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How to Handle Stress at Work

How To Handle Stress At Work

"I'm away from my desk or on the phone, but if you leave a message, I’ll call you back."


Ho-hum. Just another typical day in the workplace rat race where things happen now or sooner, instantly or at least overnight. Time is money. Money is measured by time. There’s never enough of either—time or money. Deadlines, headlines, mergers, downsizing, downloading, computer down time. Shift work, shift gears, shift paradigms, double quotas, retool, reboot, right size, wrong number. No time to eat. Forget about that lunchtime walk. Then fax em, FedEx it, send a courier across town. Vacation? Forget it, the work piles up. The assembly line moves ever onward.

For the typical workplace and the men and women who inhabit it—when is enough ENOUGH?


More fatal heart attacks occur on Monday than on any other day of the week. Why? It’s called Black Monday syndrome. How could our hearts know what day of the week it is?

You’re feeling trapped—out of control, not challenged and stressed from your job. Fix these and perhaps the phenomenon of Black Monday can be overcome, although the so-called solution to fixing stress is not that simple. Stress-causing conditions at work and at home can contribute to your overall sense of loss of control. Use the tips and strategies within this brochure to manage and alleviate the work stress you encounter on a daily basis.

STRESS. It’s different things to different people, but it can affect the way you deal with daily events in your life.


Stress, by definition, is the inability to cope with a threat (real or imagined) that results in a series of physical responses and adaptations.

You may respond to a traffic jam on the office commute with anger and frustration while someone else may view the same situation as a time to relax and get away from it all and might listen to music. A co-worker may thrive on deadlines, but maybe you think of them as “dreadlines.” Therefore, stress can be good stress (eustress) or bad stress (distress).

Good stress can take place during happy, exciting times such as a marriage, a promotion, new job, or birth of a child. Most of us are familiar with the bad stress such as the death of a family member or friend, divorce, financial problems, or working with and for difficult people.

Are You Running on Empty?

“You often hear that there’s no room in the workplace for emotions, yet many people live in a pool of negative emotions, drowning in anger at the boss, irritation at co-workers, anxiety over downsizing, and worry about family concerns,” says Jerry Kaiser, director of health services for the Institute of HeartMath.

Ever been to a stress management class? Did it work? Not really.

“The reason most well-intended self-help books and stress management programs don’t work,” says Kaiser, “is that people get a lot of information that sounds good, but then they walk out the door and the ‘noise’ of life becomes louder than the information, and life goes back to its baseline of low-grade frustration or worry.”

FEELINGS -- not information—change behavior. Here’s an example: Try to recall something that made you feel angry whether it was 10 minutes ago or 10 years ago. BOOM! The pumping efficiency of your heart has just decreased up to 10%, according to one researcher. And these recalled feelings of anger can produce a weakening effect on your heart. But now picture a moment when the boss unexpectedly recognized something important you did for the company. You feel a boost of energy and clarity. Life feels good.

Shift Your Emotional Gears

“When there’s an angry customer on the phone,” Kaiser explains, “or you’re angry at your boss, you can’t wait four hours to get to the gym to work out your anger. The key is to immediately shift your emotional gears out of reverse and at least into neutral.

“Everyone has a picture of their family or a favorite place or their pet on their desk or wall, in their locker or in their wallet or purse. Simply using that picture to recall the good feeling you associate with it,” Kaiser points out, “can have a powerful effect. Freeze-frame that happy moment, push the pause button and find yourself transported to a more pleasant emotional place.”

Here’s What We Already Know About Stress:

Even if you are in the best physical condition of your lifetime, you may still be at risk for any number of stress-related disorders.

  • About one million people in this country are absent from work each day because of stress-related disorders
  • 72% of Americans experience frequent stress-related physical or mental conditions (refer to the list on this page for the most common symptoms).
  • According to a recent survey, the top causes of stress in the workplace include job insecurity, understaffing, personality conflicts, external competitive pressures, and changing technology.
  • Recent data shows that when stress occurs, only 29% of adults say they are doing an excellent or very good job at managing or reducing it.
  • Some research indicates that if you have little or no control over your work or low levels or no levels of support, you are nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease.
  • Up to 44% of women and 36% of men want to quit their jobs because of workplace stress.


