Growing Mindfulness

How to liberate yourself from work stress and change your life for the better

stress-easy-to-unlearn OP WWW.jpg

WORK STRESS IS a hot topic nowadays. Being a mindfulness and work stress specialist I receive many emails from clients and followers. Their emails all revolve around the same question: “I suffer from work stress and burnout. I’ve tried so many therapies and treatments but nothing has worked so far. I’m becoming really desperate. Could mindfulness help to make me feel better again?


Work stress: the new normal

I have been struck down by burnout myself, so I know exactly what my clients are going through. In today’s world, however, it has turned into a serious epidemic. Work stress seems to be normal since we’re supposed to be incredibly busy, all week long. Listen when people answer their phone: ‘Hi…, yeah, really busy. Can I call you back?’ Being busy is the status symbol of the 21st century. Because… what if you’re not busy? Well, then you’re not very important.  Not doing interesting stuff. Not really wanted by anyone…

So we all run around in circles in our hamster-busy-wheels since it seems perfectly normal behaviour and we don’t want to be the odd one out. But being busy 24/7 comes with a high price: chronic stress and burnout.

The causes and consequences of work stress — and a few good tips

In this article I delve into work stress and its main causes. I explain about the unnatural habit of working a job, I share the views of several professionals about work stress enhancing situations, and I consider our present-day lifestyle that pressures us into being connected with everyone at all times. At the end of the article you’ll find valuable tips from me and the professionals I have spoken with.

This article might change your life forever

If you suffer from work stress and feel you’re so exhausted that you fear for burnout, please take a few minutes to read this article. It might be the most important article of your life.




Eager to keep work stress levels low and enjoy life without worrying and fretting? Download my free e-book and discover how my no-nonsense mindfulness approach can help you end work stress. I promise that you’ll feel more balanced and resilient within just a week.


Hi, my name is Marisa Garau and my international bestsellers, e-courses, articles and blog posts are helping thousands of people in Europe, US, Australia and New Zealand to reduce their work stress and lack of fulfilment. Not just for a few months, but for the rest of their lives.

My work stress story

In the final year of running my own advertising agency in Amsterdam it started to dawn on me that I was suffering from work stress. In the past ten years my income had shown a handsome increase, but at the same time my health had steadily deteriorated.


I suffered from thyroid disorder, muscle cramps, an eye disease which required surgery, and serious depression which called for intensive therapy that lasted for more than a year. I was constantly feeling pressured and anxious. I started to forget important dates and agreements, and, while I was only in my early thirties, did no longer have my period. Considering my future, I went into complete paralysis. There was no way that I could quit my agency, as I was working with a partner and what about him if I would quit?? And so I kept on struggling.


Until early November 2005. That weekend I had read a book written by a former film critic who had become so incredibly sour and bitter, that he was on the verge of both being fired and divorced from his life partner. Reading his book was a complete shock: this was about me! I recognised his default negative reactions to all sorts of situations, and his sorry victimhood. But the film critic had overcome these challenges by studying Buddhist principles which helped him unlearn his inefficient, rude behaviour and become a much more sensible, openminded and lovable man. Wow! From one moment to the other I had a spiritual awakening. Just like the guy who wrote this book, I needed to change big time.


The next morning was a Monday morning, and before I got out of bed I knew that my life as I had known it, was over. I drove to work and told my business partner right away that I was going to leave the company. Despite his shock, rage and grief which lasted for more than a month, I felt a deep inner calm that I had never before experienced. Gone was my stress. Gone was the anxiety. Gone was the bottomless unhappiness that I had suffered from for so many years. I had made up my mind to, from now on, take my fate into my own hands, rather than allowing random circumstances pushing me around.


While my business partner found a new partner and I was working on my exit, I thought that I had conquered my stress for once and for all. But it wasn’t before long that my mind started to look for other frustrations to stress about. So now I found myself worrying about my future; that I would never find work again; that I was the failure of the century; that I was totally useless; that my life could never be right again.

I realised that cutting work stress from my life had not suddenly turned me into a Buddha. On the contrary: slowly but steadily I became as stressed from not working as I had been from working — ouch!


I then experienced a second awakening: suddenly I understood that my stress was caused by me… not by work circumstances or stay-at-home circumstances. My stress beast was alive and kicking inside of me, and constantly looked for triggers in the outside world to pester me. The bottom line: I was addicted to stress.

