Between your commute to work, your workload, the constant interruptions, and coworkers you don’t particularly enjoy, there’s no wonder why so many people are stressed out at work more than anywhere else. This isn’t a good thing and there are even proven studies showing how stress negatively affects your brain. You can’t just quit your job, and you can’t fire your coworkers, but there are some ways to feel more at ease throughout the workday. Here are 11 tips you can use each day to reduce your workplace stress and enjoy a happier, more fulfilling career.
#1 – Start Your Workday Out Right
Sometimes, the best way to avoid being stressed out at work is to take care of your mind and body before you walk out the door. There are a few different tips that fit into this category.
- Don’t overdo the coffee. Many people turn to the coffee pot before they do anything else in the morning. While there’s nothing at all wrong with enjoying a cup (or two) of freshly-brewed joe, overdoing it could be adding to your stress. Caffeine is a stimulant, and that’s why people drink it in the mornings. However, too much caffeine can cause anxiety, which only exacerbates stress.
- Eat a balanced breakfast. If you find yourself getting grumpy during the mid-morning hours, and if it seems like things are getting to you a little more than they should, it might have to do with lack of nutrition. Eating a healthy breakfast that contains complex carbohydrates and protein helps both your body and mind perform at their peak.
- Get in a few minutes of exercise. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences back in 2009 showed that teens and young adults performed far better on exams if they exercised just before taking them. This same principle applies to your performance at work, so consider a brief jog around the block or on your treadmill before you head out.
- Consider switching up your commute. Finally, part of starting your workday out right involves avoiding the stress that comes along with driving through rush-hour traffic during your commute. If you live close enough to your workplace, consider cycling instead of driving. If you’re too far away for this, consider carpooling with some coworkers. Taking turns navigating traffic can help relieve stress, too.
#2 – Practice Deep Breathing & Mindfulness
The phrase “take a deep breath” seems overused to some, but science has shown that it’s one of the best ways to combat stress. You’ll need more than one deep breath to do the trick, though. For example, let’s say you’ve just come out of a particularly stressful meeting and you have several important issues running through your mind. Sitting down at your desk and practicing some deep breathing techniques can help you regain your balance and focus. Inhale for five seconds, hold it for five seconds, and exhale for five seconds. Do this for two to three minutes to improve the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the brain, and to improve the flow of “happy” hormones like dopamine.
Another way to cope with being stressed out at work involves learning how to practice mindfulness. This can be difficult at work, especially for beginners, so you may want to practice at home first. To do it, put on some headphones with sounds of nature (whatever you prefer), and sit comfortably. Allow your body to relax entirely, and then focus on nothing but the present. Pay attention to your senses. What do you hear? What sensations do you feel on your skin? Is it warm or cool? What does it smell like? These things help you center yourself in the present, which can take your mind off the past and the future.
#3 – Deal with Interruptions
Constant interruptions can have a serious effect on your productivity, and this can be quite stressful as well. If you want to perform at your peak, you’ll need to do your best to deal with interruptions. You can’t really control whether a coworker wants to chat about her date last night, or if your boss seems to have a million questions. You can control things like email notifications, social media distractions, and even non-emergent text messages. Set aside a five-minute block of time every hour or two specifically for this purpose so you can devote your focus to your work.
You can also control how you respond to interruptions. For example, if your coworker wants to have a chat about her date last night, you can either accept it and have the conversation, completely shut it down (which may come off as rude), or plan to address it later based on its priority. The latter option is typically best, so in this case, tell your coworker you’d love to hear about it, but you’re on a tight deadline and it’ll need to wait until you’ve finished. When there are fewer interruptions, you’ll feel less stressed out at work.
#4 – Take Breaks
Many people who find themselves stressed out at work don’t take enough breaks. Pushing yourself through the day for eight to 10 hours might seem like the best way to get things done, but it usually has the opposite effect. By the time the day is half over, you’re feeling tired, mentally drained, and frustrated. Instead of pushing yourself too hard, take frequent breaks, even if this just involves sitting back in your chair and practicing deep breathing for two or three minutes. Taking a brief recovery break after every 90 minutes of intense focus can substantially reduce stress.
#5 – Change Your Perspective
When you’re stressed out at work, it’s difficult to look at things objectively. This takes a toll on your work environment and the way you feel about your job. Most people look at workplace events through a subjective filter, which isn’t very effective when it comes to dealing with problems head-on. When you can do this, you may be able to come up with a compromise that works for everyone.
As an example, if you’re denied a day off for an important appointment, don’t immediately get angry and go on the defensive. Instead, try to have an objective viewpoint and understand why your request may have been denied. Perhaps that day will be a busy day, or maybe some of your coworkers already asked for that day off. Once you know the reasons for the denial, you might be able to work out a solution. Case in point: if you can find someone to cover for you for the few hours it takes to go to your appointment, you may be able to get the time off you need. Thinking more clearly – and objectively – almost always produces better results.
