How to Stress Less at Work

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Webster’s defines stress as “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation”. I define it as that “overwhelming feeling that makes you want to throw your computer out the window, strangle your co-worker, scream, or take the next plane to anywhere but here.”

Stress rears its ugly head in most workplace settings. It’s that tight feeling you get when there is too much to do and not enough time to do it; or your co-worker chews their gum so loud you can hear from across the hall; or the boss drops another “emergency” project on your desk; or when you realize the meeting you thought started at 9:00 actually started at 8:00.

Just as each person has different stress triggers, the stress remedies vary for each person as well. Here are some tips for reducing your stress at work:

1. Recognize what you can and cannot change.

Don’t get spun-up on things you have no control over. If you’re not the boss, you probably can’t control who gets hired or fired, or what they get paid. It may not be right, it may not be fair, but it is what it is. Let it go – you’ll feel much lighter once you drop that extra baggage you’re carrying around.

2. Try to find something good in every situation.

There is a silver lining in (almost) every cloud, even if that lining is threadbare! Force yourself to search for something good when things go downhill. It will help you keep things in perspective.

3. Don’t beat yourself up when things go wrong.

It’s unfortunate when something goes wrong at work, but it’s rarely the end of the world. And if you are directly responsible for the error, apologize, make things right, and move on.

4. Watch what you say.

Words such as “terrible”, “awful”, “worst-ever”, “never”, “can’t stand it”, “what if”, and “catastrophe” can send you down the stress highway pretty quickly. Instead of taking the doomsday approach, take a deep breath and assess the situation objectively. Avoid overgeneralization. Is it really the end of the world if you spill coffee on your client’s suit? Embarrassing? Yes. End of the World? Not likely.

5. Create a comfortable work space.

Be sure your office furniture and equipment are ergonomically correct. Have a nice-sized work space that allows you to spread out when needed. Place a photo of a favorite vacation spot or a piece of your child’s artwork within view. If appropriate, play some soft background music or listen to your iPod® or MP3 player with headphones. It may also help to have a stress ball handy.

6. Don’t get in a tizzy over your co-worker’s annoying habits.

So Bob snapped at a customer; Kathy was 15 minutes late today; and Susan is flirting with the boss again. Don’t get sucked into the drama. The more you focus on the behavior, the more upset you’re going to get. Unless it directly affects you, just ignore it and do your job. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.

7. Organize your work day according to your natural inclinations.

If you are a morning person, that’s when you should work on projects that require a lot of effort and energy. If you are not a morning person, work up to larger tasks by completing some lower-energy tasks first, such as answering emails, updating project notes, and returning telephone calls.

8. Take a break.

Allow yourself a lunch break, no matter how busy you are. Get away from your work, eat a light and healthy lunch (stay away from desserts and the all you can eat buffet. Heavy meals can make you tired and lethargic). If time permits, take a walk or hit the gym.

9. Recharge your batteries as needed throughout the day.

Stop and stretch. Take a stress break and walk down the hall. Step outside for a few minutes. Drink plenty of water. Have a few smart snacks available to munch on – mixed nuts, dried fruit, low-fat yogurt, air-popped popcorn, tea. Avoid foods and drinks with a lot of sugar or caffeine.

10. Exercise regularly.

It may not be feasible to exercise during your lunch hour. That’s fine. The important thing is to include an exercise program as part of your every day life.

11. Tackle that project you’ve been putting off.

Procrastination is a key contributor to stress overload. And think of how good you will feel when it’s done!

12. Use Voicemail.

Let the telephone work for you. If you are in the middle of a project or have a lot to accomplish that day, screen your calls. Then block a section of time later in the day and return all calls at once.

13. Prepare for tomorrow.

Before you leave for the day, take a few minutes to tidy up your desk, review your calendar, and make a short list of things you need to accomplish the next day. This will help you get a handle on the day, as well as avoid any miscommunications in regard to meeting schedules and project deadlines.

14. Allow yourself a few minutes to unwind after work.

Clear your head, put your feet up, have a cup of tea, meditate, or just sit and relax. Even 15-20 minutes to decompress can make a big difference.