Right then a good friend recommended the mindfulness training course, and I signed up. Even though I had read a library worth of Buddhist books in the past ten years, I had never ever practised the principles. I had totally agreed with them… but hadn’t understood that those principles can only work when you integrate these into your everyday life. The mindfulness training course meant not just learning and understanding, but also practising — and boy did it work!


Since that training I have become a different person, just like the former film critic. My life has completely changed. I wrote a book on mindfulness from my own perspective, and it became an instant bestseller. I moved to New Zealand with my husband and cats, and wrote three more books which are all published by renowned publishers. I started my Growing Mindfulness online platform and now help people from all over the world to lower their stress levels while increasing their happiness levels.

The 6 root causes of work stress

The specific causes of work stress have been extensively researched, since their damaging effects costs societies annually billions of dollars. I have trailed through many reports and have listed the most important work stress triggers.


Employees are severely hindered in doing their job and feeling good about it when they are being micromanaged. Not being granted the trust that you are up to the task, being dictated which exacts steps you should take to get to your result rather than following your own process, being watched and corrected all the time, being criticised and blamed when things go wrong, and not being given the credits when you’ve achieved success, all cause extreme job dissatisfaction and, ultimately, burnout.


When communicated properly, decisions that negatively impact the tasks of employees could be met with general support. Employees are not stupid and you might see perfectly well why sacrifices have to be made for the greater good of the organisation. However, most directors consciously choose secrecy over transparency and exclusion over inclusion, leaving you guessing — and stressing — about the future of your job.

Mandy Wiegman, Prevention Officer at the Dutch branch of a multinational retailer, knows how much impact micromanagement and restructuring have on employees. “Micromanaging causes preventable friction and frustration, since managers are usually not present on the work floor but do tend to meddle and dictate. Employees naturally don’t like this. They know perfectly well how to respond to challenges on the work floor and feel they don’t need to be told by management. They also suspect that their manager wouldn’t even know what to do if they were to solve work floor issues, thus have little respect for micromanagers.

“When in the process of restructuring, directors are often unclear about why things need to change. This causes a lot of stress. When kept in the dark, employees start creating their own explanations, then add to their story the interpretations of co-workers and managers they trust and look up to. This fabricated mix then becomes a truth of its own. Once this ‘truth’ is created, management finds it nearly impossible to undo this untrue truth. So not being transparent comes with a high price that causes a lot of unrest and stress among all divisions of an organisation.”


Reorganisations always lead to cutting costs by making employees redundant. If this happened in the company you work for, you now find yourself in a smaller team that still has to deal with the same workload. So you’re simply expected to work harder and meet tougher deadlines and increased targets, which naturally causes stress.

4. Senseless business decisions

When business decisions don’t make sense to employees, they lose faith in the professionalism and capabilities of their CEO and board of directors. If this is you, you’ll experience disappointment, stress and utter bewilderment.

John Bennett’s work stress story

John Bennett deals with a changed situation at his work and is not coping well. He is a no-nonsense engineer who designs cargo ships, and oversees the building of ships at various ports in Europe and China. John burned out after the company’s restructuring while watching a new generation colleagues marching in and upsetting his work life.

John: “Building a ship is a highly complex process which I have done for 25 years. I love the work because there are many different components involved, it’s like solving a giant, floating puzzle. I used to work with an electrician and another engineer to make certain that my designs were economical and would deliver safe ships. But their roles were terminated after the company’s restructuring. That’s when I started to feel stressed. Not being able to check with these specialists if I was on the right track, made me feel as if I was trying to solve the puzzle in complete darkness. I became insecure. On top of that, my older co-workers retired, and new people entered the scene. Far less experienced, of course, but utterly convinced that their ideas were the best. 

“I now find myself in the situation that I’m working on the design of a ship’s airconditioning system, while we haven’t even solved the problem of how much storage the ship must offer. Basic issues are being ignored, while I know from experience that you can’t build ships this way. But nobody seems to care. I compare it to feeling hungry. My idea would be: ‘Then we’ll have to go out and find food’, right? However, my colleagues would disagree to that suggestion, and instead go out to wash the windows.

