Easy Ways to Decrease Stress at Work
The American Psychological Society reported alarming statistics from their 2017 Stress in America survey – three out of five Americans cite work as a significant source of stress (coincidentally, the same number cited money issues as a source of stress). Workload, colleague issues, work-life balance, and job security are the primary sources of stress in the workplace.
Although stress seems to be on the rise for everyone, women and younger workers feel the most pressure. Statistics indicate that women are more stressed than men, and millennials (born 1981 to 1996) experience more stress than any other age group. Sometimes the stress stems from inevitable change; i.e., employees are four times more likely to experience stress-related health symptoms when an organizational adjustment is occurring at work.
If you don’t deal well with stress, you could be on the road to burnout.
What is stress
Stressor is the term used to describe any event that triggers the body’s sympathetic nervous system, which initiates hormonal secretions in the body to cope with the event. Stress is a result of how your body reacts to these events.
Work stressors can be both good, such as a promotion with better benefits and more responsibilities, and bad, such as financial constraints and position cutbacks. Experiencing too many of either good or bad stressors can be damaging.
Although stress levels will vary naturally from day-to-day and week-to-week, it’s the chronic, low-grade stress that can be a silent killer. Research has shown that long-term, chronic stress can cause as much damage to the heart and arteries as smoking five cigarettes daily.
It’s important to recognize where you fall on the stress spectrum and practice ways to improve your ability to recognize it and deal with it.
Stress affects your entire body
The effects of stress can be prominent or hardly noticeable. Stress has a direct affect on the hormones produced in the adrenal cortex that accelerate your heart rate, increase muscle tension, alter immune system functionality, and elevate blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Disruption in these processes will eventually cause negative changes in your sleep, mood, physical appearance, nutrition, and mental health.
Your metabolism will shift to accommodate these physical changes by accelerating the body’s use of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These metabolic changes in turn increase the need for certain vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and B, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and chromium to fuel your body while it’s in overdrive.
If you are not meeting your needs for these specific nutrients, especially in times of stress, then you can experience irritability, nervousness, and impaired brain function.
Strategies to manage stress at work
1. Pack good-mood foods for lunch
The nutrients in the food you eat can enhance your sense of well-being, alleviate anxiety, boost mood, and improve your energy, which ultimately reduce your stress level. Instead of grabbing a fast food lunch, seek healthy options like lean meats, fish, nuts, dairy, leafy greens, citrus fruits, whole grains, black tea, and raw vegetables, which have all been shown to have a positive impact on mood.
2. Take a nutritional supplement
Because stress affects everyone differently, and because you might not be getting all of the nutrients you need from your diet, your stress level might be higher than average because you are depleting your stores of protein, vitamins, and minerals.
A multi-vitamin/mineral supplement can help you maintain healthy vitamin and mineral status.*
Whey protein can help combat muscle breakdown.* Including whey protein with PharmaGABA and magnesium to help support restful sleep can help you wake refreshed in the morning.* Check your cortisol and DHEA levels through a simple saliva sample at-home test to see how your body is reacting to your work stress.
3. Find time to exercise
Stress can often be a product of your mind. One way to clear your mind and reduce stress is to exercise. Research has shown that employees who exercise experience a 21% improvement in concentration on work, are 22% more likely to finish their work on time, and 41% more motivated at work. Consider power walking through lunch instead of eating at your desk or prioritize a morning yoga session or post-work weightlift.
4. Keep scents on your desk
Aromatherapy oils that use scents like lemon, eucalyptus, tea tree, or peppermint have been shown to lower perceived stress and anxiety and improve sleep quality. If the smells bother your colleagues, then try spritzing lavender or jasmine on your bed sheets and towels or burning a candle at home.
5. Plant a tree (at your desk)
Get a desk plant – tree, flower, succulent, or chia pet, and tend to it. Research shows active interaction with indoor plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress compared with mental work.
Besides, plants naturally improve the air quality around them by producing oxygen, reducing volatile organic compounds in the air, and enhancing room humidity.
6. Breathe for five minutes
There are many breathing techniques that take only a few minutes from your day, but will make a significant impact on reducing the effects of stress. Box breathing is one technique used by Navy SEALs to stay calm and focused.
It’s easy: find a comfortable spot to lie down. Inhale for 4 seconds, then hold the air in for 4 seconds. Exhale for 4 seconds and hold your lungs empty for 4 seconds. Continue for 5 minutes or however long it takes you to relax, regroup, and refocus; then repeat as necessary.
7. Sneak outside
A change of scenery may be just what you need to be more productive. When the weather permits, take a call or schedule a team meeting outside, so you can get some sun and fresh air.
The sunlight will naturally boost your vitamin D and serotonin levels, which can positively affect mood.
Even if it’s cold or raining, fresh air will help clear your lungs and allow you to take longer, deeper breaths to supply oxygen throughout your body and revive your energy.
8. Talk it out
Others might not be aware of what’s going on inside your head, so let your manager know your issues so you two can set boundaries, manage priorities, and devise a plan for a better work-life balance.
Consider seeking professional help.
Are you your own boss or do you work from home? Establish time for answering calls and responding to emails if you find yourself working 24/7. Designate time and space for work tasks only and find a mentor to listen and give you advice.
- Coulson J, McKenna J, Field M. Exercising at work and self-reported work performance. Int J Workplace Health Manage 2008;1:176-197.
- Lee M-K, Lim S, Song J-A, et al. The effects of aromatherapy essential oil inhalation on stress, sleep quality and immunity in healthy adults: Randomized controlled trial. Eur J Integr Med 2017;12:79-86.
- Lee M-S, Lee J, Park B-J, Miyazaki Y. Interaction with indoor plants may reduce psychological and physiological stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity in young adults: a randomized crossover study. J Physiol Anthropol 2015;34:21.
- American Psychological Association (2017). Stress in America: The State of Our Nation. Stress in America Survey. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2017/state-nation.pdf [Accessed 7.16.18]