March 27, 2024

Managing Work Stress: A Podcast with Elliot Behavioral Health Services

Sarah Bemish rejoins the podcast to discuss the growing issue of work stress and how to manage it. She offers practical advice about how to recognize the causes and symptoms, build resilience, and ensure work-life balance.

Learn More About Elliot Behavioral Health Services

"There are times when the stress becomes so much you don't even realize that you're in the stress until you're already so deep into the stress that you're just so overwhelmed you don't know what to do with it. So, looking for some of those symptoms can be really helpful."


Podcast Transcript 

Scott Webb: When it comes to work stress, some of us may get stressed because we have too much to do. Meanwhile, others might suffer stress because there's not enough to do. And though it's not one size fits all, Sarah Beamish, advanced practice registered nurse specializing in general psychiatry with Elliott Hospital is here today to break down workplace stress and offer some tips on how we can deal with it.

Scott Webb (Host): This is Your Wellness Solution, the podcast by Elliot Health System and Southern New Hampshire Health, members of SolutionHealth. I'm Scott Webb.

Scott Webb: Sarah, it's so nice to have you back on again. We spoke a couple months ago, I guess. And today we're going to talk about managing work stress and what work stress is and how folks can deal with it and how you can help them and all that good stuff. So, let's just start there. Is stress at work normal? And how much is too much.

Sarah Bemish: Scott, great to be back, and thanks so much for having me. Great topic to talk about. Work stress has actually been increasing, or maybe we're just more aware of it, to be completely honest with you, but work stress is not something that's uncommon and it's not always a bad thing, right? So, work stress can be related to a lot of different things.

It's actually listed as one of the top sources of stress for Americans from American Psychological Association. It can be helpful. I know stress is talked about as a really bad thing, but there are some positive aspects to stress that can be helpful. It can increase focus, it can increase energy, sometimes it can help people meet new challenges that they otherwise might not be able to do so.

Where work stress starts to become a problem, and it's different for everybody, is when it starts affecting your performance, your health. Your personal life, one of the aspects of work stress, or one of the things that we actually kind of look at with work stress and Forbes magazine did a great article on this in 2022, which was fantastic.

It came at the tail end of or middle of the global pandemic that we had. They talked about work stress being at an all-time high, which comes as no surprise. We had so many changes in the work environment during the global pandemic. And what they really kind of looked at was when you have work stress that has an impact on your physical, emotional wellbeing, and really has that impact on your life is when for each individual person, and keep in mind, this is individual, when the work stress exceeds a person's capacity and capability to cope with what is required of them.

And, Harvard Business Review did an article on this as well. This was back in 2022 and they were talking about work stress and how, people are five times more likely to leave their work. You're going to have a lot of the, not only emotional challenges that come with stress, but there's a lot of physiological challenges and also financial costs to companies because work stress has that much of an impact on people, depending on how much of an impact it does have.

You can have a serious drop in productivity. With work stress, you can lose the ability to be able to have some of that creativity that people really enjoy having and get that sense of value from work. And not only that but looking at how much it does have an impact outside of work and on your family life.

And so those are some really important things to take into consideration as we're talking about work stress, that it's individual for everybody. And for everyone, it may have a little bit of a different impact.

Scott Webb: I think you're right. I feel like a little stress goes a long way. Like I'm extra motivated when I feel a little bit of a time crunch, things like that.

But then there are times where. I'm sure for all of us, can feel like it's too much, right? So, it's like finding that balance of a little stress maybe is okay, too much stress is not okay, but just wondering what are some of the causes of work stress? I know what they are for me, but just in general terms, what are the causes?

Sarah Bemish: This is an interesting sort of component that they found is that when people are more stressed, they actually are less likely to be able to manage it effectively. So, let's talk about some of the causes because it's helpful to identify what might cause it so we can know what to do about it.

There are the usual things that people tend to think about, right? Low salaries, excessive workload that people have. Sometimes if there's not a whole lot of opportunity for growth in your role, that can cause some more stress for individuals. Obviously sometimes if there's some interpersonal conflict, if you don't always get along with everybody that's at the office, that can cause some increased stress there as well.

