No matter how much we love our jobs, we all get overwhelmed at work. A recent survey by the American Psychological Association indicated 65 percent of Americans state work is a main source of daily stress—while only 37% of us know how to manage it. According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic stress increases headaches, fatigue, and depression while decreasing motivation. Adopt these five simple strategies to spend your nine to five less stressed and more productive.
1. Name Your Stressor
As Leslie Alderman of The New York Times explains in The Year of Conquering Negative Thinking, in order to tame our reaction to stress we must first recognize our triggers. Stressful situations at work occur daily—a meeting with a superior, a last-minute presentation, or a negative interaction with a coworker, for example. In the moment, these situations may make us feel unconfident, incompetent, or under-appreciated.
Examine the familiar trails that your mind travels down when these situations occur. Recognize that indulging in negativity and self-deprecation does not correct the situation. As Alderman states, “By acknowledging your negative cycle and accepting it, you are on your way to taming your negative thoughts.” Looking your stressors in the eye, and naming them for what they are, gives you power over both their correction and future avoidance.
Moving forward, reject passively sliding into negative patterns of thinking when stressful situations occur—instead, focus your energy on planning how to avoid the situation in the future.
2. Allow Yourself to Single-Task
In today’s competitive workplace, productivity is God—often demanding a sacrifice of office relationships, long hours, and increased stress. In her article Fight Stress, Boost Productivity with Single-Tasking, