How to manage work-related stress

Written by: Dr Raisa Kumaga
Published: | Updated: 10/06/2024
Edited by: Carlota Pano

Work stress is a common challenge faced by many people in today's fast-paced and demanding work environments. Recognising and managing work stress effectively is crucial for maintaining both physical and mental wellbeing.

 

Here, Dr Raisa Kumaga, leading counselling psychologist, provides an in-depth understanding of work stress, its symptoms, impacts, and effective management strategies.

 

 

What is work stress?

 

Work stress refers to the mental, physical, and emotional response that occurs when the demands of a job exceed an individual’s capacity to cope. It can stem from various factors, including excessive workload, lack of control, and conflicts. While some level of stress at work is normal, excessive or chronic stress can significantly impact health and wellbeing.

 

I often give the example and metaphor of an equation. Stress arises when pressure exceeds available resources (S = P > R). To balance this equation, we aim to reduce or eliminate pressure (stressors) and/or increase coping resources to handle higher levels of stress. If you can't balance this equation, you might feel overwhelmed, similar to a bucket that continuously fills with water but has no way to empty it. This overflow can spill into various areas of your life, such as personal relationships or financial management. Therefore, it's crucial to find coping resources that can alleviate the stress, rather than just dealing with the consequences of the overflow.

 

What are the common signs of work stress?

 

The symptoms of work stress include:

  • Fatigue and exhaustion: Constant tiredness and a feeling of being drained.
  • Headaches: Frequent tension headaches or migraines.
  • Sleep disturbances: Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or achieving restful sleep.
  • Gastrointestinal issues: Such as stomach aches, diarrhoea, or constipation.
  • Increased heart rate: Palpitations or a racing heartbeat.

 

Additionally:

  • Anxiety and irritability: Feeling anxious, restless, or on edge.
  • Depression: Persistent sadness, hopelessness, or lack of interest in activities.
  • Feelings of overwhelm: An inability to cope with tasks and responsibilities.
  • Decreased productivity or procrastination: Lower efficiency and output at work.
  • Changes in eating habits: Overeating or undereating.

 

Can work stress lead to burnout?

 

Yes, prolonged and unmanaged work stress can lead to burnout. Burnout is a state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that is often accompanied by a sense of hopelessness and detachment from work. It typically occurs after prolonged exposure to stressful work conditions and can significantly impair an individual’s ability to function effectively.

 

How can a psychologist assist in managing work stress?

 

A psychologist can help you understand the specific factors contributing to your work stress. The specialist will work with you to pinpoint triggers and patterns that worsen your stress levels. By gaining a clearer understanding of the root causes of your stress, you will be able to develop more effective strategies to manage it.

 

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

 

CBT is a widely-used approach for managing work stress. A fundamental aspect of CBT is cognitive restructuring. This process involves recognising and challenging negative thought patterns that fuel stress. For instance, if you often think, "I can never complete my tasks on time," a psychologist can help you reframe this thought to something more positive and feasible, such as, "I can prioritise my tasks and effectively manage my time."

 

Coping mechanisms

 

Efficient time management plays a vital role in reducing work-related stress. A psychologist can teach you strategies to tackle work-related problems systematically and also help you develop a structured schedule to manage your workload more efficiently. Setting boundaries between work and personal life is also essential for preventing burnout, and a psychologist can assist you in defining clear boundaries and sticking to them, ensuring you have time to relax and recharge outside of work.

 

Building resilience

 

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stress and hardships. A psychologist can help you build resilience by teaching you techniques to enhance your coping skills and to adapt to challenges more effectively. This can include:

  • Positive thinking: Focusing on positive aspects and achievements rather than setbacks can help build resilience. A psychologist can help you develop a more positive mindset, which can enhance your ability to cope with stress.
  • Adaptability: Being open to change and viewing challenges as opportunities for growth is crucial for resilience. A psychologist can teach you strategies to become more adaptable and flexible in the face of stress.

 

Are there any lifestyle changes that can help reduce work-related stress?

 

Making specific lifestyle changes can significantly help in reducing stress levels and improving your ability to cope with work demands. Here are several lifestyle modifications that can make a substantial difference:

  • Regular exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. It also helps improve sleep quality, boost energy levels, and increase overall physical health.
  • Balanced diet: Eating a nutritious diet supports physical health and can influence your mood and energy levels. Steer clear of excessive caffeine and sugar, as they can lead to energy crashes and increased stress levels.
  • Practise mindfulness: Mindfulness involves staying present and fully engaging with the current moment. Practising mindfulness meditation can help reduce stress and increase relaxation. In addition, deep breathing exercises can also help activate the body’s relaxation response and reduce stress.

 

 

If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr Raisa Kumaga, head on over to her Top Doctors profile today.

By Dr Raisa Kumaga
Psychology

Dr Raisa Kumaga is a leading counselling psychologist based in London. Her areas of expertise include work stress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and bipolar disorder. She is the founder of the renowned The Fern Psychology and also consults privately at Change of Harley Street.

Dr Kumaga commenced her professional career as a social worker in the Netherlands before relocating to the UK and qualifying as a chartered psychologist. She has extensive experience in child, adolescent, and adult mental health services, alongside third-sector organisations, and is a senior counselling psychologist at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

Dr Kumaga holds a Professional Doctorate in Counselling Psychology from the University of East London, as well as postgraduate certification in eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Additionally, she also holds a Master of Philosophy and Education from the University of Cambridge and a Bachelor of social work with Summa Cum Laude from The Hague University of Applied Services.

As an integrated practitioner, Dr Kumaga employs a variety of therapeutic modalities to meet and support the needs of her patients. Her approach is rooted in compassion and a commitment to personal growth, drawing from psychodynamic, attachment-based, cognitive-behavioural, acceptance and commitment, as well as dialectical behaviour, compassion-focused, and EMDR therapies to achieve greater wellbeing.

HCPC Number: PYL042189

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