First off, who here knows what ‘stress’ really is? We know what it feels like, and we know our body reacts to it, but what is it actually?

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, stress is a reaction to a situation and isn’t about the actual situation. We usually feel stressed when we think that the demands of the situation are greater than our resources to deal with it.

Stress can activate the fight or flight part of our brain regardless of whether the ‘threat’ is real or perceived. That means that whenever Tom Cruise is stuck in an impossible situation, we’re genuinely stressed because our brains don’t understand fake threats.

What triggers work-related stress? Stress at work is generally a combination of the high demands of the job and a low amount of control over the situation. 

Leave work at work 

Easier said than done, especially if you’re working from home. An easy way to do this is to add a little activity right after work to break up the day and to create a transition from work to home time. 

For example, take a 10-minute walk to help change the environment and break that ‘I’m at work’ mentality. Going to the gym can work too. 

If your work requires physical labour, then maybe you can transition by taking a quick nap, relaxing in a chair or doing something physical that you find fun. Walk the dog? Bike ride with the fam? This will help you mentally break away from work and enjoy your evening/after-work hours at home.

Not bringing work home is also a mental game. If you’re still thinking about work or sending work emails after your workday is done, this affects the quality of your home life. If you find yourself bringing work home often, maybe it’s time to talk to your manager to help you figure out how to delegate some of your tasks to co-workers.

Get enough sleep

I know everyone says they don’t get enough sleep, and for many of us, it feels like there aren’t enough hours in a day. However, sleep is important to your mental well-being. If you’re not regularly getting 7 to 9 hours a night, you should try making it a priority. This small lifestyle tweak can be life-changing.

There has been some research on optimal times to sleep, and for a person with a regular 9 to 5, these work. For everyone else, if you’re getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep consistently, you’re good.

Going to bed at the same time every night and creating a nighttime routine, such as reducing screen time and limiting the amount of water you drink right before bed, can help lower stress and improve performance at work.

Not sleeping well? Do you ever stress-wake in the middle of the night? How to fall asleep after stress waking.

Eat well

Eating a well-balanced diet helps your body lower stress naturally. Eating healthy is really about the choices we make every day. Cheat days are okay; however, keep in mind that sugar and fatty foods can make you feel worse if you’re already stressed out. If you find yourself eating crappy foods when you’re stressed, that can be a problem. Here’s how to tell if you’re stress eating.

Studies show that a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables can actually help you feel less stressed. So ditch the processed foods when you can and replace them with meals you make yourself, like chana dal or tandoori chicken. Make extras so you can eat the leftovers for lunch at work the next day. 

Stay hydrated

Men should aim to drink 8 to12 cups of water a day, depending on temperatures, activity etc. Do all of us hit our daily target? Probably not. The good news is that coffee counts towards your daily fluid intake (although coffee can make some people feel more stressed). So does soup, milk, teas, and fruit. However, water is still the ultimate way to stay hydrated.

Keeping your brain hydrated is essential in maintaining good emotional and physical health

Our muscles don’t cramp up when they’re hydrated, and our blood circulation stays at a healthy level, keeping our hearts healthy. Water is essential, just like oxygen. 8 cups isn’t a lot, and there are other ways to stay hydrated beyond water. 

Take breaks at work 

Not everyone likes to eat at work, and that’s okay as long as you aren’t passing out due to low blood sugar or getting hangry. But there are other ways to utilize your breaks at work. Here are some easy ways to bust out some moves in your office.

Then there are some of us who don’t take breaks at all, which only adds to our stress. 

Giving yourself time to breathe is extremely important. If you’re not a big “break-taker” (made up word), take 15 seconds to breathe deeply, 5 to 10 deep breaths, and you’ve just pumped your body with oxygen which boosts your natural stress-relief hormones.

What is self-created stress?

Stressed man at desk

How do we know if the stress we feel is something we’ve done to ourselves or whether it’s external? Most self-created stress comes from expectations we’ve placed on ourselves, such as unrealistic expectations and goals to be the ‘best’ at life, whether it be at work or home. 

Cut yourself some slack, no one is perfect, and life doesn’t need to be about the pursuit of perfection. Take it from award-winning sports analyst and former NHL Goaltender Kelly Hrudey.

Does your self-worth come from your job?  

According to a paper by Ravia Dhaliwal:

“A lot of men’s sense of self-worth comes from his job and what he makes,” and if a man is unable to find that employment or make the money he needs to survive, his self-perception lowers, creating conditions where he may face mental health issues as a result of his paycheck.

What can you do to not associate your self-worth with the work you do or the money you bring in? One way is to pursue hobbies, charity work, or other things that hold meaning for you outside of work. Another thing you can try is asking yourself whether you live to work or work to live.

Stress indicators

Here are some of the symptoms of work-related stress:

  • Headaches
  • Troubled sleep
  • Problems concentrating
  • Short temper
  • Upset stomach
  • Low morale

Job-related stress can lead to burnout and health problems. The reasons for feeling stressed can be:

Lack of control

Feelings of helplessness or not being in control can cause stress.  For example, when you’re rushing to complete a project but someone else is responsible for the delay, especially if someone is your boss. 

Increased responsibility

When more is added to your plate and you feel like you can’t say no to new tasks. If work isn’t distributed evenly, it can seem unfair. Feelings of unfairness can be a significant cause of stress.

Job performance and satisfaction

If you feel like your job isn’t meaningful and you’re not exactly proud of it, it can feel like a burden. If you feel like you might lose your job because of performance issues, but there’s nothing the company offers to support you or help you perform better, this can lead to an increase in stress.

Poor working conditions 

If your working conditions make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, it can be challenging to perform the job daily, and that can cause stress. 

Poor communication 

If the culture at your work is not open, it’s possible you’ll feel stressed because you’re unable to express concerns. Also, if there is poor communication within the company and you’re unclear about the expectations, mistakes will often be made.  

Is there such a thing as ‘good’ stress?

Yes, there is. Stress is a reaction that can sometimes push you to achieve better things. It can create a sense of drive that helps you take on major projects or perhaps make a career switch. Good stress can encourage you to do better and sometimes motivate you to find solutions. But, stress becomes harmful when it’s chronic or left unchecked. 

Don’t let work-related stress get the better of you. Try out some of the above tips and enjoy your free time to the fullest.

Got any stress relief tips that work for you? Drop a line in the comments below!

Not Feeling Like Yourself?

Tackle chronic stress, anxiety and depression with MindFit Toolkit. Access free mental health tools designed for men.

Mindfit launch