Often, people don’t recognize the symptoms of work-related stress and instead, they adapt to a ‘coping’ mechanism. Either they try to become busier with their same work or tell themselves that they should adjust to the current environment. They convince or console themselves that this is a temporary phase but in most cases, it is not so.
Of course, not all stress is created equal. A certain amount of healthy stress in the workplace is actually a good thing. Experts make a distinction between eustress (good) and distress (bad) and point out that eustress is actually necessary for individuals to make breakthroughs and companies to grow.
Eustress is motivating. It keeps you on task and helps you cross the finish line. Distress is debilitating and occurs when the good stress builds up and becomes too much to cope with. Negative work stress can come from a variety of factors:
- Fear of being laid off or fired
- Additional overtime due to budget cuts
- Pressure due to constantly rising expectations
- The pressure to constantly work at peak levels
Is your stress level out of control? These are the few warning signs:
- You are in a depressed mood, you may lose confidence, become angry, irritable, or withdrawn
- You are unable to slip or experience fatigue during the day
- You cannot concentrate o your work
- You experience muscle tension, stomach problems, or headache
- You notice a decrease in your libido
- You turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism
Here are 6 tried and true methods for learning how to relieve stress at work – so you can get back to your work with your full energy:
1 Beat workplace stress by reaching out
Sometimes the best stress-reducer is simply sharing your stress with someone close to you. The act of talking it out and getting support and sympathy—especially face-to-face—can be a highly effective way of blowing off steam and regaining your sense of calm. The other person doesn’t have to “fix” your problems; they just need to be a good listener.
Turn to co-workers for support.
Having a solid support system at work can help buffer you from the negative effects of job stress. Just remember to listen to them and offer support when they are in need as well. If you don’t have a close friend at work, you can take steps to be more social with your co-workers. When you take a break, for example, instead of directing your attention to your smartphone, try engaging your colleagues.
Lean on your friends and family members.
As well as increasing social contact at work, having a strong network of supportive friends and family members is extremely important to managing stress in all areas of your life. On the flip side, the lonelier, and the more isolated you are, the greater your vulnerability to stress.
2 Start Exercising (or Exercise More)
When you’re overly focused on work, it’s easy to neglect your physical health. But when you’re supporting your health with good nutrition and exercise, you’re stronger and more resilient to stress.
Taking care of yourself doesn’t require a total lifestyle overhaul. Even small things can lift your mood, increase your energy, and make you feel like you’re back in the driver’s seat.
Make time for regular exercise
Aerobic exercise—and activity that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat is an effective way to lift your mood, increase energy, sharpen focus, and relax both the mind and body. Rhythmic movement—such as walking, running, dancing, drumming, etc.—is especially soothing for the nervous system. For maximum stress relief, try to get at least 30 minutes of activity on most days. If it’s easier to fit into your schedule, break up the activity into two or three shorter segments.
And when stress is mounting at work, try to take a quick break and move away from the stressful situation. Take a stroll outside the workplace if possible. Physical movement can help you regain your balance.
3 Make smart, stress-busting food choices
Your food choices can have a huge impact on how you feel during the workday. Eating small, frequent, and healthy meals, for example, can help your body maintain an even level of blood sugar. This maintains your energy and focus and prevents mood swings. Low blood sugar, on the other hand, can make you feel anxious and irritable while eating too much can make you lethargic.
Minimize sugar and refined carbs. When you’re stressed, you may crave sugary snacks, baked goods, or comfort foods such as pasta or French fries. But these 'feel-good' foods quickly lead to a crash in mood and energy, making symptoms of stress worse, not better.
- Foods high in fat like cheese and red meat, which lead to lethargy and sluggishness
- Foods high in refined carbs or sugar, which cause your energy to spike and crash
- Caffeinated drinks like coffee and soda, which inhibit your ability to sleep
- Nicotine, a stimulant that can boost your anxiety
- Alcohol, a natural depressant
4 Get Enough Sleep
You may feel like you just don’t have the time to get a full night’s sleep. But skimping on sleep interferes with your daytime productivity, creativity, problem-solving skills, and ability to focus. The better rested you are, the better equipped you’ll be to tackle your job responsibilities and cope with workplace stress.
