Work and stress

Stress at work isn’t always bad. In short bursts, it can keep you alert and helps you perform at your best.

But when there’s too much, or it goes on too long, your mental health can suffer.

Workplace stress can affect your relationships and life outside work. It can also make workplace injury, fatigue and burnout more likely.

What stress can feel like

You can experience stress at work in several different ways. The symptoms can be emotional, psychological and physical.

You might be feeling

  • Irritable
  • Overwhelmed
  • Anxious
  • Depressed
  • Worried
  • A sense of dread
  • Tense
  • Lonely

You might be struggling with

  • Racing thoughts
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • An inability to feel joy
  • Worsening of existing mental health issues
  • Concentration
  • Being around friends or family
  • Dependence on alcohol or other substances
  • Intrusive thoughts

You might be experiencing physical signs of stress such as

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Increased heart rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension or aches
  • An upset stomach
  • Fatigue
  • Panic attacks

Causes of stress at work

At work, there are factors that can cause more stress. We can also feel stressed about other things, such as money, relationships, and other life events. This is natural.

There are things we can do to help prevent work stress and help people experiencing stress. Better mental health at work can help everyone, regardless of the cause.

Learn about ways to build better mental health at work

How to protect your mental health at work

Our work environment is often determined by other people. And every workplace is different. For example, support or flexibility options may depend on your industry, business size, or role.

These are ways to protect your mental health and wellbeing.

Find support

Some employers have a service to help workers with issues affecting their mental health.

This is sometimes called an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). An EAP is usually free of charge to employees. It can provide confidential, short-term counselling as well as referrals to follow-up services.

If you don’t have an EAP but are concerned about your mental health, visiting your GP can be a good place to start. We can also help you find other support that’s right for you. This could include talking to our counsellors or helping you find a mental health professional near you.

Get mental health support

Prioritise your wellbeing

Good wellbeing is about finding a balance in all aspects of your life that works for you. It's about your whole person: physical, mental, social and emotional.

Learn ways to look after your mental health at work. This could include creating a workplace wellbeing plan.

There are also things you can do to support your wellbeing more generally.

Cut extra hours

While leaving work on time isn’t always possible, try to limit the amount of overtime you do.

If working extra hours becomes the norm rather than the exception, or you need more flexibility, check in with your manager or another contact. Such as someone in your human resources team, a Health and Safety Representative or a union representative.

For information about fair work practices, visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website

Take breaks

Whether it’s during the workday or by taking leave, taking breaks when you're able can help manage stress and build wellbeing.


  • taking the time for a break – many people skip breaks when they feel stressed
  • think about how you’ll use your time – perhaps plan healthier food options, get some physical activity or learn about mindfulness and relaxation exercises
  • if you have annual leave available, take opportunities to recharge.

Being busy all the time doesn’t always mean you’re getting more done. It can make you less productive and also lead to burnout.

Learn more about burnout and mental health

Leave work at work (make time for fun)

When things get busy, it’s tempting to blur the boundaries between work and our personal life.

Downtime is a must. Good work-life balance means better mental health and wellbeing.

Try to limit the amount of work-related tasks you do outside of work. This includes responding to phone calls, texts and emails.

Enjoying life away from work is a sure-fire way to help you achieve a healthy balance.

Review your boundaries

It's not always easy to say no. Sometimes, you might say yes because it feels good to help others. Or perhaps because you feel like you have no choice.

There will likely be times you find yourself agreeing to do things that have limited benefit and get in the way of important things. Including your health.

If you're having trouble saying no and feeling stressed about it, talk to someone. Whether by contacting your Employee Assistance Program, a doctor or another mental health professional.

Find a mental health professional

Consider flexible working arrangements

Flexible work arrangements can improve your mental health and wellbeing by maintaining a better balance with your daily life.

Flexible work has also been shown to have business benefits, including greater productivity and inclusion.

Visit the Mentally Healthy Workplaces website to learn about flexible work resources created by the Centre of Transformative Work Design.

These resources provide practical tips for people designing flexible work policies. They cover things like performance benefits for workers. And how businesses can make flexibility work.

I promised Dad I would stay and look after Mum on the farm...  I didn't do that and, in my mind, that was a failure. And I started to really hate myself. I just thought I'd failed.

Read Eddie's mental health journey

Supporting someone at work

If you're concerned that stress at work is impacting the mental health and wellbeing of someone you know, it’s worth talking to them about your concerns.

Learn how to talk to someone you’re worried about at work


Further resources

Staying well at work

  • Mindspot – for free online personalised mental health care.
  • Headgear – a free smartphone app By Black Dog Institute which guides you through a 30–day mental fitness challenge.
  • Smiling Mind – providing free and accessible tools to support healthy minds.

Building mentally healthy work

Journey to recovery – personal stories

Learning more about other people’s experiences of mental health can help you better understand your own journey.

Read and watch more personal stories

When depression and alcohol meet – Richard’s story

Richard's alcohol addiction and battle with depression took a massive toll. After battling for years, he took action to turn his life around.

“I’m a doctor, I shouldn’t get sick” – Geoff’s experience of work stress and depression

Despite spending decades helping others get better, Geoff’s greatest challenge was taking care of himself.