stressed woman biting a pencil

How To Alleviate Workplace Stress And Ask For Help

It can be stressful being interviewed by a Forbes contributor.   Having the interviewer be someone who actually endorsed my book, Don’t Die Waiting to Brave, made the experience better than I could have hoped.  Kathy Caprino and I met many years ago through the publisher, Berrett-Koehler.  Our paths had not crossed since 2015.  We share an understanding that being brave is an important part of being successful.  Have fun finding your brave as you read Kathy’s piece.

Kathy Caprino Forbes Contributor

Part of the series “Finding Brave To Build A Better Life and Career.”

For so many professionals today, the stress they’re experiencing in their work-lives has become virtually unsustainable. Workplace stress kills thousands of Americans each year (estimated at over 120,000 deaths) and contributes up to $190 billion in healthcare expenses annually.

What aspects of our work cause the most stress? According to the World Health Organization, research reveals that the most stressful type of work is “that which values excessive demands and pressures that are not matched to workers’ knowledge and abilities, where there is little opportunity to exercise any choice or control, and where there is little support from others.”

On the other hand, employees are less likely to experience work-related stress when: 1) requirements of their work are matched to their knowledge and know-how, 2) control can be exercised over their work and the way they do it, 3) support is received from supervisors and colleagues, and 4) participation in decisions that concern their jobs is allowed.

To learn more about how to address our workplace stress by asking for help, I was excited to catch up with Dr. Andrea Goeglein, a positive psychologist who specializes in human development, stress reduction, and work-life balance. Goeglein is the Founder of ServingSuccess, a Las Vegas advisory that helps individuals, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and business leaders apply Positive Psychology to help them reach their goals while increasing their levels of happiness, productivity, and satisfaction. Goeglein holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology, a Masters in Human Resource and Organizational Development, and she’s a Certified Happiness Coach, and an Applied Positive Psychology Coach.

Goeglein explains, “Most people who experience stress at work just put their heads down and barrel through it, but that’s not actually the most efficient way to deal with it. One of the best ways to reduce work-related stress is to ask for help from your co-workers.” She shares, “People mistakenly believe it makes them look weak, but it’s actually the most professionally responsible thing to do because working under high stress can negatively impact your decision-making and productivity, increase mistakes, and damage the overall outcome of whatever project you’re working on.”

Here’s what Goeglein offers in terms of how to handle your stress more effectively and ask for help:

Kathy Caprino: How prevalent is workplace stress today?

Andrea Goeglein: If you think back on all the conversations at business coffee meetings, business lunches, or breakout sessions at a conference, you might have the impression that the work of work is to generate an excessive amount of the human stress hormone, cortisol. So prevalent is work-generated stress that social scientists study its effects when studying everything from meditation (to reduce stress) to how stress reduces the effectiveness of cognitive functioning, and the impact of diseases caused by increased cortisol production(insomnia, weight gain and its related illnesses to the heart).

Caprino: What are the most common causes of work-related stress?

Goeglein: Ask anyone what causes them stress at work, and they will have a laundry list of people’s names, failed projects, and lost opportunities. No matter what they tell you there is only one thing that causes stress. This one thing causes both the right kind of stress and the wrong kind of stress. The right kind of stress, known as eustress causes physiological changes in the body, but the changes are caused by perceived happy or joyous occasions, so the resulting physiological changes on the body do not cause negative implications. The wrong kind of stress also causes physiological changes in the body, but those changes create negative cortisol-producing distress. There are two forms of stress with two different outcomes, both caused by how a person thinks about the situation. Thinking lays the foundation of all responses.

A recent survey by Compsych, the world’s largest provider of employee assistance programs, found that the top 5 causes of stress are: workload (39%), people issues (31%), juggling work and personal life (19%), and job security (6%).  Employees think they are overworked; they think they cannot resolve issues with others, they think there is not enough time for all parts of their life, and they think that, on top of it all, they might lose the job causing all the stress.

Caprino: How does stress impact the quality of our work?

Goeglein: Once negative thinking and reactions are in motion, you have begun producing cortisol and created stress on the body. The most challenging part of workplace stress is that it does not take a big thing going wrong to start the flow of cortisol.

The small everyday stuff such as being left off an email sequence, a client not returning call after call, or a boss forgetting your name when she is about to introduce you to the CEO is all it takes. Small moments in time that collectively begin to build negative thoughts, that give fuel to negative responses, that are causing negative stress all along the way.

Caprino: Can stress truly increase mistakes?

