News flash: Work is stressful.
Gee, thanks, Captain Obvious, you’re probably thinking. Of course work is stressful. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 40 percent of Americans report being “extremely stressed at work.” Workplace stress has countless causes, from physical discomfort to interpersonal conflict to disorganization to learning to exist in an environment that values multitasking above all else. Throw in a global pandemic and it’s a wonder we can even get out of bed in the morning!
But we do, and we persevere through it all. But the truth is, work doesn’t have to be as stressful as we make it. Managing Stress in the workplace—whether it’s the home office or the real one—is possible, and it begins with a little bit of self-care.
Top 5 Strategies For Managing Stress in The Workplace
Do you know what the most popular drug in America is? No, it’s not marijuana or alcohol. It’s caffeine. Roughly 90 percent of Americans gulp down caffeine each day, usually in the form of coffee or tea.
Caffeine belongs to a group of medicines called central nervous system (CNS) stimulants. While it can help restore some alertness when you are fatigued, caffeine inhibits the absorption of adenosine, a chemical that calms the body. This makes you more wired and alert, but also can cause sleep problems and raise stress levels. Likewise, caffeine can increase your body’s levels of cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.” If you find yourself downing two, three, or four cups of coffee during your day, try cutting back or switching to decaf.
Try to Get Regular Exercise
Our regular readers will know by now that exercise is a critical component of weight loss and lowering your risk of chronic disease. But burning calories aren’t the only benefit; regular exercise can also help you “burn off” those pesky stress hormone that linger in the body.
For our ancient ancestors, stress was actually a crucial advantage that triggered so-called fight-or-flight responses. When confronted with danger, such as a sabretooth tiger, a sudden injection of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol gave early humans that extra boost of energy to run away or climb up a tree. These days most of us don’t have too much need for stress hormones, but our body still pumps it out anyway when we’re confronted with a stressor—maybe a tough deadline or a fight with a significant other.
A Columbia University study of nearly 5,000 people found that people who exercise regularly have a 25 percent lower chance of being diagnosed with depression. Another study out of Duke University found that a regular exercise program can be just as effective as the antidepressant Zoloft. A simple exercise routine can start your day on a positive foot and keep it there for life.
Of course, many of us have office jobs and can’t realistically scale mountains or spend hours at the gym each day. Fortunately, there are many ways to be active even when spending your day at the office. For instance, researchers at Indiana University discovered that frequent walks can vastly improve blood circulation. While people who remain seated for extended periods of time have 50 percent reduced blood flow, those who take a five-minute walk once an hour can maintain normal circulation levels. So, instead of writing your coworker an email or calling her on the phone, walk over to her desk. Hit the stairs instead of the elevator. Take the long way to the printer. Use the bathroom on another floor. Every small step counts (pun intended). Meanwhile, for those who work remotely, check out Woliba’s series on staying active while working from home.
One of the best ways to manage stress in the workplace might be standing right in front of you—literally. Ask your HR department if your company offers standing desks. Many models are adjustable so you can choose when to stand and when to sit. Simply standing at your desk can boost your heart rate and burn off an extra 50 calories per hour. That comes out to an additional 30,000 calories every year—the equivalent of running 10 marathons!
Get More Sleep
Have you ever heard the phrase “losing sleep” over something? People who are chronically stressed often have difficulty sleeping, and that lack of sleep only feeds into those same anxious feelings. It’s a vicious cycle. As the National Sleep Foundation explains: “If you don’t sleep enough at night, your body boosts its levels of stress hormones. The brain chemicals connected with deep sleep are the same ones that tell the body to stop the production of stress hormones. As a result, when you don’t sleep well, your body keeps pumping out those hormones The next day, you feel more stressed, the following night you find it harder to fall asleep, and so on. Even worse, stress hormones peak in the afternoon and early evening—just when you should be relaxing and preparing for slumber.”
Improving your sleep should be one of your first steps toward lowering your overall stress levels. Good ideas include reducing blue light exposure from electronic devices, exercising after work, and simply getting into bed earlier.
Keep a Stress Journal
Don’t roll your eyes just yet. Keeping a log about when and how you are stressed in the workplace can be extremely therapeutic. Try writing down the date, time, and place of each stressful moment of your day. What were you doing? Who were you with? How much sleep did you have the previous night? Believe it or not, sometimes we’re so used to being constantly stressed out that we don’t realize what causes it. Learning to understand your triggers can help you take control of your stress and develop coping mechanisms.
Talk it Out
No one should have to confront stress and anxiety alone. If you find yourself chronically stressed at work, talk with a coworker, your boss, or an HR representative to come up with a solution. And don’t ever be afraid to seek out professional help. Everyone deserves to be happy and stress-free.
In the meantime, check out the Woliba wellness library for some great destressing exercises you can perform at home, from yoga to meditation. It might take some time, but you have the power to take control of your life and overcome those stress gremlins.