Stress at work can feel all-consuming and overwhelming with those seemingly impossible deadlines, demanding bosses and piles of paperwork leaving you feeling frustrated, unappreciated and resentful. Sometimes it’s short-term and character-building, but there are other times when stress can start to affect your daily life; adversely impacting your personal life and relationships. If that sounds familiar, make some changes with these top 5 tips to reduce stress at work.
The best way to reduce stress at work is to prevent it in the first place. Enter: Yoga. It specifically focuses on calming the mind while improving flexibility, making it a great exercise choice if you want to prepare your mind and body to feel relaxed and centred, even after high pressure situations at work. If you have trouble motivating yourself in the morning, here’s a tip—make sure your workout gear is the first thing you see when you wake up and then get dressed straight away. Getting ready and finding the motivation is often half the battle but when you experience the stress-busting benefits of yoga, you’ll want to keep going.
What are you saying to yourself in high-pressure situations? If you don’t know, it’s time to make a note. Take the time to observe your thoughts when you are feeling stressed. Are your thoughts helping and motivating you, or are they hindering you and making you feel anxious? The way you think is linked to how you feel, to the decisions you make, and to the actions you take. Write down your unhelpful thoughts (“I can’t cope”, “this is impossible”, “I will never get this finished”) and then counter them with a few positive affirmations that will be more helpful in dealing with stress at work. Your new thoughts don’t need to be over-the-top positive, they just need to be more realistic (“I am capable”, “I can get through this”, “this is difficult but doable”). Now rehearse these thoughts until you can remember them easily. And with a little practice, you will be able to cope better with stress.
Sometimes you can’t reduce workplace demands, but you can learn to respond differently to stress by developing your own ritual for dealing with high-pressure situations. Keep it simple, practical and realistic—like taking five minutes to do a relaxation exercise, listen to your favourite song, read a quote or visualise success. When you are extremely stressed, it can be difficult to remember what your ritual is, so write it down or put everything you need in a box or draw to make sure it’s accessible when you need it—think of it as your Work Stress First Aid Kit!
Work out what your options are: could you reduce your stress at work by asking for more resources or decreasing your workload? Brainstorm possible solutions and write everything down, even if they seem silly or unrealistic. Narrow down and refine your ideas, assess the pros and cons of each and choose one to pursue. Then write down the steps you need to take for your idea to come to fruition, create a timeline and review your progress. If your idea is successful, great! If not, choose a different option on your list and follow the same steps. In the meantime, work on changing the way you respond to the demands placed on you by making sure you are actively pursuing enjoyable activities outside of work. This could be making time to attend your favourite gym class or even investing in a good self-help book like “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff at Work” by Richard Carlson.
Walk away from your work for a few minutes on a regular basis throughout the day, especially if you find you are sitting for long periods. Taking breaks to walk around, stretch, enjoy the sunshine, listen to music, have a cup of tea or chat with a colleague can be all you need to bring renewed energy to your work. Some offices will even have a game room so employees can play during breaks. If this seems strange or out of place, it isn’t, according to research having fun fosters creativity and innovation, while physical activities can improve your ability to learn and process information. Just make sure it’s time-limited and don’t choose a game or activity that is too addictive, otherwise your break is just a form of procrastination rather than a way to improve your wellbeing and the quality of your work.
Written by Dr Lillian Nejad - a Melbourne-based clinical psychologist who specialises in helping people achieve long-term improvements in mental health, quality of life and overall well-being.