Improve the quality of your sleep by making healthy changes in your daytime and nightly routines. For example, go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends, be smart about what you eat and drink during the day, and make adjustments to your sleep environment. Aim for 8 hours a night—the amount of sleep most adults need to operate at their best.
Turn off screens one hour before bedtime. The light emitted from TV, tablets, smartphones, and computers suppress your body’s production of melatonin and can severely disrupt your sleep.
5 Prioritize and Organize
When job and workplace stress threatens to overwhelm you, there are simple, practical steps you can take to regain control.
Time management tips for reducing job stress
Create a balanced schedule. All work and no play is a recipe for burnout. Try to find a balance between work and family life, social activities and solitary pursuits, daily responsibilities, and downtime.
Leave earlier in the morning. Even 10-15 minutes can make the difference between frantically rushing and having time to ease into your day. If you’re always running late, set your clocks and watches fast to give yourself extra time and decrease your stress levels.
Plan regular breaks. Make sure to take short breaks throughout the day to take a walk, chat with a friendly face, or practice a relaxation technique. Also, try to get away from your desk or work station for lunch. It will help you relax and recharge and be more, not less, productive.
Establish healthy boundaries. Many of us feel pressured to be available 24 hours a day or obliged to keep checking our smartphones for work-related messages and updates. But it’s important to maintain periods where you’re not working or thinking about work. That may mean not checking emails or taking work calls at home in the evening or at weekends.
Don’t over-commit yourself. Avoid scheduling things back-to-back or trying to fit too much into one day. If you’ve got too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.
Task management tips for reducing job stress
Prioritize tasks. Tackle high-priority tasks first. If you have something particularly unpleasant to do, get it over with early. The rest of your day will be more pleasant as a result.
Break projects into small steps. If a large project seems overwhelming, focus on one manageable step at a time, rather than taking on everything at once.
Delegate responsibility. You don’t have to do it all yourself. Let go of the desire to control every little step. You’ll be letting go of unnecessary stress in the process.
Be willing to compromise. Sometimes, if you and a co-worker or boss can both adjust your expectations a little, you’ll be able to find a happy middle ground that reduces the stress levels for everyone.
6 Break bad habits that contribute to workplace stress
Many of us make the job stress worse with negative thoughts and behavior. If you can turn these self-defeating habits around, you’ll find employer-imposed stress easier to handle.
Resist perfectionism. When you set unrealistic goals for yourself, you’re setting yourself up to fall short. Aim to do your best; no one can ask for more than that.
Flip your negative thinking. If you focus on the downside of every situation and interaction, you’ll find yourself drained of energy and motivation. Try to think positively about your work, avoid negative co-workers, and pat yourself on the back about small accomplishments, even if no one else does.
Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things at work are beyond our control, particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control, such as the way you choose to react to problems.
Look for the humor in the situation. When used appropriately, humor is a great way to relieve stress in the workplace. When you or those around you start taking work too seriously, find a way to lighten the mood by sharing a joke or funny story.
Clean up your act. If your desk or workspace is a mess, file and throws away the clutter; just knowing where everything is can save time and cut stress.
7 Actively Listen To Music
This means consciously listening to music, not just hearing music – you occupy your brain and distract it from other thoughts.
If you are worried about something, then it is possible that a lot of your brain time is consumed by your issues, worries, and problems leaving you exhausted and irritable, which are classic stress symptoms. A safe and low-cost escape can be provided by music, lifting your mood, and maybe making you smile.
While dealing with stress at work is a real problem in the workplace, it's definitely solvable following the tactics outlined here to bring your stress level back down into the healthy range, you can continue to experience breakthroughs and create some real magic for yourself.
Have a great trick to reduce stress in the workplace that I didn’t cover? Let me know in the comments below.