People with full-time jobs spend, on average, 40 hours per week at their workplace, not counting the commute time or work they might bring home. According to Gettysburg College, that roughly translates, for the average person, about 90,000 hours during their lifetime. In other words, that’s about one-third of their life. For individuals who work in a stressful environment or feel stressed on a regular basis because of their job, that amounts to what mental healthcare experts would call chronic stress, and it can impede both mental and physical health.
Understanding the Impact of Work Stress on Mental Health and Wellbeing
First of all, stress is stress. Relationship stress, stress resulting from grief, caregiver stress, work stress–these various types of stress can all take a toll on a person’s mental health (and physical health) if they become chronic. Stress is something everyone feels at times, but when a person doesn’t get adequate reprieve from it, it can erode their resilience, undermine their mood, and sabotage their health.
The Corporate Wellness Magazine reports that workplace stress results in heightened risk of “anxiety, burnout, depression, and substance use disorders.” There’s also a substantial body of medical evidence that suggests chronic workplace stress increases the risk for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders, and immune deficiency disorders, to name a few.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that workplace stress can “increase mental health challenges.” The stress is also likely to affect employees’ performance in the workplace when it comes to productivity, communication, and daily functioning. Many employees also find it difficult to simply “turn off” the stress when they return home. It’s not uncommon for people with chronic workplace stress to find that it impacts their relationships and may even be a factor in engaging in unhealthy coping behaviors like drinking and smoking.
Of course, most people don’t need a medical journal to tell them that their job is making them feel miserable. They can, however, benefit from guidance and support as they address their stress and attempt to cope with it in healthy ways that support their mental and physical wellbeing.
Different Types of Therapy and Their Effectiveness in Managing Work-Related Stress
When stress has reached a point where it has impacted one’s mental health to a clinical degree, it’s important to address it with the help of a therapist. Too often, people dismiss the idea of therapy. After all, how is a therapist going to change their office culture? That’s not the point of therapy, however. Therapists help individuals manage their stress more successfully and, in turn, improve their mental health. The following are some of the therapeutic approaches that therapists use to help patients/clients cope with work-related stress:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Techniques and Strategies for Identifying Changing Negative Thoughts and Behaviors
We don’t often consider that when it comes to stressful situations we might be part of the problem. That is to say, the way in which we cope could be problematic. CBT is a form of talk therapy used to treat many different mental and behavioral health conditions. During CBT sessions, therapists help clients understand the powerful connections between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Identifying negative thoughts/emotions is the first step to developing strategies for managing them and reducing the stress they cause–and reducing any negative behaviors that occur as a result.
Say you had a tense meeting with your boss or a colleague and have been stewing about it for a couple weeks. You now think that they hate you and that your job is in jeopardy. You feel really anxious and are having trouble eating and sleeping. In a situation like this, the CBT therapist is likely to confront your premise that these individuals now hate you or have it out for you in some way, a belief that is triggering your stress. The therapist will also likely tell you that you’re magnifying a negative and help you adjust your perspective.
That’s just one example. Over the course of a week, there might be numerous stress triggers on the job that push and pull your thoughts and feelings out of whack. With ongoing CBT, therapists help clients learn when their thoughts and emotions are out of whack and how to rein them in for improved stress management and peace of mind.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): Techniques and Strategies for Cultivating Mindfulness and Coping with Stressful Situations
MBSR is a form of stress reduction that many mental healthcare practitioners recommend in conjunction with traditional forms of therapy like CBT. MBSR doesn’t “cure” stress, but it helps people to cope better. This form of therapy is used to treat people with various conditions, including anxiety, depression, and even chronic pain. MBSR therapists help clients to incorporate and practice mindfulness in their everyday lives.
The therapy essentially blends mindfulness and yoga to promote effective stress management. Therapists teach clients how to focus on elements such as breathing in order to temporarily clear their minds and adjust their focus. During these breaks from stress, the brain can heal and become more resilient in its ability to cope with stress. Many of the techniques can be practiced outside of therapy and for the long term, affording people with methods they can use whenever they’re feeling stressed.
Other Types of Therapy and Treatment Approaches for Managing Work Stress
There are still other methods for addressing chronic work-related stress. Some methods work better for some than others. The goal is to find what works best to help you manage your stress so you experience an improvement in your mental health and overall wellbeing.
Many people carry past emotional trauma or unpleasant memories/unsatisfactory coping methods with them to work. This isn’t to suggest that it’s the fault of these past experiences that the person experiences stress; negative things happen to people at work and it often is no fault of their own. However, to improve one’s resilience to stress and workplace negativity, it can be helpful to examine these repressed memories that impact how a person feels and copes in the present, making this a helpful form of treatment for many individuals.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
DBT can help people cope with work-related stress by increasing their distress tolerance. There are many jobs–first responders, for example–where stress is an inevitable part of the job. Certain occupations put people in stressful situations where it becomes crucial for them to become more comfortable with the distress that these situations cause. It’s not a matter of learning to ignore distress or bury it; during sessions, therapists help clients confront it and find healthy ways to cope with the distress they feel.
The presence of a mental health disorder often impedes a person’s ability to manage stress. Medication can help. Some people require medication for the short-term in conjunction with therapy. Others need medication indefinitely, based on their unique chemistry. Fortunately, there are many non-addictive medications that address chemical imbalances and relieve mental health symptoms.
Whether in conjunction with a medication or not, there are many therapies that can help address workplace stress. If one option doesn’t work, try another. When you find the right therapist, your mental health will thank you.