I can’t get my head around their way of addressing problems, and my superiors are not allowing me to do my job the way I used to do it. I know we can’t possibly produce reliable, safe ships the way we work now… still nobody wants to acknowledge it. To me, it’s like having to function on a different planet, with aliens I can no longer connect with, nor reason with. I have always been a very sensible, down-to-earth guy, but this situation has thrown me into burnout because it makes me feel as if I’m crazy.”

Don’t blame it all on your employer

Though these root causes make sense and are a reality in many employees’ lives, I still wasn’t totally satisfied with explanations which only blame the organisation and its management, placing employees in the ‘poor-me’ victim role. What role do employees themselves play? Do they maybe intensify their work stress without being aware of it? And so I decided to dig deeper and interview people across a range of professions and organisations. These people either employ workers, coach burned out employees back to health, experience work stress on a daily basis, or were struck down by work stress themselves. Their views paint a far more complex and personal picture of the work-stress-monster we all so seem to suffer from these days.


Elin Stonham works at The Creative Store in Auckland, New Zealand, where she brings together ad agencies and freelance creatives. She shines a different light on how she personally experiences work stress.

Elin Stonham’s work stress story

Elin: “I find that the behaviour and mood of my colleagues are my biggest stress triggers. I feel stressed and uncomfortable when I can tell that someone is in a bad mood or is making snarky passive aggressive comments – you can feel how their negative thoughts poison the air. I studied communications at university and have always find it intriguing how some people’s communication (or lack thereof) can impact the whole dynamic in an office. Naturally, I also experience stress when the workload is high. But that’s a different kind of stress and it doesn’t bother me as much – I just pull some longer hours and don’t partake in the office chit-chat until I’m on top of my tasks.”

How I had allowed others to cause me work stress

I recognise my own experiences in Elin’s observation. As a young copywriter I started my career with an art-director who was in the habit of putting me down and rejecting my ideas. While in the process of brainstorming, it is important to create a trusting ambience where participants feel safe from the fear of being judged, and feel free to share each and every idea that pops into their minds, no matter how brilliant or lame. Only later, when that vulnerable phase is over, all ideas are looked at critically and then either throw out or developed further.

My art-director however judged and crushed my ideas while still in the vulnerable brainstorm phase, thus quickly teaching me to hold my tongue and become extremely alert to not say anything stupid that would trigger another humiliating snigger or meaningful silence. This caused extreme stress and after only two years I broke up with her.

My self-confidence and belief in my creativity had dropped to zero, and I was a nervous wreck. Of course, I had allowed — and even facilitated — her behaviour, and I don’t blame her. I know I played a big part in turning our collaboration into a stressful and uninspiring event.

Later, when I had started my own ad agency and worked with a business partner, all went well for the first few years. Only later, when our collaboration turned stale and predictable, his behaviour seriously affected my work happiness and caused a lot of stress to the both of us. He used to imagine disaster scenarios and stress us out from potentially bad stuff that hadn’t even happened yet… and often wouldn’t happen at all.

He was also bent on ‘playing it smart’ and more than once acted dishonestly, not paying freelancers in time, or overcharging clients. But if someone else would pull the same trick on him, he would (you guessed it) explode and fume at that gross injustice. I never got my head around this attitude, but having been raised to avoid confrontations at all costs, I didn’t address those issues and allowed them to infect our relationship even further.

But at 37 I luckily woke up to the insight that I needed to stop whining and start taking responsibility for my own life in order to regain my sanity and physical health.

Dynamic work rosters and cultural diversity

Mandy Wiegman sees another complicating factor causing work stress within retail stores like the one she works for. “We’re open to the public seven days a week, which means that all employees work according to a duty roster. But many of the elderly employees at the checkouts combine their parttime job with other tasks and social obligations. Since the roster dictates that they must be available during the day as well as evenings and weekends, they struggle to fit these commitments in their private lives around our dynamic work roster. This causes a lot of stress and often they just give up, draining the organisation from their knowledge, experience and generally robust work ethic.”

“Also, our company is a multicultural organisation and we employ people from all over the world, with distinctively different backgrounds. This sometimes causes friction, especially when one of our managers from another country doesn’t quite get how to the Dutch workers expect to be treated and how the Dutch Collective Labour Agreement dictates certain rules and regulations.”

6. The must-have-It-All lifestyle

Both Yvonne Mol, author and editor who, like me, radically changed her stressful life and now runs a website to encourage her audience to slow down and pay attention to the present moment, and Paola Garau, HR consultant and career coach at the governmental department of Work and Income, agree that there is another non-work stress component to work stress.

