Work-related stress is not new to any employee. Some would say that it comes with the job, that this is a manifestation of you working hard, going beyond your capabilities. It becomes a drive, an incentive to reward yourself or even expect rewards from others. Both the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) define this type of stress as the physical and mental response when our abilities no longer parallel the demands of our job. Employees have always sought this to be typical and expected in their work lives.
This kind of stress becomes a drive rather than an indication that something could be going wrong. We have used it to motivate ourselves to work harder, find alternatives, or even use stress-related coping mechanisms as rewards when we deem our work done and with quality. Normalizing it in the workplace and even in our lives has changed and shaped our perspective entirely of what we think is good for ourselves and what we think we deserve.
However, there are quite a few reasons why we ignore all these signs of work-related stress. Most importantly, it is how it has become normalized in our workplaces. You have probably had thoughts in your head like:
Everybody is as stressed out as I am. It is all part of the job.
All this will pay off eventually when I get my pay or when I get the promotion.
It has become part of the ordinary, of the running list of the quintessential aspects of the job. You have your typical work clothes, your necessary equipment, and the skills that go along with them. You have your responsibilities, your boss, your colleagues, your go-to vending machine and parking space, and finally, you have your everyday workplace stress to complete the picture.
What exactly makes work very stressful?
You’re probably thinking, well, not all stress is inherently wrong, right? Isn’t there this thing called good stress? The type of stress can motivate you to work harder and achieve your goals? That is true. Some would even go as far as saying that stress is a sign that you’re alive, that you’re doing something. The healthy type of stress, the type that makes you compete for a promotion or finish a project before the deadline, exists. The problem now is letting that stress fester until it becomes detrimental for us. We ignore it because, in the beginning, it was only a drive to be better.
We constantly define and redefine normal for us. There is not one individual who can set it while the rest of us follow. Establishing our reality comes from experience and the ever-changing dynamics of our relationship. It is why what was normal ten years ago is not the same normal we have now. Some things stay, our so-called traditions, but eventually, we end up changing the things that no longer work for us.
The most noticeable change in the workforce would be the #HustleCulture which has blurred the lines of work-related stress. When it started gaining traction around 2018 to 2019, that same level of stress that could potentially lead to burnout was overtly glorified on social media, effectively changing once again the views you should have when it comes to working. It emphasized grit, hustle, and essentially, what looks to be rewarding workaholism. While it did manage to convince people to love their work and the work-life more, it also neglected the signs of severe work-related stress that would naturally come with overworking.
What essentially makes work stressful, aside from the everyday work demands and pressure, is the idea that you need that kind of stress in the first place to validate your work ethic and skill一 that without it existing in your life, you have yet to achieve anything.
Is work-life balance achievable?
The severity of that stress, especially if left unaddressed, can potentially lead to burnout一 state where we become so exhausted with our work, we lose our overall willingness and strength to complete the demands of our jobs. It can be characterized by constantly losing focus, finding it difficult to be productive, and no longer looking forward to rewarding ventures such as the possibility of promotion or becoming the head of a project. The dangerous part is confusing burnout for the so-called fruits of our labor. Even more, is our failure to recognize the signs due to its normalcy.
Work from Home during the Pandemic
It’s easy to think that the current pandemic exacerbated matters due to the sudden transition to a work-from-home setup. It blurred the lines between home and work, personal and professional, leading to a feeling of loss一 loss of boundaries, structure, routine, or maybe even the loss of identity. While the physical movement of going to and fro from work allowed us to physically and mentally feel these boundaries, the work-from-home setup suddenly changed that. We were left to adapt as quickly as possible.
In the beginning, it was easy to look forward to the future when all of this was over. It felt like compensation for all the current hardships. However, as that future seemed more distant, fear, frustration, and restlessness became pillars in our everyday lives. The reality of work-life balance felt impossible. It had felt near impossible to achieve in a pandemic that seems to go on and on and on. Although, this could be the time to unpack and understand work-life balance and maybe realize that it’s not as necessary as we believed.
Redefining Work-Life Balance
The truth is work-life balance in itself is flawed and inevitably unachievable. Your work and your life aren’t two separate entities where you need to stretch yourself thin, constantly pulling and pushing between the two. They are not individual rooms for you to jump to and fro. Your work doesn’t determine your life as much as your life doesn’t determine your work.
