Four colleagues giving a high five

Building resilience and managing stress at work

Stress affects people in different ways. What causes stress in one person may not affect another but we can all develop similar mechanisms to help prevent stress, and cope more effectively.

Building resilience is one way to successfully manage stress. It gives us the ability to persevere and continue to function at a high level in times of adversity, despite failures, setbacks and loss.

Employees can help themselves to become more resilient at work. Whilst some people are naturally more resilient than others, it isn’t an innate personality trait – it’s a skill that can be developed. Something that we can all take steps towards achieving.

So what does it mean to be a resilient person? It’s not just about having the ability to bounce back, but also having the capacity to adapt when faced with challenging circumstances.

Emotional resilience is about thriving. It’s about maintaining a strong sense of purpose, having a positive but realistic outlook and looking after your mental health and wellbeing.

Here we take a look at 10 steps towards building resilience to cope with stress in the workplace and avoid burnout:

  1. 1. Make connections and ask for support when you need it

    Healthy relationships with close family members, friends, colleagues and others are all important. Accepting help and support from people who care about you and are able to listen helps to strengthen resilience. Having an open and honest relationship with colleagues and line managers at work builds trust and allows you to communicate potential issues in a timely manner, and find a solution before they start to cause stress. Being able to assist others in times of need can also benefit the helper.
  2. 2. Manage your energy, not just your time

    Make sure you are putting your energy into the right things. Quite often we ask people to put time into doing things but they often come back saying they don’t have any more time in their busy schedules. If we direct our energy towards ‘high leverage’ tasks we get a much more effective return on investment for our efforts. It helps us to ‘de-clutter’ the things that don’t have such a good return on investment. Managing our energy creates more space to see things differently and reframe pressures into opportunities for growth rather than stress.
  3. 3. Take time to relax

    Take time out and relax, even if you’re not feeling stressed. This could be going away for the weekend, doing something you enjoy in the evening or even just taking a five minute break from your desk. Learning relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and breathing exercises can also help to reduce stress. In fact, mindfulness in the workplace has been gaining momentum as a proven strategy to create more ‘personal balance’ at work. It’s important to relax as being unable to fully switch off from work could lead to leavism, which further adds to workplace stress.
  4. 4. Develop a positive mindset

    Your optimism, personal beliefs and sense of personal responsibility all shape your outlook on situations. Those who nurture a positive and resilient mindset believe that their own motivations and talents determine their success or failure in the workplace. It’s all about expecting a positive future, but understanding that challenges may arise and that things might not go as expected.
  5. 5. Know your limits

    Don’t stay quiet when it comes to potential boundary issues at work, which often leads to being unable to work to the best of your abilities as a result of too much workload. Take responsibility for setting boundaries around your time, and don’t take on more than you can handle. Knowing the limits and boundaries of colleagues is also important, and knowing how to compromise on ways of working that work for everybody should difficulties arise. Avoid creating barriers – this is resistance not resilience.
  6. 6. Exercise

    Having a fitness goal or target to achieve outside of work is a great way to switch off and take your mind away from any stresses. Even small amounts of physical exercise can improve self-esteem and self-confidence, giving us the inner strength and ability to approach difficult situations. It’s also important to remember to stay active at work, as ongoing sedentary behaviour has been found to have a negative impact on our health and wellbeing.
  7. 7. Healthy eating

    Food plays a vital role in our wellbeing – something that is often overlooked. The focus is usually on how it affects us physically, such as the damage it can have on our bodies or how much weight it can help us to lose. There are in fact some foods that have been determined to have positive effects on reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, and lowering stress. A diet that is rich in whole foods can help to reduce nutritional stress and provide you with more mental energy to deal with psychological stresses at work.
  8. 8. Get a good night’s sleep

    Getting the right amount of quality sleep is vital when it comes to building resilience to stress. If you don’t get enough sleep, small stressors can have a much worse effect than they would after a good night’s sleep. Energy dictates not only how much we’re able to do, but how well we do it – when your energy is low, your work suffers. We need to learn to pace ourselves to avoid fatigue and burnout.
  9. 9. Take action to solve problems

    Waiting for problems to go away on their own only prolongs the crisis. Once you have identified a problem, start working on resolving the issue immediately. It’s important to recognise that whilst there may not be a fast or simple solution, it’s vital to take steps towards making the situation better and less stressful. Being proactive helps you to feel more in control of the situation, rather than sitting back and allowing the problem to escalate. Make sure to focus on progress made so far, rather than allowing yourself to become discouraged by the amount of work that still needs to be done.
  10. 10. Keep things in perspective

    When faced with stress, think about how important the issue will be in a week, month or years’ time. Resilient people maintain a positive outlook – remember to remind yourself that a lot of the issues you are facing are temporary and that you have overcome setbacks before and can do it again. Keeping things in perspective allows you to focus on what you can learn from the experience and builds resilience.

Being resilient when it comes to managing stress is just one of the ways to improve workplace health and wellbeing. If you are an employee, ask your line manager or HR department about the health and wellness services available within your organisation, and what procedures and policies are in place to help you deal with stress.

If you are responsible for looking after health and wellbeing at your organisation, and want to find out more on implementing an effective strategy, download our free Health & Wellbeing Toolkit, which contains all the information you need to start creating your company's strategy, featuring help and advice on everything from building the business case and exploring supplier options, to implementing and evaluating the process.

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