One of the other main things that they really found was a cause of work stress was not real clear expectations of what is expected for somebody. Changes in the work environment, so if management changes, if there's a lot of changes that need to occur within that workplace setting, that can cause a lot of work stress.

If the job is not exciting enough. If somebody's feeling bored at work, that can cause some stress. If somebody's feeling like they are required to do a lot more work and not really having the education for it, they haven't been able to develop some of those skills, that can increase the risk for work stress.

Financial concerns definitely can be a component of it as well too, but really, it's about those relationships and what's required at work and if somebody's able to really kind of navigate through some of those requirements that are there. Emails, phone calls, and meetings, those can also be a source of work stress if you think about the environments that we're in, in a work stress.

Our work environments have changed drastically during the pandemic. People would work from home, people wouldn't work for a period of time because workplaces closed down. There's been so many changes and now that individuals are going back into work or they're at home and they've got emails, phone calls, meetings all the time.

You're constantly getting inundated with information and that definitely can have a huge impact on work stress because you're never really able to separate from work as well.

Scott Webb: Yeah, it's interesting, right? Like for some folks, too many expectations, too much work could be stressful. And then for others, not enough information, not enough work to do, you know, unclear expectations. And as you say, it all sort of blended together for folks during the pandemic where we were working from home and sure, we're at home and we're maybe dressed more casually, but we're still being asked to work, and email, and Zoom.

And all of that, I can see where for folks all of this stuff could be stressful. They could be stress points for people. And again, as we're saying, like it's individualized in, that what may be stressful for some isn't stressful for others and vice versa, right?

Sarah Bemish: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, it's funny, right? Sometimes there are some work environments that are really supportive and want people to be able to take some breaks and find some intellectual activities that are engaging and part of the work that can help you and really good about providing some of that education.

And there are some work environments that are out there that really kind of encourage you to like, just push through and be able to navigate that. And you can do it just one more little bit of time, a little bit more effort. And that whole push through sort of attitude, it can be helpful sometimes, but like stress at some point, it passes the peak of being helpful and it becomes much less helpful.

Scott Webb: Right, there's a threshold there that once we, it's really helpful along the way and then all of a sudden, we cross over and some folks may realize when it's become more stressful, others may not, our employers may or may not, and lines of communication may or may not be open. It leads me to wonder, you know, what are some of the symptoms?

Like, how do we know when we're stressed?

Sarah Bemish: There are times when the stress becomes so much you don't even realize that you're in the stress until you're already so deep into the stress that you're just so overwhelmed you don't know what to do with it. So, looking for some of those symptoms can be really helpful. look at a couple different categories.

There are physiological changes that can happen- our body's natural response to stress. So, you can have some cardiac sort of changes, increased heart rate, blood pressure. Sometimes that can lead to headaches. Muscle tension, really common, just feeling like you can't be able to navigate. Upset stomach is a really common thing. People have a lot of gastrointestinal concerns that can manifest physiologically with stress. Some people have dermatological concerns, skin conditions. It's not unheard of for people to break out in rashes with acute stress. Not all that common, but it can happen. And high blood pressure is a really big thing that people will see as well too.

Just that feeling of fatigue, low energy, having a hard time pushing through. Those can also be indications of stress that's going on. If we're looking at emotional changes that can happen with stress, and again, this can happen gradually so that you don't even realize what's happening, but I will often see, and many of the studies will often indicate, that you can have increased irritability, increased anxiety, depression, difficulty with focus, concentration, being able to get things done. Many individuals end up taking more sick days. They tend to have more difficulty with their relationships outside of work. There tends to be a lot more conflict there because the anxiety, the stress comes out in so many different ways.

Many people may tend to isolate a little bit more. The stress becomes so much. They tend to just want to be by themselves a little bit more. And that of course, then can precipitate more stress and everything. It just becomes this spiral. So, it's a really difficult thing. So being able to recognize some of these symptoms that people have can be helpful.

One of the things that they talk about in a lot of the studies is how alcohol, nicotine, and other substances are often used to help manage stress because they do feel like they help manage stress in some ways initially, but the component of, alcohol and other substances is sometimes you can get some rebound effects that actually precipitate some of those factors even more and feelings of stress even more.

