How to Address the Causes of Workplace Stress


The reality of work is that stress often accompanies it.  Although some degree of stress can be motivational and inspire us to complete tasks, in extremes, there is a definite dark side.

Excessive amounts of stress can adversely impact three areas of work and life:

  1. Physical:  insomnia, fatigue, elevated heart rate, tummy troubles
  2. Mental: slowness, worry, forgetfulness
  3. Behavioral:  disconnect from others, poor work relations, depression

However, whether stress becomes a minor nuisance or a major impediment to your productivity is, to some extent, within your control.

A frequent source of stress for my clients is the unknown:  What am I missing?  What have I forgotten?  Is someone waiting on me to do something?

Being organized can most certainly help you address those concerns.  Additionally, managing your time well at work can reduce the need for a “second shift” of work at home after hours.

So, let’s get specific.  How can you combat stress at work?  There are lots of stress-reduction exercises (e.g., breathing, yoga, visualizations, etc.) that can work well.  However, in my opinion, they treat the effects, not the causes of stress.


Below are three recommendations that I hope will help you address the causes of your workplace stress and nip the problem in the proverbial bud.


Understand that your brain was not made to accomplish some of the things we are expecting it to.

The human brain prioritizes whatever is “in your face” at any particular time.  With action items scattered across your email inbox, random notes, scattered task lists, etc., you are relying on your brain to be a traffic cop in an intersection waving cars through.  The cop prioritizes the cars (tasks) right in front of his face even if there is a woman in labor in the Subaru behind him.  Keep a centralized list of your to-dos to avoid missing a high priority item that is at your back.


Be realistic about what you can accomplish.

One of the most enlightening exercises for my clients is to create a comprehensive list of to-do items, even including those tasks that happen by rote as a part of daily/weekly/monthly job duties.  For many, there is an Ah-Ha moment when they realize that no sane human can possibly accomplish the volume of tasks on their list with any degree of quality or timeliness.  Your response to examining your comprehensive task list may influence decisions about work distribution, delegation, or prioritization.


Make your calendar reflect your priorities.

The biggest slap-in-the-face for me (career-wise, that is) happened on a plane when I was flying to Kansas for business as a twenty-something.  I was reading Stephen Covey’s book, Principle-Centered Leadership, and there was a section where Dr. Covey said something like “I can tell what is important to any person by inspecting his or her calendar.”  I put the book down and examined my Franklin Planner.  Had Dr. Covey looked there he would have concluded that I was a single female workaholic with no kids.  I was married with a toddler.  Slap.  I am still married and the kids are grown, but I can honestly say that my calendar is unmistakably that of someone who works, plays, exercises, fetches kids hither and yon, and prioritizes my family.  Block off time for the things that are important in your life.  AND, honor the time you have blocked off.


The three recommendations above are significant and can be extremely difficult to implement, I know.  I find my greatest work satisfaction by walking a client through this process.  If stress is starting to drain your mental and physical resources, please know that you are not alone, you are not in an unwinnable situation, and that there are steps you can take to tackle the root causes of the problem.


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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


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