Stress at work: effective strategies for managing workplace pressure

July 17, 2017

Managing stress at work

The effects of job stress on the workforce

Our bodies are designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive. It keeps us alert and ready to avoid danger.

When stress at work becomes negative from a lack of control or heavy workloads without rest or relaxation, we become overworked, and excessive pressure builds.

  • The Health and Safety Executive says around 9.9 million working days are lost each year to chronic stress, depression or anxiety.
  • The NHS says psychological problems are behind one in five visits to a GP.
  • Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma and arthritis.

Stress, a natural reaction to life demands, can manifest in three types: emotional, physical, and chemical.

In the workplace, it's essential to understand how these types of pressures arise and identify ways to manage and prevent them to improve overall health and well-being.

Signs of stress


Emotional symptoms often arise from negative perceptions or reactions in situations such as tight deadlines. Some people may feel only mildly anxious, while others may experience panic.

One way to handle emotional stress is to practise mindful breathing. When you feel overwhelmed, take a few minutes to breathe in through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. This technique helps lower heart rate and blood pressure.

Understanding and practising good office etiquette can also reduce emotional stress by improving interpersonal relationships at work.


Physical symptoms can be caused by factors like poor posture, improperly designed workstations, or incorrect movement techniques.

To reduce physical stress, set up your workstation ergonomically. Adjust the placement of your keyboard, mouse, and screen, and choose a supportive chair with the correct height to promote proper posture.

It's also crucial to incorporate movement throughout the day. Lack of movement has been linked to various physical health conditions, making moving regularly during the workday even more essential.


Poor nutrition, smoking, overconsumption of caffeine, and frequent use of painkillers contribute to chemical stress. To minimise chemical stress, make healthier choices in food and drink consumption. Avoid stress eating and opt for more water, fruit, and vegetables instead.

Additionally, rather than resorting to painkillers, try to understand the triggers of pain and stress to prevent them more mindfully.

Handling work-related stress

Workplace stress may lead to various employee health issues, including headaches, high blood pressure, and heart problems.

Learning skills and activities that help reduce your emotional and physical response is crucial, ensuring better preparedness when faced with stressful situations.

Companies can support workers by offering employee benefits that promote a healthier work-life balance and decrease stress levels.

Symptoms of stress in the workplace

Emotional reactions

Emotional stress at work can manifest in various ways, such as:

  • Feeling anxious or irritable
  • Having mood swings
  • Experiencing a lack of motivation or interest in work tasks
  • Being more sensitive or tearful than usual
  • Struggling with decision-making and concentration

Physical signs

Work-related stress can also cause physical symptoms, including:

  • Headaches and migraines
  • Muscle tension or pain (e.g., back or neck pain)
  • Fatigue or difficulty sleeping
  • Digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome
  • Skin conditions, such as eczema or acne

Chemical indicators

Exposure to chemical stress might lead to:

  • Hormonal imbalances, such as elevated cortisol levels
  • Changes in neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Compromised immune system, making you more prone to infections and illnesses

By being aware of these symptoms, you can better manage and address stressful working conditions. Remember to seek appropriate support when necessary, whether it be through workplace resources, healthcare professionals, or personal coping strategies.

Tips for handling work-related stress

Maintaining a positive attitude can be a powerful tool. Recognising the signs and taking proactive steps to manage them is essential. Here are some useful tips to help you cope:

  1. Acknowledge the warning signs of job stress: Recognise that you're experiencing the negative effects and validate your feelings. Don't ignore them or feel guilty for being stressed. 

  2. Identify the stressors: Determine what aspects of your work are causing stress. This can range from demanding deadlines and high expectations to conflicts with colleagues or digital overload. Once identified, you can start developing strategies to address them.

  3. Set realistic goals: Break tasks down into smaller, more manageable parts. Allocate a specific time for each task and avoid multitasking, as it can lead to increased stress. Start the year right by creating a plan for the year ahead, which can give you a clearer direction and reduce work-related anxiety.

  4. Practice time management: Organise your workday and prioritise tasks based on their urgency and importance. Use tools like calendars, to-do lists (or not-to-do lists), and reminders to help you stay focused and on top of tight deadlines. Organising productive meetings can be a key strategy in managing time effectively and reducing stress.

  5. Create a healthy work-life balance: Establish boundaries between your professional and personal life. Ensure that you take breaks, engage in hobbies, and spend time with loved ones to recharge. Investing time in personal development can help you handle demands better by improving your coping skills.

  6. Communicate your concerns: Speak with your manager or a trusted colleague about your stressors and seek guidance or support.

  7. Seek professional help: If your stress levels become overwhelming, consider speaking with a mental health professional or accessing workplace support services.

  8. Practice self-care: Engage in regular physical activity, eat a balanced diet, and ensure you get enough sleep. Additionally, try incorporating relaxation techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing, into your daily routine. 

It's important to take your mental health seriously, and our resources on mental health can guide you in seeking help when needed.

For those working remotely, managing your levels of stress is different; our guide on working from home can help you navigate these challenges.

Is it time to move on?

Perhaps, you have decided that a new job is the best way to prioritise your mental health

If that's the case, then browse our job listings and find a role that works for you.

This post was written by: Rob Boyle, Marketing Operations Director