The American Psychological Association found that more than 1/3 of Americans experience chronic work stress. This, in turn, costs the overall American business industry $300 billion in lost work hours and medical expenses. In fact, OSHA announced stress as the epidemic of the 21st century and WHO declared stress an occupational hazard.
Stress has been proven harmful for health and productivity. Not only does it make you perform worse at work, but it also is a leading contributor to layoffs due to lost hours, increased brain fog, decreased problem-solving, minimized energy, and more.
In addition, stress is the number one reason for visits to the doctor, because it can negatively influence every aspect of your health. Stress can elevate blood pressure, increase the frequency of migraines, accelerate the aging process, suppress the immune system, contribute to depression and chronic fatigue, cause upset stomachs, and trigger insomnia. It’s also a key contributor to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, autoimmune disorders, and possibly even some form of cancers.
Stress diminishes your personal and professional wellbeing overall. And unfortunately, work is the number one cause of stress for most individuals.
So what can you do to relieve stress—even while you’re in the middle of a hectic day at work?
1. Sit up.
Sit up in your chair. Right now. As you’re reading this post. Pull your shoulders back. Engage your core. Push your chest upwards towards the ceiling, as if being pulled up by an imaginary string. Roll your neck side to side and then position your chin high in the air.
This position might hurt if you hold your stress in your neck or upper back. But a little pain is good in this case. This means it’s stretching you out and helping to relieve your tension.
Why sit up straight? Posture influences psychology, and psychology influences behavior. “Power poses,” like sitting up in your chair, make you feel more powerful, confident, and relaxed. This can help minimize stress and boost productivity.
Do you stand all day, like in a restaurant or retail job? Try standing with your legs hip width apart, your hands on your hips, and your shoulders back. This is a strong power pose that will make you more confident and less stressed. In addition, this pose will make you more approachable and reliable in the eyes of your customers.
Controlled breathing is a quick, easy, proven way to fight off stress. Notice that when you’re stressed or anxious, your breathing becomes fast and shallow. Slow it down, and your stress will slow in tandem.
Don’t wait until you’re in full-fledged panic mode. Schedule breathing breaks throughout the day to lower your blood pressure, de-stress, calm the nervous system, and increase focus and productivity.
Below are some of the best breathing exercises you can do while at work:
- Breathe in through your mouth for a count of four. Breathe out your nose for a count of four.
- Inhale for five seconds. Hold for ten seconds. Exhale through your nose as long as you can.
- Close your eyes. Focus on relaxing each muscle, moving from your toes to your head. Feel the tension in each muscle, and actively relax that tension for two to three seconds. Start with your toes, up your arms, to your glutes, stomach, chest, arms, neck, jaw, face, and even eyes. As you relax each muscle, take a deep breath in and out. Once every muscle is relaxed, take ten long, deep breaths.
- Do 40 quick breaths in and out through the nose. These breaths should be audible and powerful. At the end of the 40 breaths, you may feel a sensation of lightheadedness—that’s all the oxygen going to your brain!
Be sure to breathe from your belly. Make each breath long and deep. If deep breathing is uncomfortable at first, stick with it. Every day, you’ll be able to breathe deeper and longer, which can better release stress and tension from the inside out.
3. Sip green tea.
Studies have suggested that green tea can improve psychological health and may have a positive influence on weight, cancer, heart disease, and liver disease. Green tea may also have a neurochemical effect on the serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain, which are the “happiness” compounds of the body; this in turn can help minimize stress-related behaviors and feelings. Green tea is also a source of L-theanine, which can help relieve relieve anger.
Basically, take a break in your shift to sip on green tea for a boost of happiness and peace.
4. Eat chocolate.
That’s right—eat dark chocolate. One study found that the consumption of 40g of chocolate daily was effective at reducing perceived stress in females. (Sorry, guys. It has yet to be studied in men. But why not eat chocolate anyway, right?)
Dark chocolate has been shown to minimize cortisol, aka the “stress hormone.” It can also help normalize your blood sugar and regulate your metabolism, which will keep you from having “hangry” outbursts at work.
5. Spray yourself with essential oils.
Buy a few travel-sized spray bottles at the drug store. Fill these with purified water and 5-8 drops of your favorite essential oil. When you need a quick refreshment of positivity, spritz the solution on your face, back of your neck, and wrists. You’ll instantly feel revitalized and less stressed—and you’ll smell nice too.
