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7 ways to tame on-the-job tension

A man sitting at his work desk with his hand pressed against his forehead.

Steps like establishing work-life boundaries, being willing to compromise and delegating tasks can help you feel more control at work.

Everybody is slammed with a stressful day at work occasionally. But for some of us, stress on the job is the rule rather than the exception. That stress can be brought on by many things. Among them: a low salary, excessive workload, little control over job-related decisions or conflicting demands.

But whatever the trigger, persistent stress on the job can cause headaches, disrupt sleep and affect concentration. It can also contribute to depression, raise your blood pressure and weaken your immune system.

Compounding the problem: People struggling with chronic stress may react in unhealthy ways—say, by overeating or self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.

Gain control

Still, no matter how difficult your work situation, you're not powerless. These seven tips from the American Psychological Association and HelpGuide can help you feel less tense and more in control:

1. Carve out work-life boundaries. In today's digital world, it's easy to feel pressured to be available for the job 24/7. But we all need downtime when we're not working or thinking about work. That might mean not checking email at home in the evenings or on weekends or answering phone calls during dinner. Also, don't let vacation days go unused—you've earned them, so use them.

2. Take breaks. Try to take short ones throughout your work day. Get away from your desk or work station for a short, brisk walk. Exercise releases feel-good brain chemicals. Chat with a friendly co-worker or practice a relaxation technique like deep breathing. You'll feel replenished and will actually be more productive.

3. Delegate. You don't have to do it all by yourself or be responsible for every task.

4. Think small. If a project seems overwhelming, divide into one doable step at a time.

5. Be flexible. Don't shy away from compromising. Adjusting your expectations may help you find a stress-free middle ground when conflicts crop up.

6. Do your best to stay positive. Try to steer clear of negative co-workers—frustration is contagious. And give yourself credit for what you accomplish, even small things.

7. Speak up. Talk to your supervisor about stressful working conditions. Silence won't help resolve them. But rather than just sticking to a list of complaints, try to come up with constructive ways to ease workplace tension.

Reach out

If steps like these don't help—and especially if you feel overwhelmed—seek support. Rather than bottling up your feelings, you might confide in a friend or family member who's a good listener. And don't hesitate to seek professional counseling.

Reviewed 5/17/2023

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