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12th April 2018

Stress at Work – Causes, Symptoms, and How to Cope

Anything that increases pressure or demand on an individual can be stressful; this could apply to various situations from a tough work project to personal difficulties, meaning that a large number of people experience stress. In some cases, stress can be a positive thing; it helps to increase motivation and improves productivity for a lot of working individuals. The problem becomes apparent when those small amounts of stress grow, negatively affecting the individual both physically and psychologically.

What causes stress?

‘Stressors’ are the situations, events and pressures that increase our stress levels; research from Cooper et al. 1998, Sutherland and Cooper 2000 suggests that there are 7 major stressors at work:

  • Intrinsic to the job
  • Role in the organisation
  • Personality and coping strategy
  • Relationships at work
  • Career development
  • Organisational culture and climate
  • Home-work interface

Many of us assume that stressors are obvious, exhaustive and difficult situations; the actuality is that stressors can be much less apparent things that we wouldn’t expect. Struggling to get on with a coworker, your workplace environment and your own time management can all increase stress at work, and so it is important to be able to recognise the symptoms of and know how to effectively cope with it.


Symptoms of stress can manifest both physically and psychologically; physical symptoms include fatigue, difficulty sleeping, regular headaches, chest pains and dizziness, whereas psychological symptoms include depressed mood, increased anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and irritability (read more about how to identify symptoms of stress here). These symptoms can also lead to negative behaviours such as smoking, increased drinking and unhealthy eating habits, which can serve to worsen symptoms.

These also affect work life – as mentioned earlier, small quantities of stress can be motivating to some, however the negative impact of too much stress can mean increased absence rates and decreased productivity. This is as a result of the symptoms listed above; difficulty concentrating, fatigue, depressed mood and physical pain can lower an individual’s ability to work efficiently, and may instead encourage them to stay at home, where they feel safer and temporarily less stressed. In the wider scope, this can affect both individuals and whole organisations; time off work, although seemingly helpful at first, only increases stress as workloads build, and means that organisations don’t function as efficiently as necessary due to absence and poor productivity (read more about the impact of stress on organisations here).

So, how do you deal with stress?

As discussed above, most people will encounter at least some level of stress, no matter how small. However, that isn’t to say that nothing can be done; in fact, there are numerous methods that can help you to manage stress and keep it to a minimum. Lifestyle changes can help to cope; eating healthily, regular exercise, and learning to relax are all significant. It is important to practice relaxation skills daily, such as breathing techniques, controlling the focus of your mind, and using positive self suggestions to help your progress. Yoga is also a helpful way to improve relaxation, you can find some useful poses to start with here.

Improving time management can also help to keep stress at bay. Being able to differentiate between important, urgent, and less so tasks means that you are much more likely to view your work load from a healthy, productive and less stressful perspective. There are a variety of things you can do to improve your time management, and to healthily process workloads. Mental health charity Mind suggests not overloading yourself with too many tasks at any one time, pausing between tasks, reflecting on your day and introducing a hobby you enjoy, which uses a different part of your brain.

Of course, speaking to someone that you trust is helpful when dealing with any issues, work or otherwise. If you are suffering from or unable to control stress, it is important that you speak to your GP. They are there to help and will be able to advise on the best strategies to cope with your stress.

How we can help

Our passion at Impact is to help our clients grow their organisation and release the full potential of their people. We can help you and your organisation to  reduce workplace stress and promote an environment where you and your people can flourish at work. We provide a range of tools and techniques to help address and reduce stress levels, as well as helping prevent the initial onset of stress in the first place. Learn more about our services and how we can help you here.