The number of people dealing with stress and anxiety in the workplace is on the rise. According to a survey of more than 2,000 full-time U.S. employees aged 18-79, more than half find themselves stressed during at least 60 percent of the workweek. While all jobs come with a certain amount of stress, some high-pressure jobs where stress and anxiety are consistently reported include roles like health professionals, lawyers, and therapists.

With many of us now working from home, this stress is bleeding into our lives more than ever before. Stress and anxiety seriously impact our physical and mental health, so it’s essential those working in high-pressure jobs adopt some healthy coping strategies.

How do stress and anxiety impact our bodies?

While stress and anxiety are emotional responses to certain situations and environments, they are intrinsically linked to our physical well-being.

The physical effects of stress

Stress can have profound physical effects on the body, especially if the stress is fairly constant. Stress can cause headaches, migraines, and increased blood pressure. Having high blood pressure means you have a greater chance of succumbing to heart problems such as abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.

Stress can also play a role in exacerbating several health problems, including mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders. If you’re stressed out and haven’t felt like eating, that’s because stress can also contribute to a lack of appetite, leading to other health concerns such as weight loss and malnutrition.

The physical effects of anxiety

If you’ve ever experienced anxiety, you will know how crippling it can be in your daily life. Anxiety typically manifests in feeling worried, nervous, afraid, or stressed about things that may seem mundane or ordinary. These feelings can be debilitating and prevent people from living a normal life.

Anxiety can also cause severe physical symptoms that some people may even confuse as a physical health concern. Common physical side effects of anxiety include things like nausea, digestive issues, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, and sweating or shaking. In extreme cases, people may experience an anxiety attack, which can look like rapid breathing, shortness of breath, and increased heart rate.

The nature of high-pressure jobs

Certain industries and jobs that are typically high-pressure include emotional work, long hours, and extreme stress, such as the legal, health, and emergency service sectors. Often, the type of people that are drawn to working in these sectors are prone to damaging work habits such as unhealthy striving and perfectionism.

Unhealthy striving to achieve our goals can be a form of unrealistic perfectionism. Signs of unhealthy striving can include ticking tasks off without feeling any sense of achievement, neglecting self-care, and putting the needs of others before your own. Instead, people working in high-pressure jobs should work towards healthy striving. This helps you move towards your goals but in a sustainable way. This looks like taking time out even if you feel guilty, setting better boundaries at work, practicing self-care rituals, and taking the time to celebrate your successes.

The importance of reducing work-related stress and anxiety

Short-term and long-term exposure to work-related stress and anxiety can significantly impact mental health and overall feelings of well-being. Looking at the extensive physical effects of stress and anxiety, it is evident that coping mechanisms and structures should be implemented to help reduce them, especially for those working in high-pressure jobs.

By managing work-related stress and anxiety, a lot of workers experience a much-needed reduction in poor mental and physical health symptoms. The happier and healthier you are, the more productive you’ll be at work, which means your employer will also be happy. Who can complain about reduced sick leave, absences, and greater job satisfaction?

Stress and anxiety in the legal profession

The legal profession is a famously high-pressure industry, due to the nature of the work and the extremely long hours involved. According to a 2021 survey, 71% of lawyers said they have experienced anxiety at work. Legal work often seeps into personal time and blurs the boundaries between personal and professional life. Legal professionals work unplanned hours to get the job done on time due to the unpredictable and deadline-dependent nature of legal work and clients’ needs.

The demands of the work are also highly stressful due to the, at times, serious consequences involved with legal issues. It’s no wonder that lawyers need to take their physical and mental health seriously or risk burnout or worse.

10 ways to cope with stress and anxiety in high-pressure jobs

Whether you’re a lawyer, a social worker, or a healthcare professional, here are some useful ways you can manage your stress and anxiety at work.

1. Stay organized

Organization is crucial for helping reduce stress and alleviate feelings of anxiety. Getting organized can feel like another “task” to tick off the list, but planning your day and week means starting the working day with a clearer, calmer mind. Luckily for you, this will also help with work efficiency and general feelings of productivity.

2. Get some fresh air

Spending time in nature is highly underrated when it comes to mental health benefits. Going for a walk on your lunch break will clear your mind, release positive endorphins, reduce stress, and lift your mood. Sometimes a little fresh air goes a long way.

3. Consider outsourcing

It might be easier said than done but try not to take on more than you can handle. This means setting healthy boundaries and getting more comfortable with saying no. You don’t have to go it alone. You can get help to reduce your to-do list, whether at home or in the office. Outsourcing is an accessible, flexible way to do this.

4. Embrace the post-COVID workplace environment

Thanks to COVID, our workplaces are now more flexible than ever. If you have the option to work from home for all or part of the week, do it. This means you can cut down travel time, spend more time doing things you enjoy, and make your workspace more comfortable.

5. Take up employee support when needed

An ethical workplace has its employees’ best interests in mind, which includes attention to their stress levels and anxiety. Plenty of workplaces offer mental health services, leave, and support for those struggling to juggle work stress.

6. Start your day off right

Taking time out in the morning to relax, practice mindfulness, and get organized can significantly reduce stress and anxiety that may arise during the day. There’s nothing worse than a rushed morning that has you arriving to work already stressed. Wake up a bit earlier, enjoy a coffee and a proper breakfast, go for a walk, journal, mediate — whatever works for you.

7. Know the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism 

Striving towards perfectionism can add unnecessary pressure to your performance at work. Remember, no one is perfect, and we can only do our best with what we are given. Taking this measured approach will help limit your anxiety about performing at work.

8. Set healthy boundaries

Don’t take on other people’s work on top of your own and don’t work outside of work hours by setting boundaries with your employer and clients. Overdoing it doesn’t make you a hero, it can heighten your stress and confuse the team as to who is doing what.

9. Make friends at work

If your workplace is also a social environment, you will enjoy several mental health benefits. Having friends around will help you feel comfortable, relaxed, and you can share a laugh during the day — laughter is scientifically proven to reduce feelings of stress.

10. Make time to do what you love

Living for work is never a good idea, so fill your weekends and weeknights with things you enjoy. Whether it’s a movie night at home on a Tuesday, Trivia with friends on a Thursday, or a weekend away, make sure you’re planning fun things to look forward to at the end of the work day or week.

Prioritize your mental health

If you work in a high-pressure job, looking after your physical and mental health is extremely important. Managing our stress and anxiety is one of the main ways to maintain a healthy work/life balance, so start making changes today and see the positive changes in your mental health. If you need help managing your workload, LAWCLERK is a great source for freelance attorneys and firms looking to hire freelance help.

Kristin Tyler, Co-Founder Lawclerk

Kristin Tyler, Co-Founder Lawclerk


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