Yvonne: “People nowadays want it all — they want children and as many as possible; they want an impressive career that demands at least 50 hours a week of slaving away in an office; they want a big house; they want an incredibly large social network; they want luxurious holidays; they want to indulge in sensational activities; and oh, they also want to make a difference in today’s world. It’s a universe of ’too much’. And work is simply part of that incredibly hectic universe.”

“I coach more and more people who have made seriously unhealthy choices”, says Paola Garau. “They take on an impossible amount of tasks a day, and consistently choose quantity over quality. Apart from that, they are seriously addicted to their phone. It’s epidemic. Everywhere you go, you see people stooping to look at their phones, even when they walk stairs! I see mothers and fathers who fail to watch their little ones because that phone bleep demands and gets their immediate attention, and is considered more important than the safety of their children. It’s a true addiction that drains energy and puts massive pressure onto people.”

Mandy: “I think work related stress issues have always been there, but are probably increased and triggered more nowadays by the fact that many people also have a very busy private life. It seems that the work/life balance is more under pressure than years ago, when the pace of life seemed more relaxed.”

Elin also observes that we are highly critical of ourselves and our achievements. “In this day and age we are all moving so fast, but forget to reflect. I have many friends who burned out before even turning 30. Employers want high productivity, but the expectations we put on ourselves are even higher than those of our employers.”

Work stress is not only caused by organisational restructuring, poor management and insufficient communication, but also by the negative behaviour of co-workers, a frantic lifestyle and a ineffective mindset which relentlessly drives us to race on — without any reflection.

My personal experience is that I was convinced that I was only totally committed to my job when I was feeling really stressed about it. Because, how on earth can you do a good job when you’re playing it easy and relaxed? I was raised to work hard for every achievement, but for some reason I developed the mindset that ‘being under constant pressure’ and ‘making it really complex’ was prove of my working so hard and being ‘a good girl’. 

Negative effects on the work floor

Unsurprisingly, this toxic mix of professional and personal circumstances triggers a whole set of negative effects on our present-day lives.

  • We are always fully connected and mindlessly respond to each and every message

  • We feel pressured to live an unrealistically successful and interesting life

  • We feel pressured to make a difference in today’s world

  • We experience work stress when confronted with negative behaviour of colleagues

  • When micromanaged, we are not allowed to think and work autonomously which crushes our creativity, curiosity, initiative and our sense of responsibility

  • We start to perform poorly, which erodes our self-confidence

  • We burn out and call in sick

The devastating effects on your personal wellbeing

You might find that you are caught in the frenzy of striving for a perfect career, a perfect family, a perfect social network, and think you should be changing the world on top of this — so that you can live a perfectly Instagramable life. Or you might find yourself working in an environment where you are being micromanaged, or where you have to step up your performance in less time and with limited budgets while being left in the dark as to the reasons why. Either way, you will notice that all these different circumstances have one thing in common: a huge impact on your wellbeing. You most probably recognise one or more of the following effects: 

  • exhaustion

  • cynicism

  • anxiety

  • low self-esteem

  • no self-confidence

  • inefficacy

  • depression

  • burnout

  • hypertension

  • cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases

  • sleeplessness

  • tense relationships both at work and home

Chronic work stress has an enormous impact on both your psycho-emotional and physical wellbeing, causing all kinds of physical disorders like autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases. 


Apart from all this, work stress brings out the worst in you. It makes you shrink into a state of toxic anxiety which causes you to adapt a ‘pleaser’ if not a total ‘doormat’ mindset. While trying to please everyone and be a good boy or girl, you subconsciously invite just about everyone to walk all over you.

Estranged from myself

Looking back upon my own stressful career years, I can see that chronic work stress had reduced me to nothing but a dark shadow of my original me — an anxious, narrow-minded, frustrated, secretly angry, judgemental person who was convinced that she was the victim of a faulty universe. 

But once I woke from this poor and ultimately powerless attitude, I realised that in all those stressful years I had become estranged from myself. I didn’t like myself anymore. 

