Tag: workplace stress

stress at work

Dealing with stress at work

Having spent some time in the corporate environment recently, it has become clear to me just how difficult it can be to maintain mental and emotional well being at work. There is so much pressure to get things done that self care gets put to the back of the to-do list. There just doesn’t seem to be time for any focus on oneself. When there are deadlines to meet and bosses expecting results, it becomes almost impossible to take time out for our own benefit.

The conundrim here is that if we don’t seriously prioritise some time for ourselves, we will inevitably end up worn out and underperforming. So, it pays to invest in some ‘me-time’ in order to cope better with workplace stress and pressure.

How to deal with stress at work

I have put together a few easy to use strategies that can be done at work and only need a few minutes now and then out of your busy schedule to help you ‘reset’ and get back to your baseline. You can check in with yourself regularly each day and ask yourself where you are on the anxiety/stress scale.

0 = no stress; 10 = major stress

If you rate yourself as a 6 or above, it’s time to intervene with a quick strategy.

Breathing strategy – square method

Picture a square. As you draw the top part of the square, breathe in and count to 5. Then draw the side down and hold your breath for 5, draw the bottom part of the square, breathe out for 5 and then the final line to complete the square and hold again for 5. This process of slow breathing confuses the old limbic system of the brain. When we feel anxious the limbic system (hypothalamus and amygdala) identifies this as danger and releases adrenalin, preparing us for flight, flight or freeze behaviour. When we breathe slowly, this sends opposing information to the limbic system, suggesting we are actually calm and this physiological mismatch can help us to feel calm instantly.

Mindfulness 5-4-3-2-1

Mindfulness helps us to step back from our busy, racing minds. Not only does it mean that we are more present in the moment (rather than drowning in memories of the past or worrying unnecessarily about the future) but mindfulness is also about the process of passive observation. When we are mindful, we are slightly detached from what is going on and instead, we notice the type of thoughts that are coming into our minds. Instead of purely reacting to our thougths that are stressing us out (eg. I will never manage this deadline), we can say to ourselves, “Oh I can see I am stressing again and worrying about how I might fail”. This level os detachment can help us to feel less overloaded by the onslaught of thoughts that try to mess with us.

So, try this: When your mind is getitng the better of you and you are stessing big time, sit quietly for a few minutes and look around you. Notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell (if possible) and 1 thing you can taste (if possible). This simple exercise can pull you out of your mental torture session and give you some relief and perspective.


Sometimes, we just need a little distraction. There are brilliant phone apps that help us focus on something else and help us focus elsewhere. I enjoy playing word games and find this clears my mind effectively. Distraction only works though once you have discovered and understood the reason for your stess and anxiety. If you have a certain bad habit, for example, of catastrophising or assuming you know what others are thinking, you would still need to have a look at that habit. Once you realise you are doing this, you can then mindfully notice that you are once again catastrophising, and then distract yourself. Distraction without understanding where the stress is coming from will only exacerbate the problem.

We were never meant to be perfect, allow yourself lee way to make mistakes. We live in an increasingly competitve world and the stakes are high when it comes to maintaining our mental and emotional well being. It all starts with us. These brief strategies are only a small part of the picture. We also need to look at the bigger picture of eating well, exercising, taking time out for fun and spending time with people we care about. Your company will always be there but there is only one of you. make sure you put yourself first and you will have more resources available to give to others and to your work.


Mandy X




Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

open plan office

The psychological impact of open plan offices

The design of an office has a measurable impact on employees’ wellbeing. The psychological impact of open plan offices is frequently overlooked by managers of companies. Of course for every situation, there are pros and cons but from the available reserach it would seem there are very few advantages when it comes to open plan offices.

In 1997, a Canadian company asked a group of psychologists from the University of Calgary to monitor employees as they shifted from a traditional office layout to an open one. The psychologists assessed the employees before the transition, four weeks after the transition, and, finally, six months afterward, measuring their satisfaction with their surroundings, as well as their stress level, job performance, and interpersonal relationships. The results were less than positive; the employees suffered pursuant to every benchmark: the new space was disruptive, stressful, and cumbersome. Instead of feeling closer, coworkers felt distant, dissatisfied, and resentful. Productivity plummeted.

The advantages of an open plan office

Improves mobility. This is the only advantage I have found whilst doing my research.

The disadvantages of an open plan office

Dimishes collaboration – employees tend to send more emails.

Decreases interactions between employees.

A study found that employees working in small numbers (3 to 9 people) and medium-sized (10 to 20 people) in open-plan offices reported lower levels of well-being and ease of interaction with other employees.