Goeglein: Yes! Imagine this. Take all those small interactions and sit down to on an important project. Without necessarily being aware, stress has begun to negatively impact your ability to focus and your level of concentration. With reduced focus and concentration, the time needed to create solutions and design an outstanding report has increased. Your reduced focus makes you take longer to complete the project and increases the likelihood that you will be inaccurate in your analysis. In fact, 76% reported losing 15 minutes to 1 hour per day due to stress. We think we know what contributes to workplace stress and how to address it, but our efforts often don’t work. Altering our reactions to situations big and small takes a conscious shift in thinking.

Caprino: When does it reach a level where you absolutely should reach out to coworkers and colleagues for help?

Goeglein: One area where thinking needs to shift is how we view asking for help from coworkers and when is it necessary and appropriate to ask for assistance. This is actually the easy part. Asking for help should happen long before you need it. Help will come from the same people you have made an effort to know and trust when sharing those moments of eustress over a contract won, a promotion well-earned and a creative idea manifesting results for you and your organization. It is that intentional relationship building during the good times that will support you and reduce negative stress when things are challenging, and you need trusted assistance and advice.

The same way that thinking causes stress is the way intentional relationship building creates a solution to stress. Yet, for many, the default thinking about asking for help is that it is a sign of weakness and incompetence. Wrong. Relationship building is a proven part of the science of flourishing and well-being in all aspects of life and work. Relationship building supports flourishing, yet it can make you feel vulnerable and insecure.

Caprino: Why are people afraid to ask for help with projects or task at work? Are these fears legitimate? 

Goeglein: Vulnerability and insecurity are heightened in the workplace because people are expected to work together who did not necessarily choose to be together. On top of the natural vulnerability and insecurity of thinking “Will I be liked?” “Will they respect my work?” you add the loss of choice, and you have a perfect formula for relationship building avoidance.

Caprino: What are the negative consequences of reaching out for support? What’s the upside?

Goeglein: Are we correct to be concerned when we reach out for help? Of course! Some people will refuse to help you; some people will use your momentary failure as a way to propel their careers. The best advice comes from leadership author Kent Keith’s book title implores, Do It Anyway.

In business and in life, everything comes down to the numbers and building supportive friendships is no different. First, you have to begin. Reach out to people who share similar interests or who share your enthusiasm for your organization’s purpose. The more intentional effort you put to building solid relationships, the greater the likelihood you will have the support you need when you need it. Second, be resilient. Don’t stop if the first few attempts to get someone’s attention or to get on their calendar to meet fails.

Relationship building takes a lot of psychological testing of the waters of trust. In the end, the bottom line result is increased positive feelings from the support you receive, a sense of well-being from knowing you are not alone in your efforts to achieve and friends to celebrate your next success.

Caprino: What are the best three strategies you’ve found for asking for help?

Goeglein: Here are three I’d recommend:

Build trust collateral by helping before you are asked. For example, if you are asked by a present when a colleague is given feedback that a presentation or project is not good enough, offer assistance. It is important to be thoughtful about how you offer. In this case, do not say “can I help you?” Instead, share “I once worked on a project like this. May I lend my experience to your next round of thinking?” You will be learning who you can trust when you need help, and you will learn the different experiences your co-workers offer.

Know your limits and honor them

Become the best judge of your knowledge and experience and the limits to knowledge and experience. Know your “knowledge stretch point.” always stretch yourself past, but never to the breaking point. Don’t wait for the signs of distress to be noticeable.  Know your yellow stress flags and honor them and don’t wait for the red flags to be waving in your face before you ask for help.

Build relationships strategically, authentically, and express sincere appreciation 

There is a saying that the best time to ask for help is before you need it. Why? Because you will be entering into the relationship with an inquisitive, exploratory mindset. You will be relaxed and more naturally want to learn from someone. You are showing up authentically. It is from this place of authenticity that you will remember to express sincere appreciation for what you have learned, how they have helped, and the bond you have forged.

Stress has become somewhat of a workplace bravery litmus test. Are you brave enough to know your limits and admit them? Are you brave enough to forge supportive relationships and risk rejection? Are you brave enough to acknowledge the help you received as needed and valuable?

The thought of such questions can cause you stress. Your willingness to shift your thinking is a sign of overcoming weakness and moving toward greater strength.

If you want to begin learning how to reduce your stress naturally by knowing and using your natural strengths go to



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About the author

Andrea Goeglein is part organizational psychologist, part entrepreneur, and all about success—your success. She understands both the pressures you face and the dreams that inspire you. Andrea merges her experience as a business owner with her training in Positive Psychology to provide effective, efficient and challenging personal development products and services. She combines an emphasis on objective assessment with an approach that is always powered by your spirit and guided by your goals. Her professional development offerings are based in theory and backed by direct business knowledge.

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