What can we do about work related stress?

I bought an alarm clock recently. For some years I have used my smart phone as an alarm clock but I’ve noticed that at times of stress when I wake at night I’ve been reaching for my phone and checking my emails. That’s just crazy! There is no expectation on the part of my employer or my patients that I will work in the middle of the night but it has become reflexive and obsessive.

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I bought an alarm clock recently...

For some years I have used my smart phone as an alarm clock but I’ve noticed that at times of stress when I wake at night I’ve been reaching for my phone and checking my emails. That’s just crazy! There is no expectation on the part of my employer or my patients that I will work in the middle of the night but it has become reflexive and obsessive.

Contributing factors to work stress

The beyondblue’s website lists these factors as being a big part of the stress that we feel at work: Click here to view website 

  • working long hours or overtime, working through breaks or taking work home
  • time pressure, working too hard or too fast, or unrealistic targets
  • work that's monotonous and dull, or which doesn't use your range of skills or previous training
  • roles where you have low levels of control or inadequate support from supervisors and/or co-workers
  • job insecurity
  • a lack of role clarity or poor communication
  • conflict with colleagues or managers 
  • bullying Click here
  • discrimination – whether based on gender, ethnicity, race or sexuality. Click here

Only some of these are in our control but it is important that we recognise and do something about the things we can change.

My new alarm clock has solved my nocturnal email obsession. The phone is now on the charger in another room and if I do wake I have nothing to distract me from going back to sleep again but my own thoughts. Therein, of course, lies another problem and that has a different solution!

But getting back to the workplace issues, it seems that many people have jobs that are not good for their mental health. Many people blame the job and their employer and don’t think to take any action for themselves but it takes effort both on the part of the employer and of the employee to ensure that work does not affect mental health.

Managing work stress

We all need to learn to say no to unreasonable expectations whether they be the boss’s or just our own unreasonable expectations of ourselves. We can all take action to prevent work encroaching on the rest of our lives, from buying new alarm clocks to practicing mindfulness, and we can even make sure that our dull and boring jobs are balanced by interesting things going on in the rest of our lives.

That’s not to say that employers should be let off the hook when it comes to their employees’ mental health. Workplaces need to be safe, secure and free of uncertainty and toxic interactions. But we can help ourselves a little as workers too.

Have a look at the “Taking Care of Your Mental Health in the Workplace” on the beyondblue website.  It’s a good place to start. Click here to read  

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Dr Jan Orman

Jan is Sydney GP, private psychological medicine practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and a GP educator for Black Dog Institute.

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