In my agency I had found myself saying ‘yes’ while I meant ‘no’. At the end of the working day, back in the safe environment of my home, I blamed my clients for being ‘demanding’ and ‘pushing me over the edge’. I had been picking fights with my husband only because I regularly needed to vent my frustrations. I saw how impatient I had been with my cats. And since everything in my life had revolved around my cool career, my friendships had suffered from a serious lack of genuine attention.

And this was even years before social media started to clasp their intoxicating hands around our throats.

The unnatural concept of working for a living

So despite all the reasons we’ve seen so far, why do we experience so many emotional turmoil when working our jobs or conducting our businesses? Have people throughout the ages struggled with their work load, or is it a modern-day affliction?

While researching this topic, I came across the ideas of Dutch evolutionary psychologist Mark van Vugt. His vision on work stress is that our primal brains have not adapted to our modern lifestyle where we are almost exclusively forced to focus on work.

As hunter-gatherers, humans would spend around 20 hours per week on keeping themselves fed, sheltered and comfortable. The rest of the time they would relax, play, dance and beautify their lives by creating art — the oldest piece of human art is an estimated 40,000 years old. They lived in small groups of a few families where each member knew his chores and understood perfectly well that those chores needed to be done for the good of the social group. They did not consider the things they did to be work, just as animals don’t consider feeding, nurturing, and finding shelter to be work.

Working for invisible results

But these days, at work, we struggle through all sorts of ‘chores’, creating invisible profit to keep unidentified shareholders in far-away countries happy. We can’t possibly see how our work adds value to the greater good of our work family, and we are left to content ourselves with a pay check at the end of the month. 

While the hunter-gatherers saw gratitude in the faces of their thriving family members after doing their tasks, we only get to see some indifferent figures that represent our salary. Not being able to see and enjoy a direct result after completing a task, leaves us utterly unfulfilled and emotionally detached from our work.

Being bossed around

Another unnatural aspect of our modern lives is working for someone else. Humans are naturally autonomous. Research shows that a huge stress trigger at work is dealing with our manager, because instinctively we resist being told what to do. Humans are social animals and naturally want to work together, a trait that served us well when we were hunter-gatherers.

However, when humans started to settle down and work the land, they moved on to possessing land and its produce. This led to differences in income, status and power, and ultimately to social inequality where land owners (now our boss of manager) called the shots and peasants and labourers (we) had to obey.

Safety versus autonomy

Naturally, we want to feel safe. But the relative security of a job comes at a high price: our freedom, our independence, our authenticity. We sign contracts that allow us to be locked up in an office for 40 hours a week and perform tasks that lead to mostly invisible results.

No wonder we feel torn and trapped. And no wonder so many of us burn out on the work floor.

The office-prison

I lived in Amsterdam for 17 years and close to the historic city centre, on the banks of the river Amstel, sat a large prison consisting of six concrete towers. When a new prison was being built on the outskirts of the city, the council asked for proposals to repurpose those six towers, looking for ideas that wouldn’t cost them the world. The most financially sound idea that was proposed? Turning the prison towers into offices! After taking away the bars from the windows, you see, the former prison cells could easily be converted into offices without much building work needed. The prison towers were never converted into offices, instead one tower was turned into a hotel with tiny but crisp rooms.

Still, the average office building to me definitely resembles a prison. Employees must wear their tag and are not allowed out except for lunch or visits to clients. Most employees eat their lunch and snacks behind the computer, hardly ever leaving their desk. If they want to venture outside during the lunch break, the only option they have is to walk around the industrial zone where their office is located. It’s mind-numbing and soul-crushing.

But still, it seems the most normal thing to do. Everybody does it.

One size must fit all

Since the industrial revolution took off and, consequently, strict laws were being established that made school education compulsorily, each and everyone of us has been pressed into the standard mould of school, college and university, training to perform certain skills exactly like thousands of fellow students around the country. Once we meet the standard set by our government and receive our certifications, we go on to be standard employees and perform the standard tricks we were taught, then get our standard reward: the holy pay check that will keep us safe and comfortable.

This principle worked for at least 150 years. But only since the turn of the 21st century the system that was keeping us financially safe, seems to have morphed into a serious health risk. Both Western and Eastern societies are coping with alarmingly high sick leave figures that costs tax payers billions of dollars annually.

Modern equivalent of the production belt

A new awareness is growing that we are trapped in a system that doesn’t allow for freedom, independence, authenticity and personal creativity.

