10 Ways To Relieve Stress At WorkJun 26, 2023
Work is one of the most commonly reported sources of stress for adults. Here are 10 ways you can identify your job stressors and craft a less stressful work environment.
No matter what your career is, work can be stressful. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, work is one of the most consistently reported sources of stress for adults.
Whether your job consistently leaves you feeling buried under a mountain of stress, or you only occasionally find yourself stressed out at work, you deserve to find a happier, healthier way to work. So today, we’ll break down workplace stress, giving you strategies to identify your stressors, mitigate your symptoms of stress, and embrace your opportunity for a better workplace experience.
3 essential stress management questions
The first step to managing your stress at work is to understand the specific sources of your stress, and how that stress affects you personally. By identifying your sources and symptoms, you can find simple, practical solutions to coping with stress that meet your specific circumstances and needs.
Here are three questions to help you reflect on your workplace stress:
1. Why do I feel stressed?
Start simply by asking yourself why you feel stressed at work. Are you frustrated by an interaction with a colleague or customer? Do you feel buried in work, or concerned about meeting an upcoming deadline? Are you trying to juggle too many tasks at the same time? Do you feel pressured to perform to an impossibly high standard? Are you struggling with a lack of resources or an uncomfortable work environment?
When you can identify the source of your stress, you can learn to take steps to address it.
2. Is this a new source of stress, or one I’ve encountered before?
Next, examine your specific source (or sources) of stress. Is this a new one-time stressor or a recurring one? If you’ve encountered this stressful situation before, you may already have an idea as to how you can best respond to it.
This can also help you reflect on patterns of behavior or activities which cause recurring stress, letting you make a plan to prevent or mitigate the stressor in the future. For example, you might realize a recurring weekly deadline stresses you out because you’re in meetings the whole day before, leaving you scrambling the day-of to wrap things up. It’s going to keep happening each week, so shifting the deadline or the meetings may help alleviate a lot of recurring stress.
3. How do I respond to stress?
Finally, consider how you’re personally impacted by stress. Do you get frustrated? Overwhelmed, angry, distracted? Do you experience physical symptoms, like headaches or tense muscles? Do you struggle to complete tasks, lash out at colleagues, eat too many sugary snacks?
When you understand how you react to stressful situations, you can recognize the signs of stress earlier and learn to manage your stress in healthier ways.
Tip: If you’re having trouble identifying the sources and symptoms of your stress, start a journal. For a week or two, write down your observations about your work-related stress, including the circumstances, the people involved, how you reacted, and how you felt throughout the process. This can help you find the patterns in your stressors and in how you typically respond to stress.
When we’re mindful about the causes of our stress, it allows us to form a plan to handle it. It also stops stress from feeling like an unknowable, uncontrollable force taking over our lives. Instead, we can use our awareness to embrace stress and improve our experiences at work.
10 ways to de-stress at work
Now that you’ve considered the sources of your stress and how you’re inclined to respond to it, let’s dive into our top tips for reducing stress at work. Here are 10 ways to de-stress on the job:
1. Create a pre-work ritual.
No one wants to begin their work day already stressed. By creating a calming, stress-free pattern of activity in the morning, you can give yourself the best possible start to your day. We recommend starting your morning with some gratitude journaling or mindful meditation to get yourself in the right headspace, or getting in some aerobic exercise for an energy and endorphin boost. You can also focus on other simple mood-boosting and relaxing activities, such as sitting down to eat breakfast, reading, or listening to your favorite podcast.
Whatever you include in your pre-work ritual, make sure you leave yourself enough time for it. Nothing creates a stressful morning like running late!
2. Optimize your work environment.
You may not always enjoy going to work… but any opportunity you have to improve your work environment is worth taking. And usually, the smallest details are what really matter here. Your kind-of-uncomfortable chair, your slightly-too-slow wireless mouse, and that one dried-up pen you always manage to grab first may not seem like major sources of stress. But replace those mouse batteries and throw out all the pens that don’t work, and you’ll soon realize how much better you feel because of it. Those little annoyances can add up to a lot of negativity in your day. (Remember the expression “the straw that broke the camel’s back”?)
So, take a moment to optimize your work environment for your comfort and convenience. You’ll feel happier, more relaxed, and more prepared to take on the day’s tasks.
3. Set your goals and expectations for the day.
When you begin your work day, take some time to set your key goals and expectations for the day. Identify what tasks you need to complete, what resources you may need to do your work, and what your priorities are. This will help you focus on what’s most important and make you feel less overwhelmed by work.
Outlining your daily tasks also lets you address sources of stress like not knowing what work to do or having too much work to do. If you realize at the start of your day you don’t understand your task priorities or that you won’t be able to complete your work, you can make a plan to deal with the situation. (You can ask someone for clarification about a project, for help completing the work, for an extension on a deadline...) Understanding your workload and having a clear plan to complete it is an important part of relieving stress at your job.
4. Go easy on the coffee.
Do you find yourself drinking a few cups of coffee in the morning…and a few more in the afternoon? It might be time to break the habit. Consuming too much caffeine can contribute to feelings of anxiety and restlessness. Plus, drinking too much caffeine can impact the quality of your sleep. (Getting a good night’s rest also plays an important role in stress management.) So, try cutting back on your coffee intake, or at least switch to decaf later in the day.
