How to Reduce Stress at Work (Overwork Isn’t the Answer)

I have to take a deliberate break from it all.

I’m burned out. I need a break to do nothing. If I can’t do my job, they will quickly replace me, my friend told me in a recent conversation. He is a secondary school teacher and drives miles to work every day. The only way he stepped off the “train” was prioritising himself before it was too late.

Why do so many of us feel overworked, overtired, and undersatisfied with life? The answer is in the very fabric of the system.

Stress is an invisible epidemic.

It leaves no visible wounds, but its symptoms are undeniably contagious: exhaustion, anxiety, a creeping dissatisfaction of life. “In 2021, the UK’s Health and Safety Executive reported that stress, alongside anxiety and depression, has become one of the leading causes of sickness in the UK workforce,” writes Graham Russell of The British Psychological Society.

Right now, stress is a systemic overload.

We juggle overflowing inboxes, chase ever-shifting deadlines, and struggle to find pockets of rest or stillness to recover. If you are stressed, it’s not you; the whole work system is not working. But it works for the top 10 per cent. Who are we to complain, right?

Endless productivity and the pursuit of relentless outcomes at all costs are not working. “Do more, have more, be more” is burning us out. But many people still have to juggle jobs that demand ever-increasing hours. They are dealing with bills that pile higher than their hopes. Don’t get me started on how social feeds amplify the insecurities.

The present system of work is like a pressure cooker. We’re all trapped in it, simmering on a stove fuelled by FOMO (fear of missing out), and the inevitable burnout is not a personal failing but a predictable outcome.

Once a means to an end, work is now an existential badge of honour. We wear our busyness like a warrior’s cloak, valuing long hours and sleep-deprived eyes as markers of hard work. Our worth is measured in metrics, and our value is quantified in quarterly reports.

Our finite time is squeezed dry for the corporate machine. The constant pressure to churn out productivity, to prove our indispensability, eats away at our well-being, leaving us depleted and perpetually on edge.

So, what’s the antidote?

Is there a cure? The answer is more complex.

The path forward isn’t easy. If you want to step off the productivity treadmill, you better have real, sustainable options to keep you going at your own pace. You can rewrite your script and challenge the narratives driving you to the brink. But it will cost you. You may have to work twice as hard for yourself so you can slow down soon enough.

I’ve been working for myself for over ten years.

I’ve built income systems, but I still have to maintain them. Sometimes, that means working overtime or even on weekends. The only good news is that I enjoy my creative pursuits. So, it’s not just work; I am following my bliss. Businessman, investor, and philanthropist Charlie Munger observed following your natural drift is key to success. “I have never succeeded very much in anything in which I was not very interested,” says Munger. “If you can’t somehow find yourself very interested in something, I don’t think you’ll succeed very much, even if you’re fairly smart,” he argues.

When you are lost in what you genuinely want to do, everything else is just…noise. The hours fly by, obstacles feel conquerable, and even setbacks become fuel for growth. But you still have to put in the hours. Imagine doing something just for the money. You are literally grinding to live. It’s exhausting. But you can’t step off the pedal.

The roots of our collective stress run deeper than personal shortcomings. Don’t get me wrong, there’s more you can do to reclaim some time back. We will get to that. We’re caught in a web spun by the relentless pursuit of profit and the commodification of every aspect of life.

The endless game of chasing the next outcome or result or the next thing keeps us trapped in a cycle of inadequacy, constantly striving for an ever-shifting horizon of fulfilment. We become hamsters on a wheel, running faster and faster but never quite reaching the promised land of satisfaction.

So, the next time you feel the familiar sting of stress, the urge to blame yourself for not juggling all the balls, remember: you’re not alone. You’re not broken. You’re simply living within a system that prioritises profit over people. Stress is not a personal failing but a shared burden, a symptom of a system crying out for reform. But you can’t dismantle or disrupt the system that created stress in the first place. “You can’t fire your boss or take over the company and restructure it, but you can be a better stress manager,” writes Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. of Forbes.

The right to a life free from task overload

The only thing you can do right now is intervene in the direction of your own life. You can reclaim some of your time, energy and right to a fulfilling life. It starts with defending your time.

Audit your commitments. Scrutinise your schedule. Be honest about what truly aligns with your values and what drains your energy. Rediscover your hobbies. Pick up that book, or revisit that musical instrument. Rekindle your creative spark and rediscover the joy of doing things you love. Connect with loved ones.

Make time for friends and family. Share laughter, stories, and meaningful conversations. Savour small, joyful moments. Notice and savour the little things — a beautiful sunset, a good cup of coffee, a hug from a loved one. These micro-moments of joy can make a big difference in your overall stress levels.

Learn to say “no” gracefully to anything that doesn’t spark joy. Tame the tech beast. Set strict boundaries on your digital life. Schedule “tech-free zones” to disconnect and unwind without the constant ping of notifications. Prioritise rest like your life depends on it because it does. Create a relaxing bedtime routine, get enough darkness, and avoid screens before bed. A well-rested you is a stress-resilient you.

Stress may not be a personal defect, but you can reclaim some time for things, experiences and activities that make you come alive. Break free from the system’s squeeze and reclaim the right to a life free from the suffocating grip of stress.

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Categorized as Work