Only now we start to realise we are trained and exploited as production units to keep our economies going. We are totally replaceable, since the work we do can easily be done by others who went through exactly the same education and work experience.

Since in today’s society we can count on the highest standard of living ever, enjoying healthy food from all around the world, proper homes, safety, and sophisticated healthcare, we are now shifting our goals and look for that one thing that isn’t quite perfect yet: exploring our unique talents, putting these to good use and, ultimately, finding inner fulfilment. 

But for now we still work the modern equivalent of the monotony of the production belt, almost brainlessly going through tasks and chores whose necessity we don’t quite understand other than making invisible profit for invisible shareholders.

In order to work such a ‘secure’ job, we must live in expensive cities with high council rates, expensive houses and expensive schools and colleges for our children. Even though we might have a well-paid job, all our money is being absorbed by the high costs of living in big cities.


Due to this trap we voluntarily signed up to, we feel pressured, stressed, deflated, hollowed out, and utterly unfulfilled. To compensate for this emotional misery, we shop the malls every weekend and buy expensive clothes, expensive entertainment systems, expensive toys for the children, expensive homeware, expensive cars, expensive boats, and expensive holidays to exotic destinations. We numb our overworked minds with alcohol, tobacco, and legal and illegal drugs. We try to fill our inner emptiness with stuff and experiences. 

But we all know it’s just a temporary relief. Back at work all the excitement and delicious sensations are gone, and the hangover makes us feel even worse than before.

So what can you do about work stress?

Since work stress can pose a real threat to your physical and emotional wellbeing, it’s important you keep on top of the symptoms and take early signs of fatigue, irritability, worrying and sleeplessness seriously.

Engineer and ship designer John Bennett has adapted a very practical approach to his work stress after he returned to his job: “I became more accepting of some of the incomprehensible stuff that is going on within the company. One of my bosses retired, and our new boss fortunately is experienced and open-minded. He listens to my ideas and concerns.

I let go of the habit of opposing senseless decisions, because it only exhausts me and really doesn’t change a thing within the organisation. I still point out that some approaches won’t work, but then I leave to that. I try not to care so much anymore. If mistakes are being made, however preventable in my eyes, my colleagues will eventually solve them. I’m now allowing them to go through their learning process in their own way. Having shares in this shipbuilding company I naturally won’t be accepting of just everything, ha! But I did learn to let go and have more faith in the capabilities of my younger co-workers.”

Relax more consciously

John’s tip to prevent yourself from falling into the claws of burnout is to relax more consciously and open up to other career options: “Also, after having experienced burnout which was horrible, I now make sure that I recharge after work and in the weekends in order not to plunge over the edge again. I go running, biking and wine tasting with my wife, I spend time with our adult kids, I take city trips regularly. I am more aware I need to relax consciously and not leave it to chance. And rather than hanging on to this job for dear life, I am now looking at other career options and keep my eyes and ears open to opportunities. I now see I could be doing other work, and be just as happy.”

Yvonne Mol remembers her switch to end work stress and consciously design her life well: “I used to work as a fiscalist but I found it stressful and the job didn’t fulfil me. So I quit. Most of my friends responded in the same way: I would love to do that too, but what about my mortgage? I find that excuse both intriguing and sad. It reminds me of that image where a horse is tied to an empty bucket. The poor animal is trained to think he can’t walk away while — if you look at his situation sensibly — he totally can.

Freedom is a choice, both practically as well as mentally. I set out to be free of expectations, stress and societal noise. Only then I could emotionally open up to the things that are really important to me, such as being free to spend my time doing what I love and with the people who are important in my life. Time to me is by far the most valuable resource we have and I’m so happy that I have made the choice to regain control over my own time.”


Yvonne’s tip when feeling overwhelmed is to look at the bigger picture. “Sometimes I feel restless because I think I should be doing something really special for our world. It helps me to realise that even our planet is nothing but a speck in the universe. So what does that make me? Even if I would be able to do something great, it still wouldn’t have much meaning when compared to the enormous and timeless scale of the universe. That’s what I tell myself in order to keep my restlessness at bay. I do love to write, and create beautiful things, and spread positive energy… but in the grand scheme of life it won’t make much of a difference. I’m free to enjoy my life as if it’s a piece of music, and be its composer, but my happiness doesn’t depend on a certain result. As long as I don’t hurt other people, I’m quite content with myself. That to me is a liberating thought which takes away the pressure of having to achieve success and having to be someone special.”

