Some level of stress at work is unavoidable. Some of us even do our best work under pressure and enjoy working against the clock to accomplish a goal. But, there’s no denying the dark side of stress:
Chronic stress has been clinically linked with inflammation, atherosclerosis, diabetes, weight gain, and cardiovascular disease, just to name a few. While financial problems and issues with interpersonal relationships can certainly contribute, work is a major cause of tension for 40 percent of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Additionally, 26 percent report they often feel burned out by their work.
Since you likely spend a significant portion of your week working, the pressures you experience at work may be impacting your health right now. It’s impossible to eliminate all stress from our work lives; however, there are some practical steps we can take to reduce the overall level of stress we face. Here are five things you can do this week to reduce work tensions.
Take care of yourself first
The first — and arguably the most important — step you can take to reduce stress at work is to prioritize your health. A healthy body and mind are far better equipped to deal with the routine ups and downs of daily activity without getting overly burned out. Conversely, if you’re malnourished, sleep-deprived, dehydrated, or ill, you’re going to feel stress more quickly, exacerbating the already negative effects you’re likely experiencing.
So, to reduce work tension, follow these simple daily rules:
- Eat well - Fuel your body with an adequate supply of balanced, nutritious foods throughout the day. Be sure to start out with something besides coffee early in the day and grab a bite every few hours to keep your blood sugar steady and your brain active. If your work involves a lot of desk-sitting, keep your lunch and snacks light. If you’re active throughout the day, make sure you’re taking in enough calories to compensate.
- Drink well - Everything is tougher when you’re dehydrated: thinking, moving, and coping with stress. Buy yourself a nice, large water bottle you can keep with you at all times and sip at it throughout the day. If you need to, use an app on your phone to remind you to drink water.
- Sleep well - Make it a point to get enough sleep every night. An average of eight hours is recommended for adults, although you may personally need slightly more or less to look and feel your best. (See the third tip on scheduling for more on sleep.)
- Move well - A regular exercise routine is absolutely vital to health. But, it goes beyond your daily run or three visits to the gym each week. Make sure to keep yourself moving throughout the day. Some options that have helped a lot of formerly sedentary workers include using a standing or treadmill desk, parking farther from the office entrance, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and switching to public transportation or biking to work instead of driving.
Even if you’re keeping up with all of the above, you still need to work with a team of professionals to make sure you stay as healthy as possible:
- Partner with your primary care doctor to get an annual physical examination and preventive care.
- Schedule two routine dental cleanings and exams each year.
- Arrange for an annual eye exam and updates to your eyewear if needed.
- Keep up with any prescription medications recommended by your doctor, and discuss any needed vitamins or supplements as well.
- Act promptly on any recommendations for specialist visits, lab tests, or procedures recommended by your healthcare team.
Take control of your environment
Everyone’s work environment is different, and you may have limited control over your surroundings when you’re working. But, to the extent you can control what’s around you when you’re working, consider making these improvements to help lower work anxiety:
- Declutter - Surprisingly, just cleaning up your workspace can do wonders for decreasing chronic stress. File or throw out paperwork that’s not vital to your current project, then do the same for any tools or supplies. Once your physical space is trimmed down and spruced up, do the same for your computer’s desktop, email inbox, and any other digital workspaces you frequent. Special tip: If you clean your workspace every night, you’ll start the day fresh and virtually stress-free every morning.
- Personalize your workspace - Putting up photos of loved ones or little mementos that make you smile can bring much-needed moments of joy into an otherwise tough workday. They can also serve to remind you in-the-moment of why you’re working so hard, and what your “rewards” will be when you’re done working for the day. Both these benefits can reduce the impact of day-to-day pressures.
- Reduce interruptions and unnecessary stressors - Sometimes, reducing work stress is as simple as slipping on a pair of noise-canceling headphones so you can concentrate better or avoid unintentional disruptions. Turning off email and chat notifications, or — if you have a personal office — having the guts to close your office door can also be incredibly liberating.
Give it some thought and be creative, and you can likely apply these ideas to even the most seemingly uncontrollable work environment.
Take control of your schedule
This is another area where some of us have almost no authority to make changes. You’re scheduled to be doing Task A from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday to Friday, no matter what. For those who can optimize their work schedule, however, this is another great way to cut down on stress:
- Break your tasks into “time blocks” - Rather than flitting from one project to the next haphazardly or at the whim of the latest email or chat message to arrive, schedule out blocks of time to work on one specific project or one set of closely related tasks. This will allow you to focus more and can lead to much greater productivity. (Special tip: For a master class on this subject, explore the concept of “Deep Work” as described by author, Cal Newport.)
- Limit or eliminate interruptions - While some emergencies are unavoidable, most interruptions are simply a matter of poor planning. To the extent possible, schedule blocks of time to read and respond to emails, respond to phone calls, attend meetings, and have one-on-one discussions with coworkers. Then, do your best to avoid these tasks during other scheduled blocks when you’re supposed to be working on other things.
- Schedule in “downtime” - If you can manage a 20-minute power nap in the afternoon without raising eyebrows, it can do wonders for your productivity. Another form of downtime that works well for many is the five-minute break at the end of a Pomodoro work period. Something as simple as standing up, stretching your back, and pacing around the perimeter of your office once can do wonders to clear and refresh your mind, relieving stress.
- Establish firm start and stop times - In today’s always-connected work world, the line between your work life and everything else can become severely blurred. To reduce stress dramatically, establish a point each day when you’ll turn off the email and chat apps on your phone, close the laptop, and set your work phone number to an automatic voicemail. Make a commitment to not reconnect until a set time the next workday. (Special tip: This works best when you communicate your intentions to all your coworkers to manage expectations. This can be especially challenging if you’ve been “always on” in the past, but it can work wonders for your stress level if you’re willing to take this step.)
Recognize what you can’t control and let it go
Of course, no one can control everything that can cause anxiety at work. Learning how to avoid getting stressed out by these things may not be easy, but it’s well worth the time and effort.
- Move away from being reactive - If a coworker botches a task or misses a deadline, or a client comes back with an impossible demand, it’s important to recognize that you likely have little or no control over the situation. Worrying about it does no good, and could even hamper your ability to resolve the matter and get past it. So, learn not to waste time or energy on getting angry, endlessly analyzing the situation, or playing the blame game. Just recalibrate, adjust your plan as needed, and get back to work.
- Let go of frustration, anger, and resentment - It’s far easier said than done. But, if you identify long-standing resentments you’ve been holding onto or frustrations with company policies that are beyond your control, let them go. They’re not doing anyone any good, and the chronic stress they cause could be doing you tremendous harm.
Leave work at work
This was already touched on when we discussed establishing firm start and stop times, but it bears repeating because it’s so important. In the battle against work stress, securing a break from work could be the single greatest strategy available.
It’s admittedly difficult when your smartphone can barrage you with work notifications at all hours of the day and night, but don’t forget that no job should expect your undivided attention 24/7. In fact, some studies indicate that companies would do well to encourage the exact opposite:
“Once we pass a certain threshold of working hours, our sleep starts to become impaired; we’re more likely to feel depressed and stressed; and can even have a harder time communicating, collaborating, and getting things done.”
By committing to separate your work life from the rest of your life, you will instantly enhance the quality of both. Productivity will go up, stress will go down, and you’ll be more likely to enjoy your time — both in and outside of work — far more.
If you’re ready to get started with that all important first step — taking care of yourself first — the Wellness Complete discount plan can make it far easier and less expensive to do just that. Learn more about the program by clicking below.