Is Constant Stress at Work the ‘New Normal’?

a woman stressed looking at a laptop.

Canva/Fairygodboss

Sara London for Hive
Sara London for Hive
April 14, 2024 at 4:53AM UTC
As offices reopen and employees return to the workplace, your stress level may feel overwhelming and constant. Whether it’s due to excessive work, maintaining a work-life balance, or issues with communication, stress could be following you throughout your workday. However, you don’t need to live a life of constant stress. Read on to find out how to handle constant stress, why it’s essential to learn how to manage stress, and how to turn stressful feelings around and use them to motivate you.

The burnout problem

Unfortunately, stress at work isn’t a new issue. A 2017 ComPsych survey unveiled that 62% of workers felt higher than normal stress levels, extreme fatigue, and feeling out of control. More recently, the APA’s 2021 Work and Well-being Survey found that 44% of workers are physically fatigued, 26% lack interest or motivation due to stress, and 36% feel cognitively weary. These numbers have skyrocketed since the APA’s 2019 survey.
Additionally, according to Forbes, constant stress at work frequently affects women more than men. Over 53% of women report higher stress levels than last year, and 49% say they feel burned out. Almost half of the respondents report they would consider their mental health poor or very poor, but only 43% feel comfortable talking about stress-related mental health challenges in the workplace.

The burnout solution

While constant stress might feel like a never-ending cycle, the tides are changing, and things are getting better. The culture around workplace stress is shifting, and employers are taking employee mental health concerns more seriously. Workers are also rethinking how they manage their own bandwidth, and they feel more freedom to work when they feel the most productive. Many who are working from home also get a little more flexibility in their schedules as long as their deadlines are met.
Additionally, company cultures are changing for the better. “Hustle culture” is subsiding, and skill-building has taken over in place of busy work. While some industries still perpetuate a culture of stress-driven productivity, teams and managers can create internal dynamics that help employees accomplish their goals while also staying sane and content. When it comes to stress, the future’s looking bright. But it will take a conscious shift in your daily life to learn how to manage stress on a micro-level.

Best practices for handling constant stress

While the culture might be shifting, it’s a slow process – and you need stress relief now. Luckily, handling stress doesn’t have to end in tears if you’re diligent and resourceful. There are healthy ways to take your stressors and reframe them or handle them in a way that makes your work a little more tolerable.

1. Look into your perks.

As you work, there are little things that might weigh on your mind, like daycare, dry cleaning, or doctor’s appointments. Interestingly, you might have stress-balancing perks already built into the perks you already get, like a mental health stipend or wellness retreats. Take a few minutes to set up a meeting with a representative from HR who can explain some of the nuances of your company’s available perks. They’re offered for a reason, and you should leverage them to make your life less stressful.

2. Set boundaries.

One of the most important ways to handle constant stress at work is to set boundaries. Sometimes it feels like the reward for doing your work well is more work. But if your bandwidth is stretched to the max and you’re not able to handle everything on your plate, don’t feel scared about saying no. You’ll end up feeling more empowered, happier, and less stressed.

3. Learn to communicate.

If you’re feeling constant stress at work, maybe you’re having trouble getting on the same page as your team. Your stress could be due to knowledge-sharing gaps, a heavy workload, or even tension between your team. Sit down with everyone and bring their top few stressors to the table. Then, your entire group can think up inventive ways to shift tasks or improve workflow.

4. Re-manage your workload.

There are enough resources on different scheduling or time management rules that you never have to feel lost or alone when you’re underwater with work. By learning to automate busy work and streamline your processes, you can clear hours out of your day or your week to alleviate negative feelings.

5. Reframe your stress.

While it might be easier said than done, one of the best ways to handle constant stress is to remind yourself of the bigger picture and put your stresses into context. It might be tempting to assume that just because you’re busy, you’re automatically stressed out. But even though you might have a lot of work to do or a tight deadline to do it, take a step back and remember that you’re smart and capable enough to do it all. And if you can’t, that’s okay too – as long as you communicate with those around you.

6. Use stress to your advantage.

Stress is like a barometer. If a situation at work causes you a lot of stress, that’s a signal to yourself that you might have some internal conflicts about the issue. Those conflicts need resolving, and you can do so with your teammates, manager, or yourself. But ignoring stress and pushing it to the side is like ignoring a light on your car’s dashboard. The longer you wait to fix the issue, the worse it will get – until one day, when you break down.
Even if the littlest things cause your stress, you should take time and investigate why. Maybe the emotional gains you get from your work feel more powerful when you feel like you’re overcoming a struggle. Maybe your stress tolerance is low from lack of sleep or unhealthy living. But whatever the reason, listen to your stress and use it to learn about yourself rather than letting it dictate how you live.
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This article originally appeared in Hive — the world's first democratically built productivity platform. Learn more at Hive.com.

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