In this article: Work is the #1 cause of stress for most people… and how to take proactive steps to counteract the harmful effects of stress on mind, body spirit.
Stress At Work
According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, the leading cause of stress across the United States is job pressure. That includes tension with your co-workers, being overwhelmed with your workload, and dealing with difficult bosses.
It shouldn’t be too difficult to see why job pressure is the top stressor in the US; we spend the majority of our days at work, seeing co-workers more often than family and with the social aspects of work, and it can quickly spiral into a hotbed of stress and anxiety.
While some people do love their jobs and enjoy the buzz of stress, there is a big difference between the high of short-term stressors and the chronic stress that so many of us are under. With almost half of Americans stating that stress is negatively impacting their life, both personally and professionally, it’s no surprise that 31% of working Americans are seriously struggling with juggling work, family, and play.
Stress can leave you battling severe headaches, feeling incredibly irritable and biting back at the ones you love instead of dealing with it efficiently, it can affect your appetite, result in nausea, leave you feeling fatigued, and it can kill you. Therefore, it’s imperative that you learn how you can handle the stress in your life, especially when it comes to work stress.
30 Ways To Reduce Work Stress
1| Proactive Not Reactive
Stress stems from situations where you don’t feel like you are in control. Those types of events trigger the release of cortisol, which can quickly wear you down over the course of time. It affects your focus, ability to concentrate, and can even impact your self-confidence and overall wellbeing. You can’t control everything, though, so your best course of action is instead to identify what you can and can’t control. Remember, the one thing you do have control over is how you react to situations. So, control what you can but don’t sweat the rest.
2| Deep Breathing
It may sound like a cliché, but deep breathing provides balance and is an effective way to clear your head. Whether it’s been a tense meeting with your boss, a scathing review, or you are struggling to focus working at your desk… stop what you’re doing and take a deep breath. Just inhale for around five seconds and then hold it for a beat before exhaling it fully. Repeat the exercise until you feel calmer – it’s the quickest way to regain your composure.
3| Bombardment Defenses
The biggest annoyance you face on a daily basis is interruptions. While some of them may be welcome, the majority of them are not. Here’s the thing about interruptions, not only do they steal your time while they are occurring but they also shift your focus away from what you’re doing, which can make it difficult to get back in the groove. Interruptions come in a variety of forms, from phone calls and emails to changing deadlines, demanding bosses, instant messages, and people stopping by your desk. Every one of these saps your time and increases the pressure on you to perform.
You can’t control how many people interrupt you, how often it is, or what others do – however, again, you control your response and you have options. You can cut interruptions off before they gain steam, accept it, or diagnose whether it’s important enough to interrupt what you’re doing to formulate a plan.
A lot of the interruptions that you experience can be anticipated because you know Susan always stops by for a chat when she passes by, and inevitably, Bob has gossip to share about what Bill said at the company barbecue. These are a bit easier to manage and you can have a plan in place on how to handle them.
Additionally, you can subtly train the people in your office to understand how you operate – only answer your emails at preset times during the day, close the door to your office when you need to remain focused, and create office hours where you’re happy to chat with others. It may not be easy, but it is possible if you stick with it.
4| Scheduling Your Day
There is something incredibly important many people don’t realize. You cannot sustain a high level of energy and focus for your full workday. It saps your productivity and energy levels if you try to sustain yourself at full pelt for the entire workday. You won’t get more done, you’ll end up exhausted, and you’ll manage to be less productive. Therefore, your work life suffers and then when you get home to your family they suffer, too, because you have no energy to offer them. Give your brain time to reset after an intense focus session.
Whether you opt for 30-minute bursts and a five-minute break or a full 90 minutes of focus with a short break – you will see a difference. If you’re the boss get your employees in on this and see the difference it makes in your office, and if you’re not… don’t be afraid to talk to your boss about it once you’ve tried it out. Either way, planning those breaks and bursts of focused work will help you manage your time and energy more efficiently.
5| Sleep Well, Eat Right
A poor diet isn’t just bad for your weight, skin, and heart – it’s terrible for your stress levels, too. Here’s the thing about stress, though, it makes you crave junk food that is high in fat and sugar. Therefore, it’s incredibly important that you plan for this and always have healthy snacks handy to prevent you from taking your money to the vending machine for a hit.
Additionally, a lack of sleep also fuels stress and poor eating. These are two of the most important things that you can do to help manage any stress in your life, but especially in the workplace. Just think of the last time you went to work feeling exhausted – how did you make it through the day and achieve everything you needed to? You probably turned to caffeine and sugar to do it, which would have affected your sleep that evening, and so on and so forth. It truly is a vicious cycle. Struggling to nod off because your brain is being haunted by racing thoughts? Try breathing through one nostril (cover the other) for around three minutes.