Mandy Wiegman knows that the store has identified work stress causes, but hasn’t been able to tackle the issue yet. “However, our store is currently working on a Risk Inventory and Evaluation in which stress is a factor that will be under investigation. And we recently hired a new HR manager who takes psycho social pressure on our co-workers very seriously, and plans to roll out a policy with practical recommendations in the near future.”

Mandy’s personally strategy to keep work stress at bay is saying ‘no’. “Saying ‘no’ is very powerful and others usually accept it when you have proper reasons for your refusal. I’m also fortunate that my manager trusts me, so I feel valued and have complete autonomy to do my job the way I want it. If I do get stressed, I go for a walk to get away from it all. That usually does the trick pretty well. Apart from that, I make sure I have a good work/life balance, making room for hobbies and enjoying plenty of rest.”


For business owners and managers Mandy has some specific advice to prevent work stress among their employees.
"Be critical of who you hire in the first place. Make certain that you hire people who will fit the company’s philosophy and work ethics. Once new workers are hired, allow time for managers to bond with them so that they know what makes their workers tick.
It’s important that employees are given suitable tasks, so that they can take ownership of their job.
The main thing is that employees feel they are being trusted by the organisation as well as by their manager. This will give them the confidence to express their concerns without fearing that their issues and stress triggers will be dismissed.
While managers often think their workers are there for them, in my opinion it’s the other way around. Managers need to support and facilitate their co-workers so that they can perform their job in the best possible way.
That’s why a good manager is highly empathetic, delegating work and trusting it will be done correctly rather than micromanaging and breathing down their employees' neck. A good manager understands that appreciation and sincere compliments are essential to prevent work stress and increase contentment and productivity among their co-workers."

Elin Stonham uses physical exercise to keep work stress under control: “As soon as I experience higher stress levels, I really try hard to take care of my mental health. I consistently do yoga and go to the gym. I find that physical exercise relieves stress and puts my mind to rest. My husband and I recently got a puppy and taking her to the beach is one of the best stress releases there are, even during winter.”


Elin’s tip to prevent stress and get results is to work according to your own rules. “I perform at my best when I am left to my own devices rather than being micromanaged. When working from home I get a lot of things done because I’m not being distracted by chit-chat or co-workers’ behaviour. I’m happy working autonomously. When I have work to get through, my expectations of my work ethic will ensure that the job gets done properly.”

Paola Garau in her role as a career coach observes how clients ignore their complaints and stubbornly keep going: “Employers consider burnout a symptom of exhaustion caused by issues at home and at work. For too long a period people carry a heavy emotional burden, then start to develop chronic stress complaints. Rather than taking these complaints seriously, they ignore their feelings and refuse to adapt, to slow down, to try different tactics to elevate the stress. Stress then becomes a medical issue, often involving specialists, medication, and psychotherapy. These clients drain their battery completely, then find themselves so depleted that it takes ages to regain a bit of energy to start working on their recovery.”


Paola’s tip when feeling stress at work is to apply mindfulness. “Mindfulness is an excellent way to address early stress symptoms. With mindfulness you gain insight into your own behaviour, identifying unhealthy habits that stress you out and drain your energy. Mindfulness also teaches you how you can turn these habits around and , thus turning the tide preventing becoming overwhelmed.”

Final thoughts

Work stress is a phenomenon many of us suffer from. It costs our societies billions of dollars every year, and it’s rising. Stress has a devastating effect on all of us. It hollows us out, and hinders us from growing into being at ease with who we really are. When you experience work stress, you’ll also take it home into your private life where you’ll subconsciously harm the relationship with your partner and children because of the need to vent your frustrations and hurt.

Even if your work stress is being compensated by a nice pay check… you must realise that money can’t make up for physical and emotional imbalances, nor for crippled relationships. In the end, you’ll have to take a stand and change your circumstances. Understanding that you are deserving of a fulfilling life, is the only way to finding a new path and liberating yourself from chronic work stress that won’t just magically disappear as long as you don’t change tack. As Yvonne and I can testify, ending work stress, regaining your wellbeing and happiness, and finding an occupation that helps you to create inner calm and a more balanced life, is the best you can ever do for yourself… and your loved ones.