When Aon Hewitt, a human resources and management consulting company, polled thousands of employees to find out the source of stress in their lives, the top four reasons all had one source – work.
That doesn’t mean most people hate their jobs or are miserable at the office. The reality is anyone who works has probably experienced tension, anxiety and assorted worries related to their work environment from time to time. In fact, the American Psychological Association (APA) points out that even if you absolutely love what you do, your job can include stressful pressures such as having to meet deadlines.
Problems develop, however, when stress at work is chronic. And, if you lack coping strategies, it can result in a variety of health woes. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), chronic stress can trigger digestive symptoms, headaches, sleeplessness, depression, anger and irritability. People who experience stress regularly also tend to have more frequent and severe viral infections, such as colds and flu.
The good news is that you don’t have to quit your job (an alternative that could cause even more stress) to soothe jangled nerves and prevent feeling burned out.
Here are 5 tried-and-true strategies to get stress at work under control.
1. Keep a Stress Journal
Don’t get stressed out about adding journaling to your to-do list! Instead, keep it simple by making a brief list of situations that create stress at work each day and note how you felt and how you responded. For example, when you were nervous before a presentation, did you skip lunch and afterward grab a quick and unhealthy snack? When faced with a conflict with a co-worker, did you raise your voice or decide to take a short walk to cool off and think about ways to resolve a disagreement? The point of keeping a stress journal for a few weeks, according to the APA, is to find patterns among your stressors and your reactions to them. Then you can concentrate on the obviously healthier, more productive and less stressful ways to cope.
2. Consciously Take Care of Yourself
You’ve heard it before – get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet with lots of vegetables and fruit, and exercise – but it’s time to make a commitment to healthy lifestyle choices. By taking care of yourself, you’ll be more resilient when faced with stress. Consciously decide to work some exercise in during the day by taking a quick walk at lunch time. You’ll lower the level of the stress hormone cortisol, reduce high-calorie food cravings and return to your office with a clearer mind and more relaxed body. Avoid giving in to unhealthy snack attacks as a reaction to stress by keeping nutritious options on hand in your office, like peanut butter and apples.
3. Learn Instant De-Stressing Techniques
Research has shown that daily meditation can make people more resilient to stress, increase mental focus and even reduce feelings of depression. Learning easy-to-do meditation techniques can help lower blood pressure, slow your heart rate and calm jangled nerves in five minutes. Simply sit up straight in your chair with both feet on the floor, close your eyes and focus your attention on silently repeating a calming word or phrase such as “I am peaceful” or “All is well”.
When thoughts intrude, simply let them float by while you inhale slowly through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. Work on your task management skills. Many people increase job stress for themselves by developing self-defeating habits and behaviors. For example, are you a perfectionist? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do your best but trying for perfection on everything is an unattainable goal that only adds stress to your life.
4. Remember That You Can’t Control Everything, Including the Behavior of Others
Focus on what you can control – including how you react when conflicts arise. Prioritize tasks daily and tackle them in order of importance. If a project seems overwhelming, instead of worrying about the big picture, break it down into a step-by-step plan that is manageable.
5. Talk to Your Manager or Supervisor
Experts at the APA who have studied on-the-job stress point out that your boss has an incentive to help you find ways to manage job stress. After all, employees who are not unduly stressed are more productive and less likely to take many sick days due to health problems. Have an open discussion with your supervisor with a goal of working together to manage areas of your job that you have identified as causing stress. The APA recommends clarifying what’s expected of you and discussing any changes to your physical workspace that can make it more comfortable and reduce strain. Ask for information about any employer-sponsored wellness resources that can help you live a healthier, less stressed life too.