How to cope with work-related stress

Written by: Dr Catherine Sykes
Published: | Updated: 30/11/2018
Edited by: Cal Murphy

The world we live in can be a very stressful place. Sometimes, stress can get on top of us and have a big impact on our health and our state of mind. Work can be a particular cause of stress, with the pressures of deadlines, presentations, difficult bosses or colleagues, and living up to our own expectations. Respected psychologist Dr Catherine Sykes explains the effect stress can have and how best to deal with it.

What are the signs of work-related stress?

There are several tell-tale signs and symptoms of work-related stress to watch out for:

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Staying late on a regular basis
  • Getting irritable with colleagues or your boss
  • Feeling trapped
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Skipping lunch or eating at your desk on a regular basis
  • Panic attacks
  • Forgetfulness
  • Poor concentration
  • Frequent illness


When should I seek help with my work stress?

Quite often it is a critical incident that makes people seek help. This can be at work or at home, and may involve either a real illness or a psychosomatic one. This does not mean that the illness is all in your head; it means that what is happening in your brain is causing the illness, e.g. persistent headaches, skin rashes, IBS, neck pain. However, seeking help earlier can make it easier to deal with.

If you constantly feel overwhelmed and that you can’t cope and you are not sleeping, these are early warning signs that help is needed. For some people, work-related coaching can help them deal with the source of the stress. This may include improving public speaking skills, dealing with a difficult colleague, increasing work place confident or dealing with imposter syndrome.


What advice do you have for people struggling with work stress?

Seeking professional help can be transformational. I’ve helped clients to deal with some very challenging work situations that once dealt with have led to new careers or promotions. Seeking help gives clients a renewed energy that promotes productivity and efficiency that then helps them to continue to be successful in their career.

Work stress is often caused when a client does not have the confidence to manage with the demands of the job or when the demands of the job outweigh the client’s capacity. I help clients to understand and challenge their belief systems that are related to the lack of confidence. Also, it is important to understand how a client is dealing with demands at work and their related beliefs. We refer to this type of personalised intervention as high-intensity. It helps get to the root cause of any stress. However, there are some low-intensity steps that can keep stress at bay:

  • Take a lunch break and regular breaks. Take the breaks with purpose. Tune into how you are feeling and notice the stress, then tell yourself ‘I need a break’. Honour the break-time with minimised distractions, do something to energise yourself. It can be as simply as taking 3 energetic breaths.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Take your own lunch to work - make big quantities of food when you cook so that there is enough left over for lunch
  • Set limits around checking emails. Have a switch off time. At a very minimum, this should be one hour before going to sleep.
  • Make sure you make time for friends and family who make you laugh.


What is the difference between stress and anxiety?

People often use the terms stress and anxiety interchangeably. They both produce the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ responses. However, stress is a response to a perceived or real threat (e.g. I can’t cope). Stress is often short-term, whereas anxiety is more ongoing. It is isn’t always easy to identity what is the cause of the anxiety. People who are anxious tend to worry or have fears. Anxiety is often a reaction to stress.

By Dr Catherine Sykes

Dr Catherine Sykes is a chartered psychologist based in central London. She is an expert in cognitive behavioural therapies and is accredited by the British Association For Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP). She is a member of the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC) and the Associate Fellow (AFBPsS) of British Psychological Society (BPS). Dr Sykes specialises in anxiety and panic disorder, depression including postpartum depression, Body Dysmorphic Disorder and bulimia. 

Furthermore, Dr Sykes is a coaching psychologist. She is on the BPS register of Coaching Psychologists. She explores the enhancement of well-being and performance in both personal and professional settings. When coaching, Dr Sykes uses evidence-based psychological theories and personalised techniques which enables people to understand what blocks them from reaching their full potential and move on to achieving the life they want.

Dr Sykes is extremely committed to practising psychology, but she is also very involved in research and has authored many peer-reviewed research articles, co-written a textbook on health psychology and authored her own book too. She often speaks at international conferences about her research and has been interviewed by several magazines and newspapers. Dr Sykes is passionate about psychology and works hard to help her clients achieve their goals.

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