Stress-Proof Your Workday: 8 Easy Steps to a Calmer and Productive You
An annoying client, a tight deadline, too much work or an unsympathetic colleague. There can be several reasons for experiencing tremendous stress in the workplace. Although more and more damn good companies are implementing initiatives to prevent or solve that stress, stress reduction is an active process. Someone else cannot reduce stress for you. Below are 8 very simple and highly effective ways to better manage and even prevent stress yourself.
Growing concern for employees within companies
In recent years, we have seen a growing number of leading companies taking seriously the concern for a pleasant working atmosphere and optimal physical and mental health of employees.
For example, the graphics software manufacturer Adobe has the “Adobe Life” program. This is an employee wellness initiative aimed at promoting a healthy work-life balance and general well-being. For example, Adobe encourages its employees to prioritize their physical health by offering access to fitness centers, exercise classes, and wellness programs. They also offer mindfulness training, meditation sessions, and relaxation areas where employees can take a break and unwind. Another component is the possibility of flexible working arrangements, leave policies, and support in effectively managing workload.
Fortunately, Adobe is not alone in taking an active role in the well-being of its employees. Companies like Google, Airbnb, and SalesForce all have their own take on it. The days when companies saw their employees merely as expendable resources seem to be over in most Western countries. But what if all those programs are not enough and you still experience stress?
What can you do yourself to experience less stress in the workplace? 8 simple exercises.
- Do regular stretches or slow movements
Standing up and stretching your arms, neck, and back seems so simple, but is hugely effective against workplace stress. This is because when we experience stress, our muscles tend to tighten. Especially in areas like the neck, shoulders, and back. Stretching helps release this tension by lengthening the muscles and thereby relaxing them.
Equally important, stretching and slow movements promote blood circulation. It increases blood flow throughout the body. When you stretch, your muscles relax, which helps stimulate blood circulation. This allows oxygen and nutrients to reach your muscles and organs more efficiently, promoting overall well-being and reducing feelings of fatigue and tension.
Stretching, stretching and slow movements also activate the body’s relaxation response, releasing endorphins. This is our natural mood-enhancing chemical. Endorphins help reduce stress, improve mood and promote a sense of calm and well-being.
Stretching exercises and slow movements make you more aware of your body. It brings your attention to the present moment, allowing you to temporarily shift your focus away from work-related stressors.
- Focus on your breathing
We all breathe, but when you start breathing consciously and do so-called ‘deep’ breathing exercises, a number of things happen in your body that allow you to relax.
Firstly, your ‘Parasympathetic Nervous System’ is activated. This nervous system is responsible for the body’s relaxation response. When you inhale deeply and exhale slowly, it sends a signal to your brain to activate this calming response. The vagus nerve is an important part of the parasympathetic nervous system. Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which plays a crucial role in regulating various body functions, including heart rate, digestion, and stress response. Activation of the vagus nerve through deep breathing promotes relaxation and reduces feelings of stress and anxiety.
Conscious and deep breathing therefore also slows down the heart rate and hence blood pressure. This physiological response promotes a sense of calm and relaxation.
With deep and conscious breathing, more oxygen is taken in with each breath. This increased oxygen intake improves oxygenation throughout your body, including the brain. Sufficient oxygen contributes to a sense of clarity and calmness, making you feel more relaxed and focused.
Your breathing, like stretching and slow movements, can stimulate the release of “feel-good” hormones and endorphins.
Finally, by focusing on your breathing and the sensations of breathing in and out, you can divert your attention from stress or runaway thoughts. This conscious awareness of the present moment can break the cycle of stress and promote relaxation.
- Take short breaks and especially go for a walk
We have already devoted a whole article to how taking short breaks during a working day has several positive effects on your mood, energy levels and mental clarity.
Taking a physical activity like walking during a short break promotes increased blood circulation throughout your body. So also to your brain. This improved blood flow delivers more oxygen and nutrients to your brain cells, resulting in improved cognitive function, increased alertness and improved mental clarity.
Any physical activity releases endorphins in the brain during a short break and you experience more pleasure, reduce stress and get a better mood. In addition, walking and exercise in general help regulate the body’s stress response. Exercise stimulates the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which help fight stress and anxiety. At the same time, walking reduces levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, which can have a calming effect on the body and mind.
A short walk can also help boost your energy levels by promoting better blood circulation, oxygenation and overall fitness. It boosts metabolism, increases the efficiency of your cardiovascular system, and stimulates the release of energy-boosting hormones. As a result, you can experience a natural increase in energy and feel more fit and fresh.
But perhaps the most important benefit of taking a short break is that it allows you to disconnect from work-related tasks and mentally recharge. Exercise, fresh air, playing a game like Sudoku, and a change of scenery can help clear your mind, reduce mental fatigue, and help you focus better. The moment can also serve as a form of mindfulness, allowing you to be present in the moment and let go of racing thoughts or stressors.