You are just who you areー living and surviving for as long as you can.
The energy you decide to put into your work and life is holistic. It’s not meant to be divided and ratioed, leaving you with nothing for yourself and your future. Both are important though both aren’t supposed to pull you apart either.
Can we Recover from Workplace Stress?
How to recover from work-related stress is not an easy path, nor will it happen overnight. Like everything else in this world, it’s a long and winding process that ultimately doesn’t have an end. Although unlike a pandemic to which we all want to see wrap up, valuing yourself is an everyday endeavor. As you take a step back and evaluate where you put your energy in and how much of it you spend, it gives you a clearer picture of what you value the most.
The Value We Put Into Work
Work-related stress comes from many places, one of which, possibly the most important one out there, is the amount of value we put into our work (sometimes more than we put into ourselves). We tend to make our work determine the rest of our life, therefore determining our value as well. The reality of work-life balance is not enough. We cannot help but have the two blend into each otherー, not a bad thing either. It’s how we are as human beings. Every experience, every milestone, and every aspiration makes up who we are. The value we put into who we are allows us the energy to fulfill all of those.
Instead of determining how much time and energy we should allot for work and our personal lives, re-valuing ourselves allows us to set a standard for how much we are willing to give and a boundary of our limits. The severity of stress and burnout trace back to the lack of these boundaries, believing that we have unyielding energy because we need it that way to fulfill the demands of our work. We need to give our whole to both the personal and the professional, instead of cutting it in half.
Setting The Right Boundaries
Recovering starts with confronting some of the hard-hitting truths we tend to ignore. One of which, as mentioned, is blurring the lines between stress and burnout with normalcy in the workplace environment. When we start to draw the line between our motivation to do work versus the fear and anxiety to do work which ultimately leads to stress, we can trace back the roots of our possible burnout. The normalcy we grew accustomed to, where work starts to seep into every aspect of our lives, needing us to constantly be productive and at our best, needs to be broken down first.
You can start by classifying things between what is okay and what is not okay. Tell yourself that leading projects is okayーhelps you foster leadership skills and build teamwork among your colleagues. Working beyond 40 hours a week is not okay and is not sole proof of your value and productivity. Having busy days and looking ahead is okay, but the stress of constantly overthinking what will happen in the next few weeks is not the norm. Not being productive every day is okay. Giving yourself time to ponder on where your life is going or if you need it to go somewhere right now in the first place is okay. If you’re having trouble figuring it all out, that is okay too. Setting the boundaries between what is okay and what isn’t, is a good starting point in breaking down what causes your stress in the first place.
Healing is Not A Competition
The pandemic exposed how difficult it was to boost employee morale in such trying times where seeing each other or giving one another a pat on the back is no longer allowed. Setting boundaries is not just about setting limits or closing yourself off. Time for yourself is also equally valuable as time together. Take time for yourself and handle this healing process on your own.
You start to realize that you can share that healing process too. You begin to realize that, unlike in the workplace, healing is not a competition.
It can be the little mundane things, really. Taking a step back can be reconnecting with loved ones or old friends or even allowing yourself to zone out for a while if it helps clear out the anxiety or fears in your head. It can be talking to yourself, reflecting on how the stress of it all has been affecting you, what you do to handle it or how you wish you did.
Take The First Step in Overcoming Work-Related Stress
Look into talking to other people who can give you a new perspective on overcoming work-related stress and burnout. Stress therapy and counseling for professionals is an example of interventions like this. These can help you understand the root cause of stress and how to recover from it. These research-backed interventions for specialized populations can also help you prevent stress from becoming too overwhelming and hampering your mental well-being.
What is most important right now is to re-value yourselfー understand that you and your energy are whole and not meant to split for different things, especially now, where it seems that the world is teetering at the edge of this new normal.
We need to find what we truly value and figure out how to intercept that in all aspects of our lives.
We are, after all, more than just the sum of our parts.
When you feel that the severity of that stress has become overwhelming and there seems to be no way around it, take a step back and revisit the energy used for far too long. To help you out, give us a call at 866-766-8776 or visit us at 3939 Atlantic Ave., Suite 102 Long Beach, CA 90807, United States.