How to handle stress at work

Life can be stressful. We all know that, right? While money remains the biggest stressor for most Canadians, work comes in a close second.

In fact, Statistics Canada figures state that 27% of Canadian workers claim to have high to extreme levels of stress on a daily basis and 46% admitted that they felt “a bit” of stress on a day-to-day basis.

Causes of this stress cover a range of issues including low salaries, excessive workloads, few opportunities for growth or advancement, conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations and work that isn’t engaging or challenging.

Feeling stressed in today’s society is pretty much inevitable. Unfortunately work-related stress doesn’t just disappear when we leave the workplace at the end of the day and daily or prolonged stress can have a really detrimental impact on our mental and physical health. Initially this can manifest as headaches, sleep disturbances and difficulty concentrating but if it becomes chronic it significantly increases our susceptibility to developing depression, heart disease and/or substance use disorders.

However, the good news is that, believe it or not, you have some control over how stressed you get and how you cope with it. And that calls for a trifecta approach involving mind, body and soul!


  • Establish work-life boundaries.Disconnect from work in the evenings.  Don’t check your emails from home in the evenings or at weekends (unless you have to!).
  • Cultivate gratitude. Research has shown that reduces a multitude of toxic emotions such as stress, resentment, frustration and regret. Multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
  • Learn how to relax. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises and mindfulness can help melt away stress.
  • Take your lunch breaks. Wolfing down your lunch quickly at your desk will only add to your stress. Go outside, relax somewhere peaceful and enjoy your food. The break will help you clear your head and help you focus when you return to your work.


  • Make healthy eating choices. You can’t fight stress with cake, wine or french fries. A few simple dietary changes may boost cognitive function and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Keep fighting fit. Pick an activity you enjoy and practice it regularly. This will improve your body’s ability to use oxygen and improve blood flow and help lower your overall stress levels and improve your quality of life, both mentally and physically. Exercise also increases your brain’s production of endorphins – the “feel-good” neurotransmitters that are responsible for “runner’s high” and help you get a better night’s sleep!
  • Get your required rest. Sleep and mood are directly related. During sleep your brain repairs your body physically and mentally, so good-quality sleep is vital for effective stress management. Stick to a sleep schedule and try to incorporate a relaxing bedtime ritual.


  • Reconnect with your whole self. With all the things competing for our attention it is easy to lose sight of what make you YOU. Each of us is more than the work we do. When our life is full of nothing but work and obligations, we begin to feel bitter, resentful, depressed, and even angry. Take time to reflect and remember what your core values are spend time nurturing your relationship with yourself.
  • Spend time with those you love. Positive relationships with close friends and family can buffer stress and facilitate physical health. Social connections like these not only give us pleasure, they also influence our long-term health in ways every bit as powerful as adequate sleep, a good diet, and not smoking.
  • Make time for hobbies and favorite activities. Think about what gets you excited and makes you have and dedicate regular time to enjoying that pastime – from reading a book to pottery to trainspotting! This is valuable YOU time. Few things relieve stress and energize you like an activity you love doing.


So, now you should be all set to make some positive changes and manage that stress.

However, if your workplace issues are more serious and can’t be managed alone, for example, in the case of harassment or bullying, then it’s a good idea to talk to your supervisor at your earliest convenience.  Happy employees are productive employees so it is in your employer’s interests to provide you with support.

Your employer may also have stress management resources available through an employee assistance program (EAP), including online information, available counseling and referral to mental health professionals.

For some great resources on mental health at work, check out Great West Life’s Workplace Strategies for mental Health.


By Lorna Allen, CMHA BC

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