Deadlines, conflicts, distractions, and new projects piling up all bring unwanted stress into our work routines, negatively affecting our productivity and work performance. Even if we know better, we risk overworking ourselves and developing stress. If we don’t implement proactive strategies in stressful environments, we’ll easily become overwhelmed.
But we’ve collected some tips to help you clear your head and learn strategies for coping with stress.
What exactly is stress?
We’re constantly helping our clients overcome stress in their everyday lives, so a good place to begin finding solutions is to understand what stress is and get to the root of it.
Stress is our body’s response to a perceived threat. When we’re stressed out, our body responds in a few different ways: Our heart rate and blood pressure increase and our body produces the stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol.
This triggers a “fight or flight” response which puts our body in a heightened state, preparing it for the perceived threat — accidents on the road, relationship conflicts, or fast-approaching deadlines. Once the acute stressor is out of the way, the body returns to its normal function. But with chronic stress, this heightened state is ongoing, and can cause major wear and tear on the body.
In our daily lives, there are many different types of stressors: financial, emotional (like grief or resentment), and even workplace stressors. The office is a high-pressure environment where we’re held to guidelines and deadlines, and expected to be sociable and professional at all times. Sometimes, those things are easier said than done.
At work, we may experience acute stress in the form of short-term stressors, like a big presentation or negative feedback in a meeting. Then there are chronic, prolonged stressors. Many of us are subject to this pressure 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. If the pressure is more than we can handle, there are some worrying implications for our mental — or even physical — well-being.
What does stress do to the body?
Depending on the person and their specific circumstance, stress manifests in many ways. Signs of stress include but aren’t limited to:
- Chest pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Tension in muscles or jaw
- Poor digestion
Short durations of stress are a natural physical and mental response when facing challenges or threats. Believe it or not: Stress keeps us alert and ready to avoid danger. The boost in hormones along with an increased heart rate and blood pressure prepares us to physically deal with threats as if we were facing a predator — an ancient bodily instinct passed on from ancestors who had to fight or flee aggressors to survive.
This ability to adapt and react to new situations can certainly be helpful to solve short-term stressors in the workplace, but when we experience chronic stress, our bodies are subject to this hormonal and physical response for long periods. Without any breaks or moments of relaxation, our bodies are more at risk for cardiovascular disease and increased headaches.
Although stress is common, we all experience it in different ways. In these moments of discomfort and distress, we, as coaches, must be understanding and empathetic to our clients and ourselves. It’s our job to support struggling clients, no matter how large or small their stressors are.
Luckily, when it comes to workplace stress, we have some great tips to try to identify and eliminate stressors at the source.
The 4 A’s of stress management
The four A’s of stress management provide us with a quick, memorable framework to cope with stress. Here they are:
- Avoid unnecessary stress. Whenever possible, we should eliminate our stressors, whether they’re people or situations. We should ensure we still complete our responsibilities to the best of our abilities, but try to find a path of least resistance in this process.
- Alter the situation. Sometimes, we simply can’t avoid our stress triggers. In these cases, we can change our situation to better meet our strengths and lean on coworkers and loved ones for support. That might mean a new weekly schedule limiting our time with these people or asking to move to another team.
- Adapt to the stressor. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of the stressor, we should try to find a silver lining in the situation. Try to take something positive from the experience and view it as a growth opportunity.
- Accept what you can’t change. The best and easiest solution is often to simply accept there are unavoidable situations and realize these stressors will pass. This is easy to do in low-stress situations, but we may need support when facing high levels of stress.
While these tips are great for dealing with immediate, obvious stressors at work, the four A’s of stress management work for day-to-day sources of stress as well. In less deadline-oriented situations, we lean on our friends and family for connection to help take our minds off things.
5 techniques to deal with stress in the workplace
We often help companies address employee stress and use our coaching to help individuals reach their full potential. This is, in part, because workplaces are particularly stressor-heavy environments due to factors like the pace, deadlines, and roadblocks.