  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Tight neck and shoulder muscles
  • Feelings of anger
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Sadness or depression
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Colds or congestion
  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhea, spastic colon or intestinal disorder
  • Sore jaw muscles
  • Poor appetite
  • Bronchitis, pneumonia or asthma
Stress — (stres) n. [ < L. strictus ] 1. strain; specif., force that strains or deforms 2. a) mental or physical tension

Now That You Know It, Here’s Your Chance To Take Action!

Talk Freely With One Another

With all the talk about quality, sometimes you need to present your supervisor with the idea that a team approach to problem solving may actually work. Encourage your employer to create an environment in which you and your co-workers may talk freely with one another, AND with their managers, without fear of repercussions; that also means that management must listen and follow through on ideas that are clearly improvements. Working in teams can reduce stress. Keep lines of communication open.

Reduce Personal Conflicts

There’s nothing worse than not knowing what’s expected of you on the job. Make sure you have clearly defined job duties and that your manager has expressed, often in writing, his or her expectations for you. There’s no reason for you to be “steamed” with no recourse. Attend training sessions offered to you and keep open communication. Learn to defuse your emotions in the moment—think of a tranquil place or happy moment and focus on “being there.” This will help you cool down and prevent you from bursting out at the workplace.

Get Control Over Your Schedule

In the era of downsizing when companies are trying to do more with less money and fewer employees, you may often be pressured into more overtime with higher expectations from management. Work with management on scheduling issues. Are you over-committed outside the workplace? Take control of your calendar. Just saying no sometimes to meetings or other demands on your time can free up time in your schedule and reduce stress.

Use Wellness Benefits

A comprehensive wellness program can help you make life-saving, lifestyle choices and should be part of every company’s employee benefits package. If you don’t have flextime, ask your supervisor to consider it, especially if you need 15 minutes or more of flexibility in your schedule to get the kids to school or activities or to fit in a workout during the workday. Check your human resource center for other helpful benefits that can reduce your stress.

If you don't have flextime, ask your supervisor to consider it.

Use Your Personal Leave Or Vacation Benefits

Take your scheduled vacations. Or go on a mini-vacation during the workday (such as a meditation room, a quiet room away from office chatter). Use this time to recharge and relax.

Use Available Support Options

Use your employee assistance program (EAP), local mental health providers, or hospital-based family and mental health counselors to learn coping strategies. Most EAP programs are confidential and off-site. Alcohol and substance abuse problems and marital problems can be devastating and certainly stress producing. Leverage these resources if you or your family needs it.


Stress is not a disease. It’s the result of what Bruce Cryer of the Institute of HeartMath calls an emotional virus. And he outlines some of the symptoms of infection.

Symptoms include:

  • constant stream of complaints
  • defeatism
  • resentment
  • “us vs. them” mentality
  • judgmental
  • suspicious
  • chronic anxiety
  • fear
  • intolerance
  • resignation
  • antagonism
  • despair

“All these symptoms can be seen, heard, and felt in lunchrooms, by the water cooler or copier, in mail rooms and board rooms, at happy hour and other ‘just us’ conversations,” according to Cryer. “If these are present—and it may take some honest questions to find out—the organization has a responsibility to get healthy.

“The virus has a serious price tag, but its effects can be neutralized,” Cryer says. “Without tools reinforced in the organizational setting, it takes a true warrior, saint, or Superman to work in some of these rigid, toxic environments and maintain a consistently high level of mental and emotional stability and flexibility. Many of our brightest and best are saying they’ve simply had enough.”

Take Action!

The goal of stress management, then, is not to get rid of stress—but rather manage it.

For More Information

International Stress Management Association
National Mental Health Association 1(800) 969-6642


WELCOA (Wellness Council of America
17002 Marcy Street, Suite 140
Omaha, NE 68118
Phone: (402) 827-3590

©2014 Wellness Councils of America

The information contained in this brochure has been carefully reviewed for accuracy. It is not intended to replace the advice of your physician or health care provider.