5. Take a 5 minute break.
It may seem counterintuitive to stop working in a situation where your workload is causing you stress. But taking regular breaks from work is necessary to de-stress and perform your best. It will improve your focus, make you complete tasks more efficiently, and prevent you from getting overwhelmed by everything that’s on your plate.
A quick break is also a great time to try out a moment of meditation, a calming breath exercise, or some light stretching to relieve muscle tension. These activities can help ground you, temper feelings of anxiety, and allow you to regain a sense of control over your day. This will make you feel more capable of handling whatever your job throws your way.
6. Walk away from your desk.
This approach can relieve stress for a couple of reasons. First, physical activity improves your mood, helps you relax, and reduces anxiety by releasing endorphins. So, going on a short walk during your work day can give you a little boost and may help you focus better on your tasks when you return.
Beyond the benefits of getting moving, walking away from your desk is a good way to clear your mind and distance yourself from distractions, too. If you find yourself frustrated by a coworker or getting sucked down the social media rabbit hole, stepping away can let you hit the “reset” button in your mind and return with a fresh slate.
7. Set healthy boundaries.
The word “no” is your best friend when it comes to workplace stress relief. To avoid feeling overwhelmed and burned out by your workload, you need to be able to set healthy boundaries. Learn how to respectfully decline tasks, projects, and deadlines when your plate is already full - because honestly, you’re not helping anyone by taking on too much. Remember, there’s a difference between working hard and overworking yourself.
This goes for setting “after hours” boundaries, too. If you want to de-stress from work, you need to leave it behind sometimes. Stop checking your email late at night!
8. Embrace your “Do Not Disturb” settings.
Have you ever been working on something, only to get an email or instant message wanting your immediate attention on something else? Push notifications can be helpful at times, but in the workplace, they often wind up as sources of stress. Too many and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by work, distracted by multiple messages, or spread too thin by multitasking.
So, find a way to manage your notifications that improves your workflow and banishes stressful situations. Try creating “Do Not Disturb” settings for certain times of day or while working on specific tasks, or dedicating set periods of time to check your email. Your focus will improve when you can handle your responsibilities one at a time.
9. Eliminate self-imposed stress.
This one requires some self-reflection. Sometimes the cause of our stress isn’t an external factor, but an internal one. You might pressure yourself to execute your work perfectly, or engage in negative self-talk when you’re feeling challenged. But whether you’re thinking This has to be done perfectly! or I’ll never get this right, the result is the same: you’re just adding to your own stress.
So if you’re feeling stressed at your job, check in with yourself about the real cause. Is it the work that’s making you feel pressured? Or are you the one pressuring yourself?
10. Take time to recharge.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, don’t underestimate the power of engaging in self-care and stress-relieving activities outside of work. Stress has a compounding effect on us - every new stressor feels more challenging than the last, as they all pile on top of one another, weighing us down. But when we begin our workday with a fresh slate, it’s easier to keep those stressors from stacking so high we start crumbling under the pressure.
Rest well, get enough physical activity, and eat nutritious meals. Spend time with loved ones, volunteer in your community, and take the time to engage in your favorite hobbies. When you feel refreshed, relaxed, and stress-free outside of your job, it’s much easier to carry that energy over into the workplace.
Choosing the right stress-relief strategy
Stress comes in many different forms, and everyone experiences stress differently. So, how do you figure out what stress-relief strategies will work best for you?
It starts with being mindful about your stress. When you can identify your stressors, how your stress manifests physically and emotionally, and how you feel and react when stressed, you can figure out the best ways to relieve stress in your specific situation. (Remember those questions we started with? Here’s where they come back.)
For example, maybe you’ve realized the actions of your coworkers or boss are significant stressors for you. In that case, focusing on setting healthy boundaries, managing your workplace notifications, and the “walk away” method will be instrumental in reducing your stress at work.
On the other hand, if you’re stressed because you feel overwhelmed by your workload, setting your daily goals and expectations can help give you a stress-free structure for your day. You might also focus on incorporating five-minute breaks and calming breathing exercises to reduce anxiety and improve your focus.
Embrace stress to move forwards
Unfortunately, most of us won’t be able to completely eliminate workplace stress. In many cases, the stressors that we encounter in our jobs are simply beyond our control. We don’t always get a say in what projects we’re assigned, who we work with, and how our coworkers, clients, and customers treat us.
But while we can’t guarantee ourselves a stress-free workplace, we can take important steps to not let job stress run our lives. With a little planning and self-care outside of the workplace, and a mindful approach to identifying and responding to stressors while at work, we can stop seeing stress as a roadblock to our happiness and start accepting it as a natural part of life.
At the end of the day, you don’t so much control stress as you control your response to it. Embrace stress as a temporary state and a learning experience, and you’ll find your path forward clear.
Want expert advice on managing stress and optimizing your life?
With the right techniques, you can embrace stress, improve your lifestyle, and optimize your cognitive health. If you know it’s time to not just work around your health challenges, but to do something about them, check out My RBI Academy. We’ll send you new tips and tricks for improving your cognitive health each month, all backed by our years of medical expertise and grounded in our holistic six pillar approach.