6| So The Story Goes
You know, the reality of a situation is rarely as bad as you build it up to be. It’s easy to do, but the stress might be down to how you interpret the facts. You might not realize that you’re viewing things this way, but you may be wearing glasses with a tint of self-doubt and failing to analyze things objectively.
We are all guilty of taking things a bit personally when if we took a step back we would see things more clearly.
If you need more support in your job and you hear the words no your initial reaction is probably anger, frustration, and maybe even thinking someone has it out for you. Take a minute to calm down and then speak to the person in question – there’s always a compromise. You can make it work when you tell yourself the accurate story instead of allowing emotions and misconceptions to cloud your view.
7| Quickly Calm Yourself
On that note, if you are one of those people that reacts emotionally it’s time to try a breathing technique to quickly calm yourself down before you can proceed. Take a breath through your mouth (almost as though you were doing it through a straw) and then release the breath out of your nose. This should make your tongue feel a bit dry and cool (which means you’re doing it right) and should provide you with a sense of calm. It might even calm everyone else down, too.
8| Identify Stressors You Self-Impose
We are all guilty of this, putting extra pressure on ourselves and seeking approval from elsewhere rather than working on self-confidence. You can’t control how others perceive you so stop getting caught up in that aspect of life. It’s going to fuel your stress and affect your performance. So, shut everything else out and focus on being your best self.
One of the key aspects of efficient time management lies in your ability to prioritize. Of course, there are always different deadlines and priorities so it’s up to you to know how to prioritize everything and that includes prioritizing priorities. How? The first step is truly understanding your role within a business, the company’s values, and priorities and marrying that with your strengths and goals. Your to-do list should reflect that.
10| The Panic Button
Does a presentation leave you feeling anxious and breathless? If you’re one of those people that feel stress rising to dangerous levels before a big meeting, then some sneaky acupressure might just help. Simply use your thumb to apply pressure to the side of either middle finger. This is an excellent trick to normalize your blood pressure and bring you back down to earth – it’s a built-in panic button.
You can manage your stress as effectively and efficiently as possible, but that doesn’t mean you can eradicate it altogether. Especially, when the stress of others can rub off on you (or they exhibit stressful behaviors).
Help yourself (and them) by sitting down for a chat about their negativity. Don’t approach someone in anger or annoyance, always do it respectfully so they hear the truth in what you’re saying. Avoid using a critical tone and make it a compassionate conversation.
Your mind races with tens of thousands of thoughts every day and if some of those thoughts are negative then it can stress you out just as much as an external event or situation. It’s time to learn how to feed yourself positive self-affirmations to provide you with a boost.
13| Music Break
You may need to clear this with your boss, but listening to music is a great way to help relieve stress. Try it and see just how much more efficient you become as the music erases the background noise of the office and allows you to focus and dive right into your work. Just don’t forget your headphones.
14| Regular Breaks
You might think that eating lunch at your desk and skipping breaks helps you be more productive and that your boss will appreciate it. It doesn’t… and they won’t. Your breaks are imperative for your body and brain to refresh and reset. Especially if you’ve reached a point in your day where are struggling to focus or get your teeth into something.
Whether it means hanging out at the water cooler for an extra five minutes to hear Walter’s latest joke or stopping by someone’s desk to see a viral video – laughter is great for relieving stress. So, don’t be afraid to sit with your co-workers on breaks or lunches, just make sure you find the funny people in the office. A lot of the stress you’re holding is in your facial muscles so laughing and smiling releases this thus relieving tension.
Okay, so it might not be busy to fit in exercise while you’re at work but don’t panic just yet. Just get up and work in a stretch or two. If you can get a private spot, you can throw in some jumping jacks and a few pushups, too.
17| Social Network
If you work in an environment where there isn’t much opportunity for social networking, then ensure you have a strong social network outside of work. Whether that means you catch up on your lunch break with a friend or you spend more time with them in your off hours, it’s important that you keep those connections strong. When you do make a friend at work make sure you get at least one break together each day – it could be the difference between a stressful day and a smooth one.
The great thing about visualizing things is that you can do it anywhere. All you need to do is sit comfortably and conjure up a peaceful image in your head. It can be a vacation spot you are desperate to visit or a happy memory that brings you peace. Either way, visualize it and feel your stress melt away. This is also effective for visualizing future goals.