“The open plan offices may have short-term financial benefits, but these benefits may be substantially lower than the costs associated with decreased job satisfaction and well-being,” Dr Otterbring further commented.

More interruptions and distractions leads to less focus on work.

Noise levels.

No privacy.

Hot desking – leads to a sense of being unimportant and undervalued, a cog in the wheel. Studies have shown that people forced to share workspaces reported feeling marginalised, experienced more distractions, negative relationships and uncooperative behaviour, not to mention feeling like their supervisors were being less supportive.

No escape from a bad boss. According to a recent Gallup poll of a million U.S. workers, a bad boss is the No. 1 reason people leave their jobs. According to the British Psychological Society, bad bosses can make employees chronically depressed and actively hostile to co-workers.

Employees are more likely to get ill – spread of communicable diseases increases. This increases absenteeism and lowers productivity amd company profits.

Approx 50% of the population (the percentage of introverts) find open office plans anxiety provoking and draining, thereby reducing productivity.

Open plan offices can increase gender inequality. Open plan offices favour more attractive females. and also promote sexual harrassment. Female employees often feel more exposed and ‘on show’ in open plan offices.

Evolution would suggest we all naturally feel safer with our back to a wall. This isn’t always possible in an open plan office and can lead someone to contantly experience low threat-anxiety. The triggering of stress hormones and the automatic: fight, flight, freeze response may be generated consistently whilst in an open plan office. There is a perceived lack of safety in this environment. When you sit with your back exposed, your body constantly produces the stress hormone cortisol, which negatively affects your weight and immune system while creating a greater risk of chronic disease.

Constant multi tasking is exhausting for the brain. Always being aware of surroundings, noise can be fatiguing on a long term basis. Epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) is involved in the body’s “fight or flight” response. Essentially, workers in open offices are under a constant barrage of adrenaline, their bodies telling them to fight or flee. For those who suffer from anxiety disorders, high levels of epinephrine causes increased discomfort, worry, and distress. Over a period of time, the constant high dose of epinephrine leads to a phase of exhaustion where the body starts to experience the more harmful effects of anxiety.

 According to studies recently cited in Psychology Today: “People who were frequent media multitaskers had reductions in their brains’ grey matter–specifically, in areas related to cognitive control and the regulation of motivation and emotion…and exhibited weakness in both working memory (the ability to store relevant information while working on a task) and long-term memory (the ability to store and recall information over longer periods of time).”


The future will be different. Gadgets are more portable now and we don’t need an office anymore to do work. Public transport seems to be struggling to keep up with demand and the roads seem to be getting busier – remote office working seems to be the trend of the future.

Reasons to avoid an open plan office:

Many employers are caught up in the incorrect notion that open offices incite creativity and teamwork, and shaking them of it may be a difficult task. Open plan offices do more damage than good. Just ask your employees what they might prefer and work from there. Happy employees leads to more productive businesses with higher profits in the long term. Why do you think the big bosses always have their own offices?


Stats quoted from 2 Harvard researchers: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/373/1753/20170239

References: https://www.psypost.org/2016/08/how-open-offices-are-killing-us-44478



Reasons employees don’t always use Employee Assistance Programmes

There are four reasons why employees don’t use EAP’s  and I’ll list them in the most-frequent order:

  • they don’t think it’s confidential
  • they feel there is a stigma for reaching out for help (especially for some men, who see this as a weakness)
  • they think they have to ask permission from their boss or HR
  • they don’t know it exists.

One of the main reasons that employees don’t use Employee Assistance Programmes is because they worry it might affect their position at work. They worry that getting in touch with a counsellor at an EAP will mean they become exposed.

At Headscience – every employee using the service is kept completely confidential. An employee contacts a phone number associated with Headscience and their name is never used on documentation, only a case number is used. Some statistics do get back to the employer but even this data is confidential as employee’s names are never used.

Second, it makes sense to reassure employees that every one of us has similar on and off-the-job struggles.  It’s no sin for people to reach out for help when the “allostatic load” (repeated stressors) gets piled too high and deep.

Third, just as the use of EAP is confidential, there is no need for employees to tell anyone, ask permission, go through HR channels, or do anything other than call the EAP phone number and make an appointment.

The last one puzzles me the most – often employees aren’t even aware that an EAP service exists. Headscience hopes to curcumvent this by doing regular workshops to make employees aware of our services.

Employee Assistance Programmes can make a huge difference to a company’s productivity and profit if they have happy staff.