Stress is Brutal at Work. Let’s Try to Reduce It!

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I have had days where I come home from work and can barely see straight due to stress.  When this happens, there are two things I may do when I get home, neither of which are good.  First, I start to be ‘short’ and crabby with the first person I see.  Second, I dive into the closest sugar-carbohydrate laden treat.

Job stress is commonly defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the demands of the job exceed the capabilities, needs or resources of the worker. Studies show that employees who feel they have little control over their work in one way or another report higher stress levels.

For each of us, there are some days at work, where the stress is unbearable.  There are some organizational environments where the stress occurs daily due to resources, poor leadership, or a toxic culture. You can feel the stress it in the air.  The experts tell us that stress in the workplace impacts our health, our relationships with our family, our productivity, and our innovation.  Stress impacts our quality of life.

The reality is, stress is a built-in condition.  We are hard-wired to have a stress reaction (fight-or-flight) when facing a perceived threat. Thousands of years ago, this reaction helped us when we were being chased by a lion.

What can we each do, on a daily basis, to help us manage the stress at work?  Here are some things that have worked to help reduce my stress.  For me, stress is particularly intense when I have worked in toxic environments.  These are some things that have worked.

  • Focus Your Energy

For me, when I get stressed at work, I can feel my blood pressure rise and my mind start to spin.  The first thing I do is focus my energy on one task and one task only.  This focus allows me to block out the external stress.  I take one task that I know I can start and complete, and that will require focus, and I only work on that.  

  • Practice Mindfulness

I am a huge advocate of meditation and putting yourself into a very focused, calm state.  We can get into this state by taking a few deep breaths, listening to a brief meditation podcast, or putting on some quiet music.  When we can meditate or focus, our mind becomes ‘centered’ and our body starts to relax.

At a minimum, find a few songs that help you put yourself into this mindful state.  If you work in the world of cubes, put a headset on. If you have an office, close your door for a few minutes.

  • Find Your Happy Place

What is the place where you feel the most relaxed? Where you could spend days, weeks, or months?  For me it is sitting on a porch, overlooking the ocean, in 75-degree weather.  When I can feel the stress starting to rise, I close my eyes and put myself in that happy place for a few minutes.  I feel the warm air hitting my face, I can hear the ocean in the background and a cool wind.

  • Create a Strengths List

When I go into the stress response, my mind starts spinning and all of my self-doubts start to show their ugly head.  I have created a list of my strengths and I have it posted next to my computer.  It serves as a brief reminder that “I am enough,” I am valuable, and I am powerful and strong.  It helps quiet the doubter in me.

  • Watch a TED Talk

I can’t help it but I find TED talks so motivating.  I just head to the TED website and pick a random talk from the list of the most recent talks.

  • Help Others

When you are feeling stressed at work, chances are others are feeling it too.  Many times, the situation and/or culture is the same for everyone.  Reach out to others, help them cope with the stress.  Help them with a work task.  Invite them to collaborate on a topic. When you help others, it makes you feel better, reduces stress, and also makes you more productive. In fact, according to a study done by Yale, helping others boosts your daily well being and creates positive emotion.

  • Walk Around

There is nothing better than fresh air to make us feel better.  Close your eyes, take a deep breath and walk around the building for a few minutes.  A study by Baptist Health System showed evidence that a brief walk reduced stress.  Some of my clients who have toxic bosses take brief walks both before and after their one on one’s to help with the stress.

  • Be Kind

The worst thing to do when you are stressed is to be mean and start to gossip. Not only does this tear others down, and increases their stress, it increases your stress.  When we lift people up, our mood improves, we form better friendships and relationships at the office, and we build a shared community.  Having a kind and supportive community at work helps relieve much of the daily stress that we are all faced with.

  • Remember It’s Not You

We all have a sensitivity to toxic people in the office.  These are the ones that make you feel terrible whenever you talk to them.  You walk away from them feeling small and unworthy.  Bottom line, I am now able to recognize these people and realize it is their problem and has nothing to do with me.  I choose to minimize my contact with those who bring me down and are toxic in the work environment.  When I do need to work with them, I keep it professional, take lots of deep breaths, and usually take a brief walk ahead of the meeting and then after the meeting.

  • Get Your Power Pose On

I love the Amy Cuddy TED Talk that shows us that by physically changing our position and standing like a super hero, our stress will be reduced and our spirits lifted

Stress can impact you at a cellular level. Don’t let the stress at work impact the quality of your life.