5 ways to smash stress at work
Kara Martin outlines an empowered approach to doing your job well
A couple of years ago, I taught a Masters class of students who had been asked to survey their church about the most difficult issues faced by Christians in the workplace.
Dealing with conflict and ethical challenges were prominent issues but the outstanding one was handling work stress. This was easily the most widespread issue.
They reported feeling stretched and overwhelmed by the pressures of work, and finding it difficult to find a balance.
This also is the number one issue for all workers, not just Christians, with the 2015 Stress and Wellbeing survey run by the Australian Psychological Society finding a trending increase in workplace stress and anxiety. About 45% of Australians complained of work-related stress, costing an estimated $20 billion in lost productivity.
To move from statistics to a typical real-life example, Joanne has felt lots of stress at work.
Leadership changes acutely caused this, as well as lack of consultation about her workload, and the threat of job cutbacks. In addition, there was the breakdown in some key workplace relationships.
She suffered from sleep deprivation; when she awoke, she was then distracted by her worries about work. She also had increasing stomach irritation, and occasionally felt her heart racing.
She was also often grumpy toward others at home, and sometimes used wine as self-medication to cope with the feeling of being overwhelmed.
There are some other significant steps we can take to access God’s power …
At first Joanne was angry with God for allowing her to get into such a stressful situation. However, over time she found that God’s presence was a great source of solace and comfort.
Nevertheless, she often felt depleted at church, and incapable of participating in church activities. It was something Joanne found difficult to discuss with her church friends, feeling embarrassed at her inability to cope at work.
Joanne’s story is common, but also very sad. She hesitated telling others about her struggles, out of fear of the stigma of stress as a mental illness. She waited too long to get assistance, and by then the situation was spiralling down, both at work and at home. The stress impacted on her spiritual relationship, and her capacity to serve in the church community.
A Christian approach to managing stress
Some of the most obvious steps to help deal with stress are to eat, sleep and exercise well. However, there are some other significant steps we can take to access God’s power to overcome harmful stress.
- Pray through the stress, even when you are not conscious of God hearing your prayers. If possible, have others who will commit to pray for (or preferably with) you.
- Remember that your identity, esteem and security need to be found in Christ rather than in your work. You are God’s child, made in his image, with eternal hope. Those truths cannot be impacted by what is happening at work.
- Keep a Sabbath, a weekly time of rest and focus on God that acts as a contrast to the stress of work. Let it be a time of preparation for the week ahead, as well as genuine gratitude to God for his mercies, his provision and his sustenance.
- There is much in Scripture that encourages us that we can cast our anxieties on God because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7), and that Jesus will take our burdens on himself. Matthew 11:28–30 is beautifully paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
- Biblical stories are also a source of encouragement, such as considering David’s confidence in God in the midst of his stress as he flees from Saul, expressed in Psalms 7, 27, 31 and 34. We also see a godly response in Jesus as he wrestles with his impending arrest, trial, death and separation from God in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36–46), as he prays, tells God his frustrations and fears, yet submits to God’s will.
Work sometimes feels like it is too impacted by sin for us to be effective for Christ there. However, Colossians 1:16–17 reminds us that in Jesus “all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Jesus is sovereign over the whole earth and every relationship, including our workplace; such that they can be places where we look to see what God is already doing, and join in with him, asking for discernment and wisdom as we seek to be Christ’s ambassadors in that place.
Our stress and ethical quandaries and conflict issues can be minimised as we practise the spiritual discipline of working for an audience of One: God, as it says in Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”