19| Mindful Snacking
We mentioned above how stress can fuel poor eating choices, but mindful snacking is a great way to beat that. Choose something that will satiate you, like nuts, a boiled egg, or even half of an avocado. Don’t eat your snack at your desk, sit in a quiet spot to enjoy it and focus on what you’re eating. Your stress snack just became a quick meditation session.
Not only will a bit of greenery improve the quality of air in the office, it will also provide you with a boost in mood and help relieve stress. Just having plants around you is enough to relax you. A plant can increase your productivity and attentiveness, relieve anxiety, improve blood pressure levels, and even improve how satisfied you are at work. Consider an aloe plant, a peace lily, bamboo, or even philodendron. Just make sure you choose one that is suitable to your office, and what shade of green your thumb is.
21| Turn Screens Off
Constantly sitting at a screen can contribute to your stress, and it can upset your sleeping patterns. Therefore, if you’re plugged in all day at work you should take some time out when you get home. It may be difficult to get away from it at work so it’s even more important that you do so after you’re done for the day but especially in the hour leading up to your bedtime.
22| Muscle Relaxation
Anything that you can get away with doing at your desk is something that is worth trying. This relaxation technique starts at your toes and once you’ve tightened and relaxed those muscles you move up through every muscle group in your body until you’ve reached the top. While it may sound silly, it’s extremely efficient for people who suffer from stress, anxiety, and even depression.
23| The Green Dot
Just the sound of a phone ringing can be enough to cause someone stress and if you are one of those people that get frustrated by such interruptions then this technique might be just for you. Buy stickers and place a little green dot on your phone. When you look at your phone to pick it up you will see that little dot and remember to take a deep breath before answering. It will bring you a sense of calm and even make you sound more confident.
24| Stress Tea
Any tea can efficiently help relax you, whether you prefer black tea, oolong, or even green tea. It can truly help relieve your stress levels, just don’t think that buying it at a convenience store or a coffee shop is the way to proceed. Just grab your teabag and boil some hot water to enjoy. Avoid adding sugar or sweeteners.
25| Invest In A Stress Cube
They have six different sides to them and while you may have written it off as some trendy cube toy, it can really help. When your brain is being forced to handle a complex thought or a problem some of your cognitive load is shifted into fidgeting (or doodling) and it’s this that allows you to process information properly. The stress cube allows you to shift that load and refocus your mental energy appropriately.
26| Fidget Spinner
The fidget spinner is another seemingly trendy toy that really works and for the same reasons as a stress cube. They are fairly similar to stress cubes but they come in a wide variety of styles so you can indulge your love for super heroes or go bold with a bright pattern.
27| Chew Gum
You may choose to chew it out of boredom or to give your breath a quick freshening, but chewing gum is an excellent way to counteract stress. Have you ever noticed how many professional sports coaches stand on the sidelines chewing gum? There are few jobs more stressful than watching your choices unfold on a field before you, so if it’s good enough for the professionals, well… try it.
28| Oil Diffuser
You may need to seek permission from the powers that be (especially if you work in an open office and others are affected), but running a diffuser with essential oils is a great way to lower stress levels. In an ideal world you could club together and settle on a smell that everyone likes and can benefit from (lavender is a great place to start) – but it will entirely depend on how your office layout is set up.
29| Ditch Day
How many vacation days are you allowed that you just don’t take? Too many is the answer for the majority of Americans and its time that you started taking them to help beat stress.
That doesn’t mean, though, that you should skip work in a bid to avoid a brewing conflict or situation. Don’t do it often (unless it’s vacation days that you have planned, of course), and if you’re calling in sick ensure you follow your company’s procedures and policies on sickness and absence.
30| Leave Work At The Door
It may be the biggest challenge you face – you might be one of those people that runs out of the office at the same time every day and you feel guilty at everyone you’re leaving behind. Therefore, to make up for it you take work home. You already spend enough time at work you don’t need to feel guilty about setting clear boundaries on your work/life balance nor do you need to worry about answering emails at all hours. Especially when you have a partner and children to spend time with. Additionally, once you do get caught up in that abuse of the work/life balance it can be difficult to climb back out of it. Therefore, when you leave work that’s it you’re done for the day.
If your job is a constant source of stress and anxiety for you then you cannot let it continue as is. Whether you can apply the tips above to help reduce your working stress or you need to start looking for a new job – it’s important that you understand just how important your self-care and personal health is important. No job is worth ruining relationships with family and friends or compromising your health.
If you’ve tried the tips above and you are still struggling with stress, it may be time to make an appointment with your primary caregiver. There could be underlying reasons fueling your stress, or it could a cyclical issue that your doctor can help you solve with medication.