8 Tips for Managing Stress and Anxiety in the Workplace

The simple act of living is often stressful. Even happy times--from putting on a party or getting ready to go out, to big events like getting married--can bring on bouts of stress and anxiety. While these feelings can be particularly overwhelming at work, keep in mind that you hold the key to managing stress and anxiety not only at work, but in all areas of your life. When you make self-care a priority, you take control of your life.

When you look at managing stress and anxiety from the view of taking care of yourself, it shifts the emphasis back to you--where it should rightly be. You have the power to make good choices, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep, so that you feel well and healthy. It is tempting when stress hits to turn to alcohol, drugs, sugar, or junk food to help yourself cope, but this often makes the situation worse. Focusing on yourself and your own personal needs not only reduces stress, but can help you to keep chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure and heart disease, at bay. Here are several tips that employees can implement at and outside of the workplace to help practice self-care and reduce stress.

Tip 1: Begin self-care at home
Make sure you get enough sleep. The actual amount differs from person to person, so pay attention to how much sleep you need to feel rested. Research suggests that it is a good idea to avoid screens (phones, tablets, and laptops), difficult or emotional reading, and vigorous exercise before bed, but everyone is different and if you need the TV to fall asleep, that's fine as long as it isn't a disruption. If you are having serious sleep problems, consult a professional.

Before you leave for work, give yourself time to prepare nutritional and balanced snacks and a healthy lunch. Worrying about what to eat can cause stress and anxiety. You are less likely to hit the vending machines or fast food places if you come to work prepared.

Tip 2: While at work, be mindful of your physical environment
Take some time to figure out what you need in order to create a space that is conducive to a nice working environment. If your company allows it, personalize your work area with items that are meaningful to you, such as favorite artwork, photos, or plants.

Arrange furniture in a way that makes you comfortable and allows for easy access to files or reference materials that you use frequently. Place items that you need to do your job, such as pens, note pads or staplers, within easy reach. This cuts down on those little frustrations and annoyances that can build up into stress over time.

Some companies don't allow you to rearrange furniture or decorate your work space. If this is the case, at least keep ergonomics in mind. Maintaining the correct physical alignment throughout the day--head over shoulders, waist, and hips—will reduce stress on your back. Adjust your chair for good lumbar support and add small pillows if you need them. Paying attention to how your body feels in the work environment can go a long way to helping reduce stress and anxiety.

Tip 3: Take breaks
Even with perfect posture, sitting for too long a time isn't good. Get up and walk around or stretch every half hour or so to keep the blood moving. Even if you exercise regularly, prolonged sitting is not good for the heart, so build activity into your work day. Get up and make copies, refill office supplies, or visit the water cooler. Rather than emailing a co-worker, get up and walk over to personally interact.

Movement is important for reducing stress and anxiety, but so is stillness. Don't underestimate the power of closing your eyes and breathing. Deep breathing increases the oxygen in the blood, improves mental clarity, relaxes muscles, and lowers blood pressure. Slowly inhale on a count of four, hold for a count of eight, and exhale for a count of four. A few minutes of deep breathing will clear the mind and help you refocus your energy.

Tip 4: Lighten up on caffeine
A trip to the coffee pot can be a good way to take a break from sitting at the computer, but consuming too much caffeine comes with its own issues. While research suggests some therapeutic effect from moderate coffee intake, caffeine is a stimulant and can be addictive. Excessive consumption is also linked to many chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and headaches. Moderation is the key here. If you are experiencing the jitters, try cutting down on the number of cups you drink a day or changing to decaffeinated coffee or herbal tea. Adding sugar to your cup can affect your energy level and bring on that afternoon crash, so it is a good idea to limit sweeteners, too.

Tip 5: Frame your work relationships in a positive light
Whatever steps you choose to take to manage workplace stress and anxiety, your attitude makes a big difference. A positive outlook on life and work can reduce stress across the board and you always have a choice to view a situation in a positive or negative light. Yet even with a positive attitude, conflicts will still arise. When this happens, don't respond immediately; take a few deep breaths and calm down. If you are feeling overwhelmed, changing your physical environment, such as taking a walk or going to the gym, can help. Once you have calmed down, process what happened and try to understand the other person’s perspective. See it through their eyes. Acknowledge your feelings as valid and see their feelings' validity, as well.

Tip 6: Take time off
No matter how positive your outlook, stepping away from the job from time to time is important. Many people are reluctant to take time off and are afraid that it will make them appear less dedicated to their work, but people who take vacations come back relaxed and are more productive. Taking a break to do something you enjoy can give you new perspective and energy.

A break doesn't have to be a trip to the Bahamas to be effective. Taking short breaks during the work day helps you come back more refreshed and awake. Go outside and walk to a restaurant instead of eating lunch at your desk. Volunteer to make a delivery to a branch office, or take a bit of personal time and run errands. Taking a few minutes away from work can also help you fight off illnesses that can lead to work backups and more stress.

Tip 7: Take part in company sponsored wellness events
Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety, and many companies offer programs and incentives to help you develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Check with human resources and see if your employer has company-wide fitness, exercise, or weight-loss challenges. There may be a meditation room or yoga classes at lunch time or after work. If your company doesn't offer these programs, consider starting some yourself. They are very popular right now, and some employers offer rewards for this kind of initiative, such as discounts on insurance premiums or increases in coverage.

Tip 8: Be creative
What you do in your free time can have an important effect on the amount of stress in your life. Hobbies and classes can help you relax during your down time and make you more effective at work. Pick up hobbies that inspire you, such as drawing and painting, photography, ceramics, or music. Classes involving movement like dance, yoga, meditation, or tai chi contribute to better mental and physical health by strengthening mind, body, and spirit. When you feel relaxed and balanced, it helps reduce overall stress both at home and in the workplace.

It’s impossible to avoid stress completely, but by listening to your body's needs you can create a more positive working environment. By paying attention to diet and exercise, taking breaks, and including creative outlets, you can keep stress and anxiety from taking over your workplace.

Gregory Lane, DACM, LAc, is the Director of Clinical Services at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine.

Posted on Sep 12, 2017

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