It’s normal—even healthy!—to feel stress from time to time. Stress can energize and motivate you to work harder and faster. But when stress is no longer occasional or becomes severe, that’s when it’s time to re-evaluate your daily habits. Fortunately, there are several proven steps you can take to manage stress in a healthy way.
Stress While Working
Workplace stress can be caused by feeling pressure to perform or go above and beyond regularly, lacking control over how or where you do your work, not having enough time to complete your tasks, fear of being laid off, as well as many other reasons. Too much stress occurs when stress interferes with your personal life, health, or work performance. If you think you might be experiencing stress while working, here are some common signs to watch for:
- Feeling anxious or low mood
- Difficulty sleeping or low-quality sleep
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling drained or fatigued
Feeling these symptoms consistently could indicate a high-level of stress. Over time, the impact of these can add up. But before you get too stressed out about being stressed out, here are some tips and tricks to feeling your usual self.
The Secrets to Stress Management
Even if you’re experiencing stress, you still have control over how you react to situations and manage your stress response. Here are our top five tips for managing stress in a work environment:
1. Set boundaries to recharge
There’s a reason work/life balance is such a popular concept. When your work life starts blending too much into your home life, you lose the ability to turn your “work brain” off. Constantly thinking about work doesn’t let your brain relax and recharge, and increases your chances of developing stress. If you work from home, it’s especially important to set boundaries that limit the time you’re working to a consistent schedule.
The boundaries you set need to give you time to recharge. Every workday, take several breaks at the same time each day. During those breaks, you should shut out thoughts of work for that time period. That means no answering emails or work calls, and taking part in a distracting activity. Listen to music, take a walk outside, or have a healthy snack.
Meditation and breathing exercises are also a great way to distract yourself from work during these breaks. Try downloading a meditation app, and following a beginner’s program if you’re unsure where to start.
Plan to end your workday at the same time each day, turn off your work notifications, and avoid any work-related duties after that time. Take those hours to relax, socialize with family and friends, or take part in a hobby.
Finally, don’t forget to sleep! High-quality sleep has a direct link to stress: if you’re tired each day, you’re more likely to be irritable and respond poorly to stressors. To sleep better, avoid caffeine at least five hours before bedtime, and avoid electronics at least one hour before bedtime. Sleep at the same time each night and plan for seven to nine hours of sleep so your body can achieve a smooth sleep rhythm.
2. Practice time management
If one of your biggest stressors is having enough time in the workday to complete all your tasks, first evaluate your daily habits to make sure you’re not wasting any of your work time. Review our time management tips and use your time for value-adding activities. Try this advice:
- Create a consistent morning routine
- Keep a daily to-do list
- Prioritize the top two or three most important tasks on your list to start your day
- Take regular breaks
- Establish productivity techniques, such as time blocking
Using your time more productively will let you achieve more in your workday and reach your goals faster. If you practice time management and still struggle to achieve your goals, talk to a manager about resetting expectations around your work tasks.
3. Reframe your thinking
Many things happen to us each day that we can’t control. What we can control, though, is our reactions. If you’re stuck in a stress loop, you’re much more likely to react negatively to uncontrollable events. Achieving a healthier mindset, and therefore a healthier response to those uncontrollable things does take practice. But it’s a practice well worth putting effort into, as it can have a long-term positive impact on your stress levels.
To start adopting a healthier mindset, try reframing your thinking in these key ways:
- Accept what you can’t control: Instead, find entertainment or humor in the situation
- Stop focusing on the downside: Redirect your thoughts to a positive memory if you find yourself reacting with extreme negativity
- Aim for completion, not perfectionism: Your goal should be to complete your work tasks to the best of your abilities
These three ways of thinking may take some time for you to get used to, but keep trying. Practicing mindfulness during the workday is critical to mental health.
4. Boost your physical health
While mental health is a central component of stress, physical health also plays a significant role. Exercise reduces the stress hormone, cortisol. Yoga, especially, can be a great stress-reducer. While experts recommend at least thirty minutes of exercise per day, any amount of exercise is beneficial—even if it’s a ten-minute walk on your break.
You may not realize it, but what you eat also has a huge impact on stress. Eating healthier foods, and eating small meals frequently, will help you maintain your blood sugar at optimal levels throughout the day.
How does this help you? If your blood sugar drops too low, or too high, you feel lethargy, brain fog, irritation, and other unpleasant feelings. You’re also more susceptible to the effects of stress.
5. Build up your support system
When you’re feeling stressed, it’s common to isolate yourself even further. Resist this urge, and instead lean on family and friends to help manage it. This goes a long way toward reducing stress. Even if they don’t have the best stress-busting advice, social interaction is proven to reduce stress hormones.
If you don’t already have a quality support system to rely on, find one: join a professional network, volunteer, or take classes to meet new people who share your hobbies or skills. Building new, healthy relationships are possible no matter what age you are.
If you’re unable to manage your stress after following these tips, that’s okay! You always have the option to seek professional help with a doctor or through therapy, which can help you manage your specific stressors and teach you stress-reduction techniques.