Relieving Workplace Stress

Posted by Lisa Park on June 19, 2011
Relieving Workplace Stress

Ever have one of those days-or weeks-when, no matter what you do, nothing seems to be going your way? Maybe your boss has just taken you to task for overlooking a key element in the report you turned in last Friday; or your coworker has dropped the ball on getting you the creative for an ad you were charged with getting out on time (in trouble again!); or your workload has steadily increased as your company has dwindled from 75 to a staff of 42. Faced with any one of these situations, what do you do? Suck it up or call it quits?

For most, calling it quits is not an option. Times are tough, and getting a job is harder than it's been in a long while. That said, people-especially those with families to support or mortgage and car payments hanging over their heads-are more likely to stay in a stressful work situation rather than risk a jobless future.

So you've decided, you're sticking with your job, even though it's stressing you out. What then can you do to alleviate some of the stress and make your day-to-day work life more bearable and even enjoyable? Have a look at the following tips to figure out ways to improve your quality of life.

1. Focus on better nutrition. Certain foods, called "pseudostressors," can trigger or increase stress. Foods containing caffeine kick metabolism into a higher gear and cause the release of stress hormones (such as adrenaline), making your heart rate and blood pressure increase. Refined sugar and simple carbohydrates (white flour and rice, for example) can make insulin levels rise and then crash, causing anxiety and irritability. According to the Department of Public Health Education at UNC-Greensboro, "vitamin B deficiencies can cause stress-related symptoms such as irritability, lethargy, and depression. [And] stress hormones increase magnesium loss, which can also result in irritability." The list goes on.

That said, proper nutrition is key in helping decrease stress-related symptoms:

  • Follow a diet low in fat and sugars and high in nutrient-dense foods, as recommended by the USDA (think, "Food Pyramid").
  • Cut down on caffeine, saturated fats, salt, and sugar.
  • Up your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain products, good fats (like that found in nuts and avocadoes), lean proteins, dietary fiber, and water.
  • Don't skip meals-make sure to eat breakfast and bring snacks like carrots, bananas, lowfat yogurt, or unsalted nuts to work with you.
  • Consider taking a multivitamin once a day.

2. Take short breaks daily. According to the National Mental Health Association (NMHA), "just ten to 20 minutes of quiet reflection may bring relief from chronic stress as well as increase your tolerance to it. Use the time to listen to music, relax, and try to think of pleasant things or nothing."

Deep breathing exercises are also a good way to ease stress; these expel metabolic wastes from your lungs and draw oxygen deep into your diaphragm. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth several times slowly and fully while sitting up in your chair with muscles at rest and eyes closed. Visualize a tranquil scene while engaging in this activity. If deep breathing isn't enough, add stretching to your repertoire.

3. Exercise regularly. Whether its four 10-minute brisk walks a day or three 45-minute runs a week, exercise can help improve your mindset. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) reports that the four ways exercise controls stress are by:

  • Easing anxiety. In clinical studies, participants recorded a decrease in the electrical activity of tensed muscles following exercise-they became less jittery and hyperactive.
  • Promoting relaxation. One workout can elicit a 90- to 120-minute post-exercise euphoria, or endorphin, response. Endorphins, which are similar in structure to morphine, are released in the body when you exercise; these natural substances are what induce a sense of well-being and relaxation.
  • Bolstering your self-esteem. A study at California State University in Chico found that chronic worriers who worked out reported feeling better and having fewer depressive symptoms than those who did not.
  • Improving eating habits. Exercising and eating right do tend to go hand in hand. And eating right (see #1) will do a lot towards controlling stress.

4. Get organized, prioritize your tasks . and get help. If you're having trouble juggling a multitude of projects and activities, and it's starting to wear on your nerves, take some time out to work out a list of things to do. Number that list in order of most to least important. Then tackle each task one at a time, checking off each completed task as you go. This visual indicator that things are under control and getting done will give you a sense of satisfaction and help you get a handle on your workload and therefore your stress levels.

Of course, if at all possible, try to share the workload with fellow team members. The NMHA recommends that you "shed the 'superman/superwoman' urge. No one is perfect, so don't expect perfection from yourself or others. Ask yourself, 'What really needs to be done? How much can I do? Is the deadline realistic? What adjustments can I make?' Don't hesitate to ask for help if you need it."

5. Regain balance and perspective. When your work day and week come to an end, make sure you leave it all behind you. Strike a healthy balance between work and play. Pursue a fun hobby, hang out with friends, have a hot bath; do something-or nothing at all-that will take your mind off of work and allow you to recharge and relax.

On the flip side, if you can't seem to let go, talk about what you're going through with friends and family. Simply sharing your feelings-and receiving comfort and advice-can be enough to ease the pressure and anxiety you're feeling by bringing things back into proper perspective. If this isn't enough, then consider seeking the help of a professional counselor. Don't try to cope with your stress alone.

It goes without saying that stress affects everyone differently. What may seem stressful to one person is an exciting adventure to another. Remember, though, that becoming stressed is a choice. You can either learn to accept a situation (stay flexible and compromise) or make changes that will take stress out of the equation. Whether it's asking for help, eating and sleeping right, exercising, getting outdoors, or developing a work environment that keeps you calm and collected, do what you need to do to relax and rejuvenate. How you do it is really up to you.

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