few moments to concentrate on your breath and allow your worries to fade into the background (even if for a moment). Find a quiet space, away from everyone and the bustle of the office. Close your eyes, focus on your breath and make a conscious effort to focus only on this moment. Try to remain open-minded and judgement-free. Try not to think about the past or the future, just be in the present moment. Notice your thoughts, feelings, and sensations surrounding you. Try to let your thoughts pass by without thinking about them. Now that you’ve had a few minutes to focus and recenter yourself, you may notice a renewed, revitalized and refreshed feeling. This should help you return to work feeling less stressed.

The lives we lead are naturally full of stressors, many of which are beyond our control. Most of us spend the majority of our day at work, so it’s important to make this a healthy and productive environment. A few minutes of daily mindfulness can greatly improve your feelings about workplace stress and increase your general wellbeing, helping you feel more confident, content, and ready to conquer the rest of your day.

Author's Bio: 

Mindfulness Space offers workplace mindfulness training workshops for stress reduction, staff development and mindful leadership, in Montreal and Ottawa.

(514) 360-7205‬