How to Deal with Stress at Work: The 10 Best Tips
Stress affects most of us in every way from environmental factors such as a fast-approaching deadline, to psychological factors like not knowing how to create a website by ourselves. No matter the cause, your heart starts to beat fast, your breath becomes short, and you enter this state known as the “fight-or-flight” response. In that state, your immediate thought is to either fight off the stress quickly or run away - perhaps acting irrational or quitting your job in the worst possible scenarios.
Consistently entering the “fight-or-flight” response state will cause chronic stress, which can result in major health complications. We aren’t here to scare you though, we’re here to help you take control of it by tackling the number one cause of tension in most people’s lives first: Work stress!
Here are 10 tips on how to deal with stress at work:
Get quality sleep
Make healthy food choices
Plan your day before checking your inbox
Schedule breaks in your calendar
Take a few deep breaths
Do a brief form of exercise
Eliminate distractions within your control
Focus on a soothing word or place
Take control of the situation
Turn to a friendly coworker
01. Get quality sleep
Getting enough sleep allows you to tackle each day full force from the morning on. This might mean a full eight hours in bed, as it will take you some time to fall asleep at night and perhaps you’ll press snooze on multiple alarm clocks in the morning.
Lack of sleep builds up over time, and you’re going to feel the effects every day you go to work without a proper rest.
An adequate amount of sleep enables your body to recover and reset from stress. It will also prevent the chance of future stress from being too tired or having to drink an absurd amount of caffeine in order to make it through the long day ahead.
02. Make healthy food choices
When you’re stressed, you increase the use of the hormone cortisol in your body. Cortisol stimulates your appetite so that you’ll want to eat more to get the energy back that this stressful situation took from you. Yes, this is a fancy way of saying “stress eating.”
Back to the “fight-or-flight” response mentioned in the intro, dealing with work stress in the heat of the moment can mean munching on the not-so-decadent office cookies and chips, excess cups of coffee, alcohol, or even smoking a cigarette. These will actually decrease your energy, so that you become too tired to deal with the problems that caused you stress at work in the first place.
Instead, you’ll want to feel recharged and recovered. Do so by making healthy consumption choices. Try eating whole foods rich in fiber, protein and healthy fats. Low-sugar fruits, veggies, nuts, dark chocolate and whole wheat bread are all great choices. Also, omega 3 fatty acids like walnuts and flax seeds are known to improve overall mood to get you out of that funk.
03. Plan your day before checking your inbox
This will allow you to feel that you have more control over your day. Begin by prioritizing the most important tasks. In doing so, it’s best to stick to three things, as to not overwhelm yourself and therefore cause more stress at work. Only if you are able to tackle these will you have room to work on everything else, which is less crucial.
An exercise to make sure that you are prioritizing your day the most efficient and effective way possible is to make a list of all of your daily activities. Then, place a star next to the items that are absolutely required of you with the closest deadlines. Do these first. Or perhaps, only do these.
Oftentimes, people get so caught up in perfectionism that they become so busy for no reason. In reality, they’re simply doing more than they need to. Does this sound familiar to you? If so, try this out and see if you are able to hone in on just the key components of your crowded to-do list, and maybe even change your quality of life in the process. This way, you're less likely to overwork, which can contribute to a healthier work-life balance.
04. Schedule breaks in your calendar
With the nonstop approach of working ‘til you collapse on your mattress at night, your productivity will actually decrease. Your body and your brain require breaks and rest in order to reset. If you’re often stressed or overworked, this means breaking throughout the day, rather than just at night.
Take a few minutes every hour or two to go for a walk, meditate, breathe, drink a glass of water, or simply do nothing. If you aren’t sure that you’ll be able to hold yourself accountable to this, schedule 5-10 minutes in your calendar for absolutely nothing. This ensures that no one else can take this time away from you. Then, see how much more productive your day will be after that.
05. Take a few deep breaths
You’ve probably heard some version of the words “take a breather” from someone who saw you in the heat of a stressful moment. Do you actually know why this helps, though?
Deep abdominal breathing increases the flow of oxygen to your brain which slows down your breath and heart rate, relieves muscle tension, decreases blood pressure, and numerous other benefits. Ultimately, it puts you into a state of pure bliss.
Even just taking three deep breaths - where your exhales are longer than your inhales - can make a huge difference in your state of mind.
06. Do a brief form of exercise
“Brief” is the key word here because it’s presumed that you simply don’t have time for a full workout, especially during the work day.
After a stressful situation, a short brisk walk has similar calming effects as deep breathing, such as relieving muscle tension and getting your blood flowing in order to turn off the “flight and fight” stress response. While walking, focusing on the exercise at hand will help you work on being present rather than worrying about the thing that caused you stress in the first place.
If you have a little more time, another suggestion is stretching with breath, in other words: Yoga. This is the ultimate form of exercise when it comes to managing work stress. The reason is that it combines breath work, muscle tension relief, and mental focus - hence stimulating that preferred state of calmness.
07. Eliminate distractions within your control
Do you ever feel that you simply don’t have enough time in your day? Most people would answer with “Duh!” Well, more often than not it’s probably a result of how you’re spending your time. You might be checking your personal email, responding to a non-work-related text message, or browsing an article online. See, you actually do have time in your day, you just might not be spending it the most productive way possible.
You can change this by taking more control of your day and eliminating unnecessary distractions. Perhaps you can do so forcefully by using an app such as Freedom to block out tempting applications (like Facebook and Instagram) for an allotted period of time. This is one of the many time management apps which we highly recommend.
08. Focus on a soothing word or place
Trick your mind into a calm state by imagining a place or thinking of a word that you know makes you feel calm. A vacation would of course be nice, but you need to take control of your situation now. Do a short meditation or zone out and think of words like “calm,” “relaxation,” or “the beach.” No one even needs to know what you’re up to in your head - only your soothing smile will give it away.
09. Take control of the situation
When we’re stressed, it’s because we feel that certain situations are out of our control. For example, too many meetings during the day. Perhaps you are the one hosting one of those meetings though? If so, take a moment to evaluate whether or not it’s worthwhile to have it in the first place. More often than not we host meeting purely out of principle. But if that’s not the case, you can make it less stressful by learning how to host the most effective meeting.
Another way to have more control over work situation is by taking the time to understand the psychology behind working with different types of people. You can do so by reading about the five personality types in the workplace. Learning how to work with each of these kinds of people will allow you to be more effective in your collaborations, and handle your day with more ease and control.
10. Turn to a friendly coworker
Relationships not only increase the longevity of our lives, but also provide emotional support during times of stress at work. When we hold in our stress, uncertainty, or lack of confidence, we aren’t doing ourselves any good. One way to let it all go and escape from that stressful buildup properly is by talking about the issues with others who truly care for you. This can help you get your problems off your chest, then move on to feeling better and relieved.
You can also give back to your companions by being a friendly support system for them and offering recommendations from the other tips mentioned above.
Beyond the tips presented here, read up on a few other ways to destress while you work.
By Jennifer Kaplan
Small Business Expert & Writer