Studies have shown that certain essential oils can help relax in times of stress, anxiety and depression. Lavender has especially therapeutic effects on the nervous system. Also try out:
6. Start a stress journal.
Stress journals can help you identify those times when you are most stressed, so you can anticipate and handle stressful situations accordingly. Whenever you’re feeling strained, take a minute to write about it in your journal. Why are you stressed? What caused it? When did it happen? Plus, the physical act of writing about your stress can actually help minimize it. (When you’ve finished writing in your stress journal, take a few deep breaths from #2 for added tension release.)
After three months of keeping your stress journal, take a look through it when you’re not stressed. Try to notice patterns. What times of day are you most stressed? What activities (or people) stress you out the most? Understanding your stress triggers can help you figure out ways to take more positive, healthy approaches to resolve these problems. This will help you be active rather than reactive to your stress. If you can pinpoint certain stressors, it can also help to open up the conversation with your boss about any work-related tension.
7. Clean your work area.
Studies show that a clean area helps promote a clean mind. In fact, the researchers at UCLA found that even looking at clutter can boost the body’s production of stress hormones. “Clutter” is telling your mind all the things you have yet to accomplish; by clearing away this clutter, you’ll feel more settled, accomplished, and productive. The more productive you feel, the more productive you are.
If you work in a restaurant or retail space, work with your coworkers to clean up common areas and break rooms. This will give you all a “clean” and stress-free retreat from the chaos of the floor.
8. Take breaks.
Don’t push throughout the day in the hopes that that will make everything get done. Breaks give your body and mind a chance to reset and recharge. In fact, that’s why restaurant and retail unions often enforce a daily break schedule for workers—consistent breaks are one of the best ways to reduce work-related stress and health concerns.
Schedule short breaks throughout your day. They don’t have to be long time periods if you’re really busy. Go outside for a walk, do a breathing exercise, stretch, or call up a friend. Take a few moments for yourself and you’ll return to work refreshed, less stressed, and more productive.
Tony Schwartz with the Energy Project unlocked the best way to be productive while also staying rejuvenated and stress-free: 90 minutes of intense concentration followed by a brief period (10 minutes) of recovery.
9. Make a to-do list.
The day before or when you wake up, make a list of things you need to get done that day. This should include work and family to dos. Unfortunately, work tasks can slip into family time and vice versa. Because of that, create two lists—one for work and one for family—but put them on the same page. This will help mentally establish boundaries while also keeping you productive in both areas of your life.
Learn how to prioritize your to do list with our Tree of Time Management.
10. Chew gum.
Chewing gum may help improve levels of anxiety, mood, and fatigue, according to a study by the Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health. They found that those who chewed gum for two weeks had better scores in depression-dejection, fatigue, and confusion than the control group.
Basically, chewing gum (especially peppermint) can help reduce anxiety and stress levels. But don’t do it too often or you could cause problems with your jaw, stomach, and throat. When you’re feeling stressed, pop a stick of peppermint gum in your mouth and chew until the flavor is gone. Combined with other techniques, you’ll be ready to take on the rest of the day.
11. Get up.
Physical activity boosts testosterone and lowers cortisol. In the middle of the workday, your body starts to feel as stressed as your mind. Walk around, stretch, run in place, or even have a dance party with your favorite pump up tunes. If you walk around a lot for your job, make sure you stretch out your muscles! This helps get the blood moving, releases endorphins, and lowers adrenaline—all of which will make you happier and less stressed.
12. Talk to your coworkers.
Don’t talk to your coworkers too much that you don’t get work done… but it’s important to have a strong social sphere at work. Laughing and engaging with friends can help reduce stress, release endorphins, and make you feel good. Polls show that people with friends at work are more productive and more likely to feel recognized and appreciated. Plus, laughter is the best stress-reducing medicine!
The Bottom Line
Of course, you need to take care of your body outside of work too. In order to maintain low stress levels in your life, you need to eat, exercise, and sleep accordingly. This sort of overall nourishment will help you take on whatever stressors you face at work.
Reduce your stress and you’ll increase your productivity, happiness, and health.
How do you tackle stress at work? Share this article with your tips to be featured on our blog!