Knowing how to reduce stress at work can greatly impact your productivity, morale, and performance. While stress is a common and often unavoidable part of life, it seems to have been at an all-time high over the past two years. Unsurprisingly, most people could greatly benefit from learning how to manage their stress and adopting efficient strategies to reduce it. Luckily, there are many creative ways to combat the various and inevitable stressors in the workplace.
So what exactly is stress? Is it the feeling you get when running late to an important meeting? The pressure of meeting all of your deadlines? The need to work harder and earn more to sustain your lifestyle? All of the above? According to the dictionary, stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Essentially, stress can be anything you make it. Because feelings of stress are in your control (although seemingly stressful factors may not be), you can very well learn to manage those overwhelming feelings and cope with stress rather than letting it worsen and cause you harm.
Frequent stimulation of the stress response can affect the body physically and mentally and lead to short-term and long-term effects. These effects don’t just affect your health; they can also affect your relationships, productivity, and overall ability to function (inside and outside of the office). Having strategies to manage and reduce stress in the workplace can offset some of these problems and help you learn to manage stress levels and cope with day-to-day issues.
Feeling overwhelmed by stress can significantly impact mood, behavior, and mental health. From irritability and insomnia to depression and anxiety, stress can contribute to various mental health problems and adverse effects on overall well-being. The body's fight or flight response triggers changes in your nervous and endocrine systems, amongst others, which can directly affect cognition, your ability to manage emotions, and how you respond to external factors. Prolonged exposure to stressors, or chronic stress, can lead to behavioral and mood changes and other mental health disorders. It is important to seek social support if you feel negative thoughts or other adverse cognitive effects of stress.
When the fight or flight response is activated, the body releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Other problems may arise with prolonged production of these hormones: increased heart rate, blood pressure, salt retention, blood sugar, and a weakened immune system. With such added stress, the heart must work harder, which can remedy it ineffective and less efficient. These responses can trigger many physical problems such as heart disease, inflammation, diabetes, and a slower metabolism.
If experiencing excessive stress in their role, employees will likely begin to experience burnout. Burnout occurs when a person struggles with managing stress and becomes exhausted, either physically or mentally. It can be recognized through feelings of resentment towards ones' role, a lack of motivation or will to perform ones' duties, and feeling constantly overwhelmed by tasks. Feeling burnout in a job can contribute to stress’s physical and mental effects and should not be ignored.
5 recognizable stages of stress can help you identify signs of stress and take action to prevent negative effects. While it may not always be possible to eliminate the source of stress, understanding the different stages can help you learn when to implement initiatives to manage it.
In times of high stress, the body becomes alarmed and on high alert. The body’s central nervous system is triggered, resulting in a flight-or-fight response. As mentioned above, a prolonged fight or flight response can lead to several health issues.
The body attempts to repair and return to its natural state, potentially releasing hormones to regulate blood pressure and heart rate, relieve stress, and aid in a quick recovery. The release of these hormones acts as a quick fix when a larger solution is needed.
The human body can repair itself and return to a state of equilibrium. To recover, you must prioritize rest, proper nutrition, and taking steps to eliminate or reduce what is causing the stress. Although recovering, your body may remain in a state of high alert for a while, so it is critical to give yourself time rather than jumping right back into stressful situations.
If you fail to resolve the stress and send your body into recovery mode, you risk adapting to this new state of constant stress. When you accept stress, and your body adapts to it, you can potentially develop chronic stress. Chronic stress can cause extensive damage to your energy levels, physical and mental health, and ability to function.
If you ignore the signs of stress and allow it to fester, you will reach the exhaustion stage. This stage is detrimental to your health and well-being. You may become depressed, depleted, unable to perform, and lose your will to complete tasks or live your life. Becoming burned out is a side effect of exhaustion, where you lose your motivation and interest in day-to-day activities and work-related duties. Rather than allowing yourself to suffer, do not let yourself reach this stage.
Although stressors are often unavoidable, many stress reduction and relaxation techniques can help you better cope in the workplace. Here are 15 stress relief ideas:
Unproductive workplace conflict can, at times, be inevitable. It can also heavily contribute to a more stressful work environment. If you cannot avoid conflict, it’s best to have empathy for the people involved. Understanding the different perspectives and opinions at play can help resolve issues more efficiently. One way to do this is by understanding your coworkers’ personality types, so you can communicate and collaborate more effectively. Crystal’s Teams Product offers actionable insights, communication tips, and guidance on navigating different scenarios based on your coworkers’ personalities. Utilizing this tool is invaluable for fostering a healthier, more empathetic, and cohesive team.
How you start each morning sets the tone for the rest of your day. Taking special care to cultivate a positive morning routine can truly make a difference in how you tackle the day’s challenges and how you respond to different situations. Rather than waking up late and chugging coffee on your sprint to the office, try waking up a little earlier. Drink some water, exercise or take a walk if you have the time, make yourself a quick and balanced breakfast, and throw on a playlist of your favorite music to listen to in the car.
