Stress is part of life, and definitely a part of our daily work lives. Even if you love your job, there are days and times when stress in the workplace can wreak havoc on you. Maybe you have a big project due, or it’s the end of the month or quarter, or you’re taking on new responsibilities or even learning a new role – you’ll experience some work related stress. Stress at work happens, and can feel exciting. I know I get a rush of motivation and energy when working on a big project with a deadline looming.
However, stress left unchecked can lead to serious consequences for you physically, mentally and emotionally. Here are some of the more common stress symptoms:
Physical Effects of Stress
- Muscle tightness
- GI issues
- Getting sick more frequently*
*Segerstrom & Miller, 2004, Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry
Mental Effects of Stress
- Memory Problems
- Trouble learning new information**
- Procrastination and decreased motivation
**Levy, 2014, How Stress Affects the Brain During Learning and Wills, 2014,The Neuroscience Behind Stress and Learning
Emotional Effects of Stress
- Increase in negative effects & emotions (sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety, and overwhelm)
- Apathy, and feeling numb or a desire to feel numb
Here’s the good news about stress: we need some stress in our lives, otherwise we would get bored. It’s all about how your react to stress and take care of yourself during stressful times that can help offset the consequences (see above). It comes down to taking care of you, day in and day out. Plus, it’s easy!
Here are 4 different ways on how to relieve stress at work.
1. Arrive at the office prepared.
So I’m going to cheat a little with this first recommendation because this is really the prep work you do at home to help make your day easier. First, go into the office well rested, and make good quality sleep a priority for you. Sleep is essential, and you simply aren’t at your best when you are tired. Next basic is stay hydrated! Get a water bottle and keep it at your desk. Having trouble remembering to drink water? Set a reminder in your calendar. Lastly ensure that you are eating good food throughout the day. What you eat for breakfast (and yes you do need to eat breakfast) should help you throughout your morning, and what you eat for lunch (and yes you do need to eat lunch) should help you throughout your afternoon. I know that big plate of pasta looks yummy for lunch, but come 2:30 p.m. you will be dying for a nap. Also, keep some healthy snacks at the office. When you’ve got a craving, you at least have something healthy to grab.
2. Get away from your desk and out of the building.
Whether you work at home or in an office, your body needs breaks throughout the day. At least once per work day, make an effort to get away from your desk. If you can get outside, even better. If you can during lunch, take 10-15 minutes to step outside and breathe some fresh air. Even a couple of minutes outside will do your body, lungs, and eyes a favor. Deep breath and then back at it
3. Posture check!
It’s easy to get in the zone and spend hours a day at your desk sitting in the same position. It’s important to check in with your body several times a day to see if any aches or pains are forming. Quick way to do this is called a “body scan”. At your desk, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and then notice what areas of your body call your attention first. Neck and shoulders? Back? Stomach feeling upset? Headache? Now you’ve got information and can address any problems right away. Change your posture, drink more water, grab a quick bite to eat, etc.
4. Let your mind rest and be in the present moment at least twice per day
Our brains have amazing abilities to concentrate and retain information, but even our brains need a break throughout the day. One way to achieve this is to add a few minutes of mindfulness to your day. Mindfulness is helpful in slowing down our minds, calming intense emotions, and regaining focus. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Count 5 breaths. In this exercise, created by Dr. Andrew Weil, you simply count to 5 breaths, counting each exhale. You can breathe normally or take 5 deep breaths as you count. Once you’re at 5, you’re done, or you can count to 5 again. The challenge here is to only count to 5, and not 6-7-8, and beyond.
- 4-7-8 or Relaxation Breath This is another great breathing exercise by Dr. Andrew Weil, and is my go-to when I’m overwhelmed, anxious, even frustrated. This exercise has a beautiful calming and relaxation effect, so please don’t attempt this one while driving. You breathe in through your nose for 4 counts (you determine how fast or slow). Hold your breath for 7 counts, and finally breathe out through your mouth for 8 counts. Once is usually enough, but feel free to repeat it if you need to.
- 5 senses. This mindfulness exercise takes you through each of the 5 senses with an everyday activity. The example I do with my clients is with making tea or coffee. I’ve had clients do this while brushing their teeth, or on a walk outside. See what activity you can try this with.
Tea 5 senses example:
- Hear the water boiling.
- See the water pouring. See the color of the liquid change. What colors do you see?
- Smell as the tea is steeping.
- Feel the mug and the heat from the mug.
- Taste the warm drink.
You need some stress in your life. Stress stimulates the brain and allows us to learn, grow, and develop. There is a limit to unchecked stressed that you can handle, and I invite you to take time in the next week to try these work related stress management tips and explore ways to take care of yourself at work.
How do you take care of yourself during times of stress? What is your go-to strategy for the office? Share your answers in the comments below!
Amy Wolfgang is a career coach who founded Wolfgang Career Coaching and co-founded Coaching 4 Good. She brings over 15 years of corporate and coaching experience to help organizations boost employee engagement while simultaneously helping her clients excel in their careers. She is a certified PCM (Professional Career Manager) and has a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology from The University of Texas at Austin.
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