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workplace stress

If you feel stressed, you need to find ways to reduce your stress and learn to build up your resilience, experts say.Wavebreakmedia Ltd

Dealing with ever-increasing demands at work while juggling responsibilities at home is enough to send some employees over the edge.

While employers play a key role in helping their staff to deal with stress at work, employees must also bear some responsibility for their health, experts say. Employees need to evaluate their personal levels of stress and find ways to tone them down if they're feeling overwhelmed.

There are four pillars of health – mental, physical, financial and career – that each person needs to keep in balance, said Stephen Liptrap, executive vice-president of Toronto-based Shepell-FGI and general manager of Morneau Shepell Inc., a global provider of EAP programs.

"We find that if two of those four areas are in negative territory, it's really going to impact the person, and they miss work and really drop down in productivity," he said.

Another way to help manage stress is to build up your resilience so you are better able to handle day-to-day blows and major setbacks, said Dr. Marie-Helene Pelletier, director of workplace mental health group benefits at Sun Life Financial.

She suggests people take concrete steps, such as exercising, eating properly and spending time in nature, to help them build resilience, or the "ability to bounce back." If you have resilience then you have more psychological wellness and then "when something hits us we won't dip as far," she said.

Many employee assistance programs have tools you can use to help you rate your health, Mr. Liptrap said. Morneau Shepell, for instance, has online tools and a smartphone app called My EAP. The program takes you through a series of questions to help you find those areas of your life that are causing you stress.

In addition, you can take The Globe and Mail's Your Life at Work Survey to get your Quality of Work Life Score, see how you fare and find ways to reduce your stress.

Once you know where you need help, such as with your finances or another area of your life, then you can use the resources provided by your company EAP to get the help you need, such as assistance from a counsellor or a financial planner.

Three steps to reduce stress

Mr . Liptrap and Ms. Pelletier offered the following three suggestions for managing day-to-day stress.

1. Learn tactics to reduce stress

If your stress level is too high and you feel you have too much to do, make a list of all your tasks, Mr. Liptrap said, especially if you're feeling overwhelmed by a large project.

"Break it into smaller chunks. That really reduces anxiety," he said. "Then start knocking off those little tasks, one at a time."

Slowing down and taking deep belly breaths – a technique used in yoga – is a great way to calm yourself when you're feeling anxious, Ms. Pelletier said.

2. Deal immediately with a tough task

Don't put off a difficult task, such as talking to a colleague or your manager about a challenge, Ms. Pelletier said.

"We make stress worse by what we think in our head," she said. "Look at the full picture realistically; don't think of the catastrophe."

3. Know when to ask for help

If you're feeling overwhelmed and aren't sure what to do, "don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help," Mr. Liptrap said.

People shouldn't "feel bad" about reaching out to counsellors at their company's EAP, whether they're a student feeling the anxiety of exams or an employee overwhelmed by work and life, he said.

"People keep those things bottled up and then that ends up blowing up later," he said.

To build up your resilience, you need to aim to follow these seven steps on a weekly basis to help you cope for the long term, Ms. Pelletier said.

The seven steps to build resilience

1. Exercise

Doing cardio, weight training and yoga can help you build your strength and allow you to calm your breathing when you're stressed, Ms. Pelletier said.

To start, go for a half-hour walk every day, Mr. Liptrap said. "If you're feeling stressed, go for that walk at lunch."

In addition, arrange walking meetings, or use pedometers and get colleagues to compete for who can walk the most steps each week, he said.

"All of those [actions] help to reduce the stress of the individual and increase productivity," he said.

2. Eat right

"We all know what needs to be on our plate," Ms. Pelletier said. "But it's not easy." There are so many temptations to eat food that's not the most nutritious, she added.

3. Get enough sleep

Good-quality sleep is key, she says. "We need to invest in our sleep." Everything is harder if we're running low on sleep, she says.

4. Spend time with friends and family

Make an effort to spend time with your family and try to go for coffee or lunch with a friend once a week, she said.

5. Spend time in nature

When we spend time outdoors in the quiet of nature it gives us a reprieve from the busyness of life and allows us a chance to refocus, she said.

6. Focus on spirituality

Whether through organized religion or simply time spent contemplating life, give yourself a chance to stop and think, she said.

7. Be involved with your community

Helping others really does help us to feel better about ourselves and builds our resilience, she said.

For more stories from our Your Life at Work Survey series go to

Watch a video of Bill Howatt explaining the survey and our goals.