How to Alleviate (Excessive) Work Pressure and Enjoy Your Job Again

4 Nov ‘22
5 min
Stress and anxiety
Work performance
Lisanne van Marrewijk
Reviewed by psychologist Judith Klenter
illustration of woman experiencing a high workload
The way you handle (excessive) work pressure and setbacks affects how you feel. And that, in turn, affects your work and the pressure – and therefore the stress – that you’re experiencing. So, it’s a vicious cycle. But you don’t just have to put up with this cycle. Quite the opposite. Vicious cycles are made to be broken. Especially stress cycles. 


We all have to deal with stress – even if you have the job of your dreams and you think your work is great. Is excessive work pressure preventing you from enjoying your job? Psychologist Judith Klenter explains what you can do about it.


A bit of work pressure is fine


We all have to deal with pressure at work. Maybe it’s because you’ve had to take on additional tasks, maybe you’re trying extra hard to prove yourself, maybe you’ve taken on a new role that demands a lot from you.


And a bit of pressure is okay, Judith believes. “You need a certain amount of positive stress to be able to focus well and stay alert. It releases adrenaline and gets you ready for action.”


So, that’s all positive. But there are also times when work pressure becomes excessive. Or carries on for too long. For example, there are times when it holds you back and makes you lose perspective. Or you’ll notice that you can’t let things go at the end of your workday. 


The difference between positive work pressure and excessive work pressure


“Positive stress helps you to keep going. To perform well and to do your best. After you’ve achieved your goal, the stress should go away again,” explains Judith. Here we’re talking about the kind of stress you experience around an exam, an important presentation or a tight deadline. 


“If you’ve been experiencing pressure at work for a long time, it’s difficult for your body to distinguish between tension and relaxation. This means that the tension stays at the same level for a long period of time, even if the event that caused the tension has passed,” explains the psychologist.


You need longer to recover. If you don’t have the time because you’re under too much pressure at work, you’ll notice that the quality of your work starts to suffer. As a consequence, you end up stuck in a vicious cycle.


But as we’ve already said: cycles can be broken. There are (fortunately!) a range of things you can do to alleviate excessive work pressure and feelings of stress. 


From examining where the pressure comes from to taking (small) steps. “Sometimes something as simple as just taking a day to rest can really help,” advises Judith.


💡 Read more: When to Take a Mental Health Day (and How to Do It)


Are you experiencing excessive pressure at work?


A 2022 study found that 33% of UK employees report moderate-to-high or high levels of stress. In total, 13.7 million working days are lost each year in the UK due to work-related stress, anxiety and depression. 


Figures like these show that we would all benefit from learning how to manage stress and pressure at work. Is pressure having a negative impact on your job satisfaction? Judith offers some tangible tips that you can put into practice today.


1. Accept the situation


I don’t know many people with a stress-free job. Accepting that intense work pressure is part of your job – and that you’re looking for ways to deal with this stress as well as possible – is step one. 


And the fact that you’re reading this article means that you’ve already taken step one.


Acceptance provides relief and makes it easier for you to find ways of managing your emotions. Meanwhile, resistance just adds to your feelings of stress. 


Acknowledge the trigger. Acknowledge the situation. Acknowledge your emotions and feelings. And allow the stress to exist. This article from Psychology Today will help you to accept stress for what it is.


2. Get your workload under control


If you have more work than you can possibly fit into your working week, then it’s only natural that you’ll be experiencing work pressure. So, get your workload under control and make sure you’re aware of the tasks you have and the projects you’re leading. 


Too much going on? Then don’t take on any new projects right now. Learn to say no. Communicate this to the colleagues who need something from you in a clear and friendly way and have a conversation about it with your manager or supervisor.


“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” – Warren Buffet


3. Prioritise


If you know what’s important, you can focus your attention on the right things. Are you working on essential tasks or are you mainly working on urgent things? Are you being guided by your inbox or guided by your priorities?


Start using the Eisenhower Matrix (which you’ll also find in our Guide for Better Time Management) and organize your tasks into the appropriate quadrants. This creates an overview and gives you insight into what is important and what isn’t.


Extra tip from Judith: Ask yourself each day which three tasks you really need to get done. The three “non-negotiables”. If you know what is and isn’t important today, you’ll be able to focus better and set clearer goals.


4. Find your focus and flow


Flow makes you happy. Set up your environment so that it helps you to focus and manage your time well. You can do this in a variety of ways. Explore what works for you. Consider:


  • Eliminate distractions (put your phone in another room, turn off your email, pause Slack notifications)
  • Do one thing at a time
  • Get to know yourself: when are you productive and when does your energy drop?
  • Try the Pomodoro Technique
  • Do the most important task first


Want to learn more? 5 Hacks for a More Productive and Meaningful Life (According to Psychologists)


5. Talk to your manager about it


Just because you have a lot to do and you’re under pressure at work doesn’t mean you have to do it all alone. Your manager is probably not aware that anything is wrong. So, you need to speak to them. 


Explain to your manager what is going on and how you’re feeling so that you can look for an appropriate solution together. 


6. Detach yourself


Work is fun and important, but detaching yourself from work is sometimes just as important. However, we often don’t do that enough. 


Particularly when we’re under pressure at work, we skip our breaks, take work tasks and thoughts home with us and don’t make time to chat with our colleagues. 


That’s despite the fact that it’s just as important to take pleasure in our work as it is to stay productive. You’ll definitely be able to work better and focus more if you’re well-rested. 


Make sure you’re taking plenty of breaks each day (put them in your diary!), look after yourself (exercise, eat healthily, practice mindfulness) and connect with your colleagues. 


Tip: Try the Pomodoro Technique if you’re finding it difficult to get a good balance between focused work and taking breaks.


You won’t solve excessive work pressure in a day


Give yourself time to deal with the situation; to slowly but surely reduce your work pressure and find joy again. Often this won’t happen overnight, and not without some setbacks. 


Could you do with an extra push in the right direction? Or would you like a bit of support? A psychologist can help you to create an overview starting from the chaos of your tasks. Book a consultation.


👉 Further reading: If You Don’t Want to Go to Work on Monday, Read This