How to get a handle on work-related stress

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Work-related stress is an all-too-common problem in the workplace, and Santa Clarita isn’t immune from the health challenges stress can bring.

About 80 percent of workers report feeling stress on the job, according to the American Institute of Stress. Perhaps most troubling, nearly half of those people admit they need help in learning how to manage their stress.

The American Psychological Association notes that stressful work environments can contribute to a host of physical problems, including headache, sleep disturbances and short temper.

Chronic stress can produce more serious consequences such as high blood pressure while also weakening sufferers’ immune systems.

“People forget about the mind. They forget mind and body are connected,” said Amie Panicacci, Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital supervisor of social services.

Whether it’s a career in manufacturing, first responders or a quieter workspace, like the classroom, every “office” offers stressful challenges. Nearly two-thirds of educators, for example, find work always or often stressful which is twice the level felt by workers in the general population, according to a new survey from the American Federation of Teachers and the Badass Teachers Association.

The data comes from the “2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey,” which surveyed nearly 5,000 teachers and school staff members around the country.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents noted that their mental health was “not good” for seven or more of the past 30 days, reflecting a large increase from the 34 percent of respondents who described their mental health was “not good” in 2015.

 

In addition, 61 percent said they were often or always stressed and more than half agreed that they have less enthusiasm now than at the beginning of their careers.

Stress at the workplace also can make it difficult to concentrate, which in turn can compromise workers’ abilities to perform at the peak of their abilities. That supports the notion that stress is a problem for employees and employers alike.

 

What can be done

Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital offers assistance to its employees experiencing stress, through an employee assistance program.  

“(Employees) would be covered for mental health and counseling they might need,” Panicacci said.

The hospital offers employees support and referrals depending on their insurance.

“Social workers that work in the hospital meet with patients and discuss ways they can cope with stress,” Panicacci said. “We help coordinate a follow-up appointment.”

If patients or employees have Medi-Cal, they are provided information on county services, she said.

Getting a handle on stress can be difficult. Since so many people trace their stress to the jobs they need to get by, they might think it’s impossible to address that stress without derailing their careers. But there are a handful of ways for professionals to get a handle on their stress without negatively affecting their careers.

“Speak up, sometimes that’s difficult,” Panicacci said.

As noted, stress at the workplace can affect workers’ performance, which employers are looking to optimize. Workers can speak to their employers if they feel their work environments are conducive to stress. Work in tandem with an employer to develop time-saving strategies that make it easier to get work done on time.

Supervisors may encourage employees to delegate more often, freeing up time to get their work done. Employers may also direct employees to wellness resources that can help them more effectively combat stress. The outcomes of such discussions may never be known if workers never take the initiative and speak up about their stress.

Take More Time Off

According to the “State of American Vacation 2016” report from Project: Time Off, American workers failed to use 658 million vacation days in 2015. Vacation is not just a time to get away, but a valuable, effective way for workers to recharge. The APA notes that avoiding the negative effects of chronic stress and burnout requires workers to take time away to replenish and return to their pre-stress level of functioning. Taking time off to disconnect from work and avoid thinking about work can be just what workers need to overcome their work-related stress. And plenty of workers have the time to take off; they just need to take it.

Embrace Relaxation Methods

Some tips to relieve stress include: sleep, exercise, meditation, yoga, tai chi and eating healthy, according to Panicacci, who advocates “staying in touch with people who can provide emotional support, getting proper health care and seeking qualified mental health help.”

The APA recommends professionals coping with workplace stress embrace techniques that can effectively alleviate stress. Such techniques include meditation and deep-breathing exercises and can help workers develop their ability to focus purposefully on a single activity. That improved focus may help workers better navigate hectic working environments without succumbing to the stress such environments can produce.

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