Overworking yourself without taking breaks, procrastinating until the last minute, or not prioritizing tasks properly can all contribute to a much more stressful workday. Take time management seriously, and you can avoid much unnecessary stress. Schedule your breaks so you can spend your time more efficiently and productively rather than scrambling to get things done.
A messy space can be stressful all by itself. Organizing your workspace can induce a more relaxing and productive workday. Plan your day ahead to efficiently tackle your duties and avoid stress caused by unpreparedness. This may come more naturally to personalities like detail-oriented planner C-types. In contrast, more spontaneous and big-picture-oriented personalities, like I-types, may have to work harder to achieve this.
If your workday is spent in a state of physical discomfort, you are bound to experience higher levels of stress (amongst other things). Luckily, there are many resources available to improve the comfort of your working environment. Whether you invest in a special or high-quality chair or an ergonomic keyboard and mousepad, making adjustments like this can have a significant impact on your ability to work. Do not exasperate your stress load by allowing yourself to be uncomfortable or in pain during your workday.
Sitting hunched over a desk in front of a computer screen for 8 hours a day isn’t great for anyone. Utilize your lunches and breaks by getting out of your chair, stretching, and taking a walk outside. A little fresh air and some movement can break up the monotony of the workday, providing a much-needed break and leaving you feeling refreshed.
Nobody performs perfectly at all times, and recognizing that some days may be better than others can immediately improve feelings of stress or self-doubt. Sometimes, in order to relieve work stress, you must remember that you are human, and you have opportunities to learn from your mistakes and improve. If you have a rough day, remember that tomorrow is a new one.
There is power in your breathing, and utilizing breathing techniques can help regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, and return your body to a state of equilibrium. Many breathing exercises can be done at your desk to leave you feeling energized and more centered. An easy breathing exercise is called “Breath of Fire” and is often used in Yoga for stress reduction, respiratory and digestive health, cognitive function, and increased energy levels. With equal emphasis on the inhale and exhale, this breathing technique recruits abdominal muscles for a cycled and repeated breath (with no pauses) usually lasting 30 seconds or more.
Your gut is directly tied to your cognitive function and ability. Healing your gut is beneficial not only to your physical health but also to your mental health. Adjusting your diet to include more whole and unprocessed foods (eat your greens!) can keep your mind clear, positive, and focused. When you feel good from the inside out, you may notice you are less inclined towards feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and unhappy.
Sometimes, it can be helpful to take a step back and look at things from a different perspective. Rather than viewing challenges as isolated events, seeing the big picture can help you respond to troubles rather than reacting quickly. When you react to situations, you likely aren’t considering all the factors at play. Looking at things from another angle can help you gain perspective–maybe things aren’t as bad as they initially seem!
Understand when you are causing yourself unnecessary stress. Of course, there are instances where stressful situations are out of your control, and you must just ride the wave or find a way to cope. In other times, you may be overthinking and causing yourself more unneeded stress. Becoming more self-aware when you experience stress will make it easier to recognize when stress results from your own doing, and you can learn to avoid putting yourself through that.
Creating boundaries with yourself and others can significantly change how you treat yourself and how others treat you. Setting boundaries and speaking up for yourself lets people know your limits and can help you avoid constantly taking part in draining or stressful activities. When you respect yourself, others will respect you more too.
Rather than tearing yourself down or beating yourself up, practice positive self-talk. Thinking positively can have a trickle-down effect– whereas you begin to adopt a more positive outlook, those around you may be motivated to do the same. A more positive work environment is likely to lower stress for everyone.
The AIS (American Institute of Stress) recommends keeping a journal of your stressors. Record what causes you stress and how you respond in a journal for a few weeks. Include lots of details such as your thoughts and feelings, who, what, where, and your reaction to the stressful event. This can help you identify your triggers to learn what to avoid, how you may need to adjust, and any patterns that may cause problems in the future.
Learning about your communication and working styles can help you utilize your strengths and work through any blind spots. If you prefer communicating via email rather than phone calls, you can use this understanding to schedule conversations in a way that will be of the least stress to you. Similarly, if you understand that you work best independently rather than frequently collaborating in groups, you can figure out a way to work in a way that doesn’t add more stress to your workday. Taking a personality assessment is an easy way to understand your different preferences and tendencies better, so you can format your work in the way that best suits you.
Realistically, stress at work may be unavoidable. Adopting stress management techniques can relieve some of that stress and prevent it from permanently damaging our physical and mental health. Although being stressed at work is not uncommon, you can take steps to manage it. Understanding how to avoid stress at workplace and ways to relieve stress at work can greatly impact your workday. Next time you feel overwhelmed or are sensing burnout from yourself or other employees, try deep breathing, engage in some physical activity, or test out one of our other recommended relaxation techniques. Because excessive stress can lead to serious health problems, it is critical to learn how to manage and cope with work-related stress.
Causes of stress may be out of our control, but how we respond to stress is entirely within it. Identifying what tasks energize or drain you can help you learn how to avoid burnout in the workplace and manage your response. Take our free personality assessment to discover your personality type and learn more about your workplace stressors, preferences, and behaviors.