Anxiety and stress can come from many sources, but one of the most troublesome causes is work: At least 4 out of 10 working Americans report job-related stress, according to a 2016 poll of working Americans by Harvard, NPR and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Part of the problem is out-of-whack work-life balance — and being wired around the clock. “Dealing with technology 24 hours a day, seven days a week makes it difficult to just leave work at the office,” Monique Honaman, partner and CEO at leadership and executive coaching company, ISHR Group said. “The lines are completely blurred between work and home hours, which is creating a lot of stress.”
The consequences are serious. Many people say their job negatively affects their weight, eating and sleeping habits, and those with disabilities or who work in dangerous or low-paying jobs are even more likely to report that their occupation has a negative impact on their overall health, according to the poll.
How do you know if you’ve got a stress problem? Some emotional and physical symptoms include headaches, the feeling of being overwhelmed, nervousness, feeling anxious, or the feeling of sadness or depression. The proportion of people surveyed who said they felt at least one of these symptoms over the prior month increased from 71% in August 2016 to 80% in January 2017 — and a separate study found reports of those feeling such stress symptoms have ticked up in the year ending August 2017, too, according to the American Psychological Association.
Of course, certain kinds of stress — like an adrenaline rush or sweaty palms before a presentation or interview — are normal, as NBC News reported. On the other hand, if you feel constantly irritable, sad or tired for an extended period, you may be chronically stressed and should check in with your physician, in case you are suffering from a more serious condition, like depression.
If your stress is somewhere in between — not debilitating, but hard enough to manage that you think you need to make a change — check out the tips below. These three de-stressing techniques can help change your routines and make you feel happier and more clear-headed at work — and in life.
1. Build in a “sacred” daily walk
Eating lunch at your desk in a frenzy is no way to live, especially if it becomes a daily occurrence. It’s healthiest to make a point to leave the office every day for a bit of time, Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster, said: “Enlist the help of an office buddy to make sure you both leave the office to go on a walk or actually eat lunch away from work. That way you can hold each other accountable and both benefit from some time away from your desks.”
Now, if being away from the office for a full hour isn’t possible, just taking a 30-minute walk can reduce stress and make you a little cheerier. Speed walking isn’t required, but going on more of a meditative, lower intensity walk is preferred where you count your steps and release your mind from whatever stress is waiting for you back at your desk.
Making your daily break a sacred ritual — and the norm, instead of the exception — means that even when you occasionally have to skip it, you’ll be more likely to get back on the de-stressing wagon when work settles down.
2. Create device-free space and time at home
It’s unavoidable: Squeezing in a little extra work at home is incredibly common, with up to half of the 1,800 people in a 2010 study in Science News saying they did so. “People who are well-educated, professionals and those with job-related resources report that their work interferes with their personal lives more frequently, reflecting what we refer to as ‘the stress of higher status,’” study author Scott Schieman said in a press release on the study.
The trouble is that if you are already stressed at your job, bringing work home is likely to prolong your anxiety, Jackie Coleman and John Coleman wrote in the Harvard Business Review.
One solution is to block off specific time when you get home during which you can fully decompress, de-stress and focus on home life. Avoiding using your phone or laptop at the dinner table and in bed is smart, to create a stronger psychological boundary between work — which you can finish in a designated workspace or home office — and the rest of your life.
Work from home? Simple rituals make a big difference. “Shut down your computer at the end of the workday. Even if it’s still sitting in the next room, you’ve signaled to yourself that work time is over,” Brianna McGurran, personal finance expert at NerdWallet, said in an email interview.
Same goes for checking work emails in the morning. “Don’t roll over and check your email on your phone as soon as you wake up,” McGurran advised. Instead have a cup of coffee, get dressed and indulge in a little “me time” first. Adjusting your schedule so you wake up a little earlier can help take the pressure off — and could be well worth it: A hot shower is much more relaxing if you can let your mind wander rather than focus on rushing out the door.
3. Zoom out a little... and a lot
Being mindful — meaning being more conscious and self-aware — can help you “zoom out,” see the big picture in your life and take back control. In day-to-day life, “there are a few approaches you can take to being more mindful, even ways to help you physically get stress under control,” Honaman said. “Taking three, deep breaths where you inhale deeply and exhale deeply has a significant impact on you physically and can help you slow down.”
Another tactic is examining your self-awareness at work — to see if your stress is coming from a source out of your control (like an unreasonable boss) or if changes to your daily habits might actually make the difference and more easily lead you to success. Taking the time to find out how you are really perceived by others not only helps you build more symbiotic relationships, but also helps you squash the bad habits you don’t realize are hurting you — like never saying no or turning in work slightly but consistently late.
Does your stress feel more existential? Regularly connecting with the important people in your life is a key first step to building better balance — and talking to roommates, friends or family immediately after work helps to provide a healthy break: “For instance, when my husband and I get home from work, instead of opening our laptops, we grab a glass of wine and head to the back porch to just talk and connect for about 30 minutes,” Honaman said.
Conversations with those you trust can help you develop a better sense of how happy you really are — and whether an even bigger-picture change is warranted. As it turns out, if it’s your job or career that is truly at the root of your unhappiness, December is actually the best time to start hunting for a new one. In other words, there’s no time like today to hit reset — and start building the life you don’t need to escape from.
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