With the rise of remote work, the lines between home and work are blurrier than ever. And if you’re returning to the office, your new commute might take valuable hours from your family time.
Work-life balance is hard to find for a reason, but learning how to deal with workplace stress will help you leave work behind — whether before your commute or when you shut your home-office door.
Here are five techniques to better handle stress:
1. Set boundaries and learn to say no
A lot of stress in the workplace comes from having to juggle deadlines and responsibilities. When we try to bite off more than we can chew, we magnify our stress. And when we say yes to workloads we can’t handle, it negatively affects our performance. If we experience poor mental health for long periods, we could experience burnout and require a long recovery period, or develop other mental health issues. (If this sounds like you, consider contacting a mental health care professional.)
To deal with stressors, we must learn to prioritize our tasks, reflect on our current capabilities, and be okay with saying “no.” It may be difficult to turn down a request or invitation, but doing so allows us to care for our mental health and remain present for our manageable responsibilities. Plus, we won’t be worrying about work after-hours because our to-do list isn’t an impossible length.
2. Breathing exercises
Stress meditation at work is extremely helpful and grounding without being disruptive to our coworkers. This stress management technique is all about bringing our bodies into the present and being mindful. As a quick stress-reduction technique, we can breathe through our noses and track the air moving through our bodies, focusing on the movement and the physical sensations.
If we’re comfortable doing so, we can pair this breathing exercise with progressive muscle relaxation techniques. This technique involves tensing specific muscle groups as we breathe in, holding for 15 seconds, and releasing them as we breathe out. This variation of breath focus helps us relax physically and mentally.
We can do this relaxation technique anywhere, at any time, and it doesn’t require any specific equipment. Without realizing it, many of us take short, shallow breaths when we’re stressed or frustrated, which decrease our energy levels and increase our anxiety. When we catch ourselves doing this at work, we can focus on our breathing for a few minutes to clear our minds and ground ourselves.
3. Neck swings
One physical indicator of our stress levels is tight muscles, especially in the neck and back area. Stress on the body compounds the effects of stress in our minds; taking care of ourselves physically supports our mental well-being.
To do neck swings, we begin by sitting still upright in our chairs. Then, we’ll hang our chins to our chest and roll our necks from side to side, shoulder to shoulder. There are many other simple stretches we can do at our desks to help with stiffness and relieve pain from bad posture and sitting for too long. Loosening our muscles relieves physical discomfort and creates a more comfortable work environment.
4. Take a walk
Taking a short walk and stepping away from our desks lets us clear our heads, stretch our legs, have a change of scenery, and enjoy some sunlight and fresh air. Physical activity and increasing our heart rates are excellent ways to combat stress.
Though it may be tempting to stay available to our clients at all times, we should take this time to unplug — even just 10 minutes after lunch. We can even schedule brain breaks into our day and take time to prioritize ourselves. It’s okay to keep our phones on our person, but we should try to focus on ourselves and our surroundings. And unless we receive an urgent call, we shouldn’t check our phones during these periods.
When we have a few moments to ourselves at our desk or car, guided meditations help take our mind off stressors and allow us to center ourselves. We can find guided meditations on many apps or programs with the option of audio or video formats.
Stress meditation in the workplace is effective, and we can easily incorporate it into our routines. While sitting at your desk, reflect on your current situation and what’s working. Focusing on positive thoughts will improve our moods and help us direct our energy toward gratitude and relaxation.
Reduce stress with Practice
If we’re faced with heavy workloads, long hours, and a shaky work-life balance, our job satisfaction could drop and impact our work. Chronic stress in our work environment negatively affects our physical health and even our personal lives.
To combat this, we should identify the causes of stress, strengthen our time management skills, and make sure we’re communicating what we need.
Keep your priorities straight with Practice’s all-in-one client management system. Let us handle your administrative tasks so you can help your clients overcome workplace stress and avoid taking on more than you can handle. Try Practice today.