If you’ve lately noticed that you’re making mistakes at work, it can very well be due to stress, or rather, stress that’s not dealt with properly. Stress is normal, and there’s no escaping it. In small doses, stress can motivate you to get stuff done, or help you cope with a high-pressure situation. This is because of the adrenaline that’s released into your blood.
However, high levels of stress over a prolonged period of time can adversely affect your performance at work. Since unmanaged stress leads to poor decision-making and general anxiety, you are bound to make more mistakes when you’re stressed. Learning how to minimize the stressors in your life and also manage your stress better, will positively affect your work performance.
The Effect of Unmanaged Stress in the Workplace
Making mistakes at work due to stress is more common than you may think. In a world that consists of constant and sometimes unreasonable deadlines, it has become the norm to put in long hours. However, longer hours don’t necessarily equate improved performance. Instead of heading for a promotion, you may actually be heading towards burnout. Here are a few of the effects that chronic and unmanaged stress can have on a person:
Poor Decision Making
“Stress brain” is characterized by decreased cognitive functioning due to the presence of higher levels of cortisol in the body over a prolonged period of time. The effect of stress brain is that you think and act at a slower pace, which results in poor decision making. Stress also negatively affects your capacity to recall and memorize facts, which also leads to poor decision-making.
A Decrease in Creative Thinking
Since stress brain results in an overall decline in mental function, it also negatively affects creative thinking. Stress actually hijacks your higher brain functions and leaves you only with habitual responses. Accessing that “zone” in which you can become creative and make new associations requires a relaxed state.
Chronic stress causes all sorts of health problems. Stress activates the “fight-or-flight” response, which is an evolutionary survival mechanism that enables humans to react effectively in life-threatening situations. When your body goes into the “fight-or-flight” mode, your nervous system releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones cause your muscles to contract, your heart to beat faster, your blood pressure to rise, and your senses to become sharper.
The problem is that people in the modern world tend to overreact to daily stressors that are not life-threatening. The effects of chronic stress include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a weak immune system, and digestive issues. Often, people with chronic stress also have sleeping problems and may suffer from anxiety, depression, and irritability.
How To Manage Stress At Work
You are never going to be able to completely avoid stress in your private life or in the workplace. For this reason, it makes sense to work on developing healthy coping mechanisms so that you can control how you react to the stressors in your life, instead of them controlling you. Here are a few ways in which you can prevent making mistakes at work due to stress:
Become Conscious of the Stressors in Your Life
The first step you can take in combating stress is to become fully aware of the various challenges that are causing stress in your life. Often, people may be experiencing high levels of stress on a daily basis without really being cognizant of the precise causes of their stress. You can keep track of your stressors by becoming more aware of your surroundings and daily events, and of how you react to these during the workday.
If you’re disciplined enough, keep a journal and note the times when you’re feeling stressed and anxious and why. Once you become more conscious of what’s stressing you out, you can have more control over your reactions.
Learn To Say No
Although you want to show your willingness to work hard and be a team player, it is also important to learn to say no. Your manager and co-workers may keep adding tasks to your workload when they know you’re bound to say yes all the time. If you start taking on too much work, you will inevitably start to suffer from burnout. Burnout is characterized by low levels of energy, difficulty in concentrating, and negative feelings towards one’s job.
These effects are obviously detrimental to productivity and lead to mistakes and sloppy work. Saying no doesn’t need to be offensive or rude. Aim to be kind but firm. Also, prepare yourself for the possibility that some co-workers may not react in a positive way. It’s OK.
Learn How To Deal With Conflict
Bad vibes and conflict in the office are potent stress triggers, especially if you’re somebody who doesn’t like confrontation. Since you cannot control the behavior of fellow workers, nor your work environment in general, you need to focus on how you deal with conflict and bad behavior in the office. One of the best ways to handle tension in the office is to improve your communication skills.
Effective communication is not just about honestly sharing your views and feelings — although this is super important — but also about really listening and taking on board the views of others. You must be willing to compromise if need be, and should never attack a fellow co-worker on a personal level. Also, steer away from the office gossip and becoming over-familiar with co-workers.
Draw Up a Schedule and Stick To It
Constantly being in a rush and missing deadlines will definitely push up your stress levels. To ensure that you remain on top of things, you need to be organized. It may be a good idea to create a weekly schedule in which you break down your list of tasks and timeframes. You can adjust your schedule on a daily basis since changes are bound to occur. Be strict about following your schedule and tick off tasks as you go along since this will provide you with a sense of accomplishment.
Hone Healthy Habits
The old adage that “a healthy body houses a healthy mind” is very relevant when it comes to stress management. Exercise, for instance, stimulates the release of feel-good hormones such as serotonin and dopamine. These brain chemicals help to regulate your mood and are effective in combatting stress since they activate feelings of motivation, satisfaction, and pleasure.
You also want to ensure that your body receives enough nutrients. Stress depletes the body of vitamins and minerals such as Vit C, Vit B, magnesium, and selenium. In addition, studies have shown that the amount of nutrients you ingest over time actually directly affects the body’s neural circuits that control your emotions and mood. Provide your body with nutrient-rich foods, such as fresh vegetables and fruits, legumes, and fish, and add supplements where need be.
Ask for Help
If you’re not coping with your work tasks or workload, you need to reach out to somebody for help. Although you may feel embarrassed to admit that you don’t know how to complete a task or that you are not coping, speaking up is better than making potentially costly mistakes, doing substandard work, or having a nervous breakdown. In general, people don’t mind assisting those who ask for help. The fact that you’ll receive assistance where you need it, and probably in a friendly way, makes asking for help well worth the effort.
Don’t Try To Multitask
Although the ability to multitask is often thought of as a great skill in the workplace, seeing that one is able to complete multiple tasks simultaneously, multitasking is actually a myth. Instead of doing two things at once, what you’re actually doing when you’re multitasking is quickly switching from one task to another. Trying to do multiple things in a short space of time is detrimental to productivity and you’re bound to make more mistakes. In addition, multitasking negatively affects short-term memory and creativity, and also leads to anxiety.
To ensure that you remain productive and keep your stress levels down, take regular breaks throughout the workday. Whether you get up to make a cup of coffee, walk around the block, or go for lunch, taking a break gives your mind the chance to reboot and gets your circulation going again.
In today’s world in which a culture of performance reigns, employees often tend to forfeit their lunch breaks and other shorter breaks in order to make deadlines and tick off their to-do lists. However, studies have shown that taking even short breaks helps the brain to process information and more quickly learn new skills. Scrolling through social media, though, doesn’t provide the benefits that you’ll get if you put your phone away and go for a stroll.
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Founder of Eggcellentwork.com. With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.