Skip navigation

Work life 01 Mar 2021

Less stress

Top tips for reducing stress at work

Woman on desk holding her neck

While each person’s situation is unique, some scenarios increase the risk of work-related stress. Excessive workloads, unrealistic deadlines and long working hours are obvious culprits, but ineffective management, poorly defined roles, bullying and difficult relationships with colleagues are also common factors.

Many of us feel the need to reassess our lives once in a while. However, we often only focus on physical aspects, like losing weight, giving up bad habits or joining a gym. But with many of us spending around a third of our lives at work, it’s important to address how work stress affects our health and wellbeing. In fact, nearly half a million people in the UK report work-related stress that is severe enough to make them ill1.

The effects of stress

Stress can manifest itself in many ways. Mental effects range from low confidence to indecision, while emotional symptoms can include depression, anxiety, irritability and mood swings. Stress can also have a physical impact. For instance, chest pains, loss of libido, lethargy or digestive problems.

Managing and avoiding stress could not only improve your professional and home life, but it could also help you live longer. As part of Bupa Global’s commitment to delivering longer, healthier, happier lives, we caught up with leading psychologist Oliver James.

“There’s very good evidence to show that if you suffer depression or anxiety as a result of stress, it shortens your life,” Oliver says. “It makes you more prone to heart attacks and other illnesses. And when you’re home, you’re more likely to be short-tempered, and you’re more likely to struggle with personal relationships.

“The fundamental problem is that the vast majority of us now work in sectors where it's really difficult to measure the contributions you're making within your organisation. Whereas once you needed to make 100 dolls a day to be paid a certain amount, in this environment you have to be evaluated by your boss's personal, subjective judgement of the value of your contribution.”

“Whatever your job, whether you’re stressed or not, you can do plenty of exercises like yoga or meditation. Even if you can only manage this for a short time, but regularly, it's a fantastic antidote to stress.”

Woman at desk, covered in sticky notes

Here are Oliver’s top tips for workplace wellbeing.

Meditate, exercise or do yoga

“Whatever your job, whether you’re stressed or not, you can do plenty of exercises like yoga or meditation,” Oliver says. “Even if you can only manage this for a short time, but regularly, it's a fantastic antidote to stress.

“If you have a higher level of cortisol, you're in a hyperactive state. You can't calm down; you’re constantly expecting to run away or go on the attack. The most practical way to reverse this and reduce cortisol levels is to practise mind control. Misunderstandings can be poisonous in an office environment, escalating stress levels.”

Improve your communication skills

Astuteness is at the heart of effective communication. You need to be able to read other people’s moods and body language. Practise improving your ability to sense what’s going on in colleagues’ minds.

“You need to try to approach things with a better strategy. Practise reading body language and mirroring when possible – smiling or flattery, for example – those tactics work. They only work if you’re astute, though. Be aware of what tactics to use, on what person, at which moment.”

Don’t worry about other people’s pay

Bonuses and money can be big causes of stress. “The great mistake you can make with bonuses is to have a discussion at the point where your boss hands you the envelope,” Oliver says. “Put the effort in before – make sure your boss grasps and understands what you’ve contributed to the business.

“Don’t worry about what everybody else gets paid – just concentrate on what you’re happy with. There’s a great deal of misery from people worrying about what everybody else is getting. Just make sure you’re getting your fair share and that it matches your contribution.”

Be the best version of your self

“People engage a lot in what I call ‘I’m okay, you’re not’ – where I’m feeling bad, so I make you feel bad, and I feel a bit better, at least temporarily. If you’re at the wrong end of that and somebody’s having a proper tantrum, their responses are clouded by emotion and the level of cortisol means their capacity to think has collapsed. You need to stay calm. If you can stay in a detached, calm state behind a persona you’ve developed for the office, you’ll be much better equipped to cope.”

Oliver adds that the detached side of your personality is important to managing stress. “You need to develop a persona to deal with your work. It should be based on who you really are, obviously, but you’re always going to be a different person at work than when you’re away from the office, and developing calmer characteristics can help you to deal with other people who are struggling.”

Pay attention to signs and symptoms

While prevention is ideal, many of us encounter workplace stress despite our best efforts. There’s no medicine to treat it, but if you think you’re suffering from depression or anxiety as a result of stress (or for any other reason), talk to your GP. They may suggest medication or talking therapy, such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Stress can also affect the way you behave, from your eating and drinking habits to how much you sleep. Often these changes further increase your stress levels and create a vicious cycle, so it’s important to tackle them, whether that’s by combating comfort eating, cutting back on alcohol or taming insomnia.


1. Bupa UK (

Bupa Global (

Join Bupa Global

Global health insurance for globally minded people