Scott Webb: Yeah, it feels like it just becomes a cycle where we're sort of self-medicating in a way to deal with the stress and anxiety, but then that sort of literal and figurative hangover effect bleeds into the next day and the next day and you see how things might spiral on folks, right?

Sarah Bemish: Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Without even people realizing it.

Scott Webb: Yeah. And that's where we need to sort of, pay attention to ourselves, check ourselves, check in on loved ones and family and friends. And, in this case, as we're talking about work stress, our coworkers, of course. Let's finish up today and just talk about some of the interventions that you or others can do to help folks manage the stress.

Sarah Bemish: Number one is being able to detach yourself psychologically from work. Easier said than done in some circumstances. I totally get that. But, here's some tips to kind of help work with that.

Microbreaks can be really helpful. When I talk about microbreaks throughout the day, that could be taking a minute to get up from your desk if you work at a desk job, and just go for a walk around the office. Just change your scenery for a little bit. It really does make a big difference. If you've got a coworker that's next to you, maybe tell a joke or have a picture or something that can just break up that consistent flow of work. Not to break down your efficiency, but enough to take a quick break. One two-minute microbreak can make a big difference.

Being able to work on some hobbies or skills outside of work when individuals tend to be a little bit more stressed. And you will push through and be able to navigate. We talked about at the beginning of this podcast that many times when someone has more stress, that's when they tend to start working longer hours.

They may eat a little bit less healthy, they may not exercise as much as they otherwise would. Being able to find a hobby, like exercising, like learning a new skill, painting, pottery, whatever seems to have your interest, can actually help you. Detach psychologically from work and refresh your brain, your memory, your emotional well-being.

When you do that, prioritizing high-effort recovery activities is helpful. Let me explain the high-effort recovery. So, you want something that's going to take just as much intellectual, emotional, sort of capacity as your work does. Maybe not to wear yourself down, but something like learning a new skill.

Learn how to do pottery or painting. They may engage in exercising, something that's got to take a little bit more energy because that will help a lot. There are many times that people will go home and you'll watch TV or a program. And those are all well and good, but they don't require as much energy.

And that can make it a little bit more difficult to separate work from your mind as another activity such as exercising or something of that nature might be able to do. Another way to separate psychologically is having nature around. I know this sounds really kind of silly, but it does make a difference, and they have done a number of studies on this, where having plants around the office or even having pictures of nature on the walls can make a big difference if you have the opportunity to go for a walk on your lunch break when it's not so cold in the New England area. That can make a big difference as well, too. And they have done a number of studies that have indicated that that can really kind of help refresh the mind and give you a little bit of that breathing space and a little bit more than just those micro breaks that you get during the day.

There are a couple other things, too, that I like to talk with people about. If these micro breaks and being able to separate psychologically is a little bit more difficult, I will often have people, and studies have indicated that this is helpful too, track where your stress may be. When you have a really stressful day, when you don't know where it's coming from, when you come home at the end of the day and your mind just says, “Ugh, this was so exhausting.” Work is just stressful all the time, and that may be true. But if you're able to separate out the different components of the day and track those times that may not be as stressful, for example, if you were able to make a big difference in a client's life. And that really brought you joy or happiness in that period of the day.

That didn't come with stress, but there may be some other aspects of the day that didn't, and if you can identify what those are, now you've got some more power to do something about it and make changes in those particular areas, as well as increase the number of times that you can create moments of joy in your workspace and have it be a little bit less stressful.

That can also help you understand your stress a little bit more, which can help you build resilience. It can help you create some work life balance if you know where the stress is coming from. Also if you can know where you're having a little bit more difficulty, it can help you look at how to build up some more support and be able to harness some of that support in the work area.

Scott Webb: Really helpful stuff, you know, as always, when you and I speak, I feel like we're just kind of scratching the surface a little bit here, but we hope that this helps folks to understand the work stress that they may be feeling, how they can deal with it, that there are resources available.

So always, thank you so much and you stay well.

Sarah Bemish: Yeah, you too. Thank you, Scott.

Host: And if you enjoyed this podcast, please be sure to tell a friend and share on social media. This is Your Wellness Solution, the podcast by Elliot Health System and Southern New Hampshire Health, members of SolutionHealth. I'm Scott Webb. Stay well, and we'll talk again next time.

Back to All News