5 steps you can take to reduce workplace stress

Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

Do you feel daily dread about work? Or maybe each week starts well enough, but you're soon anxious for the weekend — and realize it's only Tuesday.

If you feel stressed at least once a day at work, you are in good company: 33% of working Americans said they experience stress during a typical workday in a 2016 American Psychological Association survey. Primary stress triggers included long hours, unrealistic expectations and heavy workloads. 

Millennials are more likely to experience stress during the workday than other generations, which includes dealing with both physical and mental symptoms. Physical symptoms include shortness of breath, dizziness and headaches, while mental symptoms present are depression and anxiety.

Other key indicators of workplace stress can show up outside of office hours. "Anxiety indicators also show up in your sleep patterns and appetite," Ken Goodman, a licensed clinical social worker, said to Mic by phone. "Anxiety can also stop you from doing things you enjoy."

Some signs of stress and anxiety are so severe, you should not try to ride it out on your own: "If symptoms are so overwhelming, they prevent you from doing your job, you avoid work altogether and aren't sleeping, you should consider professional help," Goodman said. "Also, another sign you need help is if symptoms come on suddenly and are overwhelming."

While therapy can help anyone, if you're not at the point where you need to enlist a pro, there are still several steps you can take to reduce anxiety at work. These steps should be practiced on a regular basis — as repetition increases effectiveness, Goodman said. Here's how to get a handle on your stress.

1. Cut back on the caffeine

One stress symptom is difficulty sleeping, so trying to make it through your day by loading up on coffee is counterproductive, Goodman explained. In fact, overdosing on cups of Joe can make anxiety worse.

"Adding caffeine to anxiety is like pouring lighter fluid on a fire," he said. "If you are already anxious, caffeine amplifies it, plus contributes toward sleeplessness. You end up not getting sleep, drinking more caffeine during the day and the cycle repeats. If you can't go without coffee, have one small cup in the morning but stop there."

You might also consider coffee alternatives, like green or black tea, to wake you up a little without mega-dosing on caffeine.

2. Learn to breathe better

When someone tells you to "breathe" because you are feeling panic, it means more than just taking a quick breath. Instead, you might try deep, slow, controlled breathing — which can release pent-up stress, according to research published in Science. The study authors identified a biological connection between deep breathing and anxiety reduction.

Breathing exercises should be practiced several times over the course of the day, during a minute break every hour or two: "You can practice deep breathing at your desk or in the bathroom, but breathing should be slow and silent, through the nose," Goodman recommended. "Shoot for six slow, silent breaths and practice this often."


3. Get out of the office at least once a day

Make time during your lunch hour for a walk, as researchers have found a 30-minute stroll during the workday helps workers manage stress and improves mood. You don't have to speed walk to achieve stress reduction, just make sure you are wear a pair of comfortable shoes and walk at a steady pace.

Integrate a simple meditation technique into your low-intensity walk, such as mentally counting footsteps, to lower anxiety levels and improve your self-awareness, cardiologist James Rippe, said to Prevention. Walking with meditation delivers also immediate-stress reducing results, without having to work up a sweat.

4. Track your anxiety

Identifying what, exactly, is giving you anxiety may help you determine if you have a legitimate concern or if your stress is self-induced, Goodman explained. For example, is your stress mostly because of a big quarterly deadline that is looming? Or are you fretful on a daily basis, week in and week out, even when your workload is lighter?

Once you evaluate your worries, you can take action, whether it means voicing concerns to your boss, asking for more training or even quitting your job.

Take one day to track the times you experience anxiety or stress, and then look for repeat entries at the end of the day. Examine the repeated entries to pinpoint specific worries.

"Now you can identify what is worrying you, if those concerns are legitimate and if those anxious thoughts are based on real stressors, such as meeting quota" or if the stress is more psychological, Goodman said.  

5. Include sensory pleasure in your daily agenda

Nibbling on a bit of dark chocolate or taking a whiff of a calming essential oil can reduce stress hormones. Calming scents include bergamot, lavender and frankincense, which can be delivered through aromatherapy or the skin. Other handy mood-boosting oils are grapefruit, basil, lime, rose, sweet orange and sandalwood.

Both dark and milk chocolate have been shown to have the same stress-reducing results, though consuming lower quantities of fat and sugar might help your health (and stress levels) for other reasons: Eating about 40 grams of dark, unsweetened chocolate each day should do the trick.

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Gina Ragusa

Gina is a personal finance writer for Mic who resides in South Florida. Gina can be reached at gina@mic.com.

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