#6 – Take Time to Cool Down
Hanging on to anger and frustration doesn’t do anyone any good – especially yourself. Everyone has bad days at work from time to time, and everyone has a coworker they don’t particularly like. If you continue to allow anger and frustration to build up, you’ll find yourself incredibly stressed out at work. Find ways to leave the past in the past, and don’t let one negative comment or event ruin your entire day.
If you feel the need to respond to someone with anger or frustration, don’t. Instead, take some time to cool off. Breathe in through your mouth with your lips pursed as if you were giving a kiss or drinking through a straw, then exhale through your nose. The act of concentrating on breathing like this – even for 10 seconds – will give you just enough pause to think about the best way to respond. Often, you’ll find a way to verbalize your thoughts that helps keep you and the other person calm.
#7 – Don’t Worry about Your Coworkers’ Perceptions
Worrying about how your coworkers view your performance and work ethic can also cause you to become stressed out at work. Everyone does it from time to time; no one is immune from self-doubt at work. Everyone wonders whether their work is worthy of praise or if they’re living up to expectation. Everyone wants to perform as well as (if not better than) their peers.
The constant pressure is enough to stress anyone out. If you can stop worrying about how your performance stacks up with others’, and instead focus on the actual work in front of you, then chances are good you’ll perform far better. It may sound ironic, but many people have found that letting go of self-imposed stress caused by self-doubt helped them impress their peers.
#8 – Try Acupressure
When you find yourself stressed out at work just before an important meeting or a big presentation, that stress can cause you to stumble over your words or miss out on what others are saying. Believe it or not, acupressure can help. To reduce anxiety almost immediately, move your thumb so it rests on the side of your middle finger, then apply even but firm pressure. This has been clinically shown to reduce blood pressure almost instantly, which can create a sense of calm within seconds. In fact, a 2015 study published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies found that acupressure provided almost immediate and substantial relief from depression, anxiety, and stress in most of the people who tried it.
#9 – Be a Good Influence
Others who are stressed out at work can have a negative influence on you, as well. Their stress often leads to negativity, and that negativity comes out in the things they say or do. While being a good influence doesn’t always provide instant gratification, making it a point to be influential each day can and does pay off. If someone addresses seems to complain to you often, this is the best time to be a good influence.
Assume for a moment you’re speaking with a coworker who sits beside you, and he always seems angry about someone or something in the workplace. You can tactfully let him know that his negativity wears on you, and the rest of your team, and suggest that he take his concerns to management or to his direct supervisor. This helps to transfer ownership off your shoulders, and it also helps ensure that these complaints go through the right channels. When negativity and critical behavior is kept to a minimum, the work environment itself is far less stressful.
#10 – Get Your Priorities Straight
One of the biggest contributors to a lack of productivity and being stressed out at work is a lack of clearly defined priorities. Deadlines create pressure, and priorities often change from one hour to the next. There are a few ways to do this. First, know your position and your role within the company. This will help you focus on your contributions to the task. Next, understand your employer’s priorities so you can provide the best possible work. Finally, take note of your strengths and weaknesses. With all this in mind, making yourself a to-do list becomes a simple.
Don’t procrastinate when it comes to your weaknesses; instead, ask for help when help is required. Don’t stress yourself out if something is difficult for you. Instead, set small, attainable goals and enjoy the small victories when you meet them. Make sure you accomplish a task that plays on your strengths in regular intervals, too, as this will give you the confidence boost you need to see you through the more difficult items on your list.
#11 – Don’t Criticize Yourself; Encourage Yourself
Finally, one of the primary reasons you’re feeling stressed out at work is your own self-criticism. Internal negativity is a disaster waiting to happen, so do your best to squash it early on. While it may seem silly, daily positive affirmations can completely change the way you live your life. You can find positive affirmations online through numerous sources, too – which come in present tense and future tense for the most part.
Simply jot them down on sticky notes and place them where you’re likely to see them – on your bathroom mirror, on your computer monitor, and even on your briefcase. In fact, sticking a positive affirmation on a coworker’s desk can change his or her entire day, too. When you learn to encourage yourself, you’ll accomplish more than you ever imagined, and you’ll feel your stress slowly melting away. A few examples include:
- I have limitless confidence in my abilities.
- I take pride in who I am.
- I will take charge of my time and achieve my goals.
- I am someone who siezes the moment and takes action.
Being stressed out at work can take its toll on you, and if you find yourself in a constant state of anxiety while at work, there’s a good chance you’re bringing that anxiety home with you at the end of the day, too. These 11 tips may seem simple, but they can truly change your entire life – not only your life at work. Give them a shot for one week, and you’ll soon discover things changing for the better.