- Talk positively to yourself
In the article on the effect of positive communication in the workplace, we discussed improved productivity and motivation in the workplace. But talking positively to yourself also has a hugely positive effect on de-stressing as well as preventing stress.
Speaking positively to yourself and reminding yourself of your capabilities, achievements and strengths can have a significant impact on reducing stress and boosting your self-confidence. Positive self-talk consists of consciously replacing negative thoughts or self-criticisms with positive and supportive statements. By actively focusing your thoughts on uplifting and encouraging words, you shift your focus away from stress-causing thoughts or situations.
Positive self-talk helps reframe your perspective and challenge negative beliefs or assumptions. This is called cognitive restructuring. It allows you to interpret stressful situations in a more positive or realistic light, which helps reduce anxiety and improve overall emotional well-being.
Engaging in positive self-talk also provokes a positive emotional response. Reminding yourself of your abilities, achievements and strengths activates the brain’s so-called reward pathways. Like the examples above, this leads to the release of chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. In other words, you will experience more positive emotions and a sense of well-being. This helps reduce stress and promotes a more positive mood.
Reminding yourself of your abilities, achievements and strengths reinforces a positive self-image and boosts self-confidence. Acknowledging your past successes and capabilities creates a belief in your own ability to overcome challenges and deal with stressors effectively. Increased self-confidence can help reduce stress by providing a sense of competence and resilience.
There can also be physiological effects when you speak positively to yourself. When you engage in self-affirming and encouraging thoughts, the body can experience a relaxation response. This can result in a lower heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduced muscle tension. These physical changes contribute to a greater sense of calmness.
- Listen to calming or uplifting music
Listening to calming or uplifting music during work breaks is perhaps one of the simplest and most useful strategies for de-stressing. This is because music has the ability to evoke strong emotional responses. Different types of music can evoke different emotions, such as happiness, calmness or nostalgia. By choosing calming or uplifting music, you can consciously evoke positive emotions, which can counteract stress and create a more relaxed state of mind.
Listening to and engaging with music (during work breaks) can serve as a form of distraction from work-related stressors. Music provides an alternative attention focus, allowing your mind to temporarily get away from sources of stress or pressure. This break from stressful thoughts can help refresh your mind and see things from a more positive perspective.
It is even proven that listening to soothing music activates the body’s relaxation response and lowers heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol and triggers the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and endorphins.
In addition, music has the ability to change the mood and create a positive atmosphere. Uplifting or upbeat music can lift your mood, increase positivity and reduce feelings of anxiety or tension. Slow and calming music, such as instrumental or nature sounds, can create a sense of calm and peace.
- Use humour in the workplace
Using humor in the workplace includes watching funny videos or sharing a joke with a colleague. The main effect is that laughing releases endorphins and reduces stress hormones such as cortisol, which will improve your mood.
Laughing engages different muscle groups in the body. When you laugh, your facial muscles, diaphragm and abdominal muscles contract and relax. This physical release of muscle tension can help relieve physical stress and promote a more relaxed state.
While laughing, your breathing also becomes deeper and faster. This results, as explained earlier, in increased oxygen intake and improved oxygenation throughout your body, including your brain. Sufficient oxygen contributes to mental clarity, more energy and a sense of well-being, all of which can help counteract the effects of stress.
Humor and laughter can also provide a shift in perspective, allowing you to see situations in a more positive light. It can help you find humor in difficult or stressful circumstances, allowing you to reframe them and reduce their impact on your overall stress levels.
Laughing with others, such as by sharing jokes or watching funny videos with colleagues, also promotes social bonding and connection. Positive social interactions have been shown to reduce stress and improve mood. Laughing together can create a sense of camaraderie, strengthen relationships and provide emotional support.
- Do a good deed every day
Doing good deeds every day, such as performing acts of kindness, can reduce your stress at work by also releasing dopamine and serotonin.
By shifting your attention to helping others, you create a mental break from your own worries, giving a sense of relief and temporary ‘relief’ from stress.
Because doing good reminds you of the positive influence you can have on others and the value you have beyond your daily tasks in the workplace, you can experience your stress from a broader perspective. In addition, acts of kindness often involve interactions with others and this too reduces stress. The book “Start Giving a Dam” lists 10 benefits of ‘Doing Damn Good’.
- Engage in time management
It’s a headline, but a lack of time management skills is one of the biggest causes of stress in the workplace. Losing track of things and not setting priorities can even lead to a form of panic or a whole dislocated private and work balance. Because time management is so crucial, it is included in this list, but this skill is much more in need of explanation and so I won’t go into it further here.
You can do a lot about stress, but why is there stress?
If you experience stress in the workplace, above you have 7 handy tips on how to prevent and reduce it. But the fact that there is (too much and too long) stress can obviously never be a good sign. So check carefully whether you yourself are not comfortable in your own skin or whether there is something structurally wrong within the company. Working in a stressful environment for long periods of time can cause serious harmful health problems. It can lead to burnout, depression and, in the worst case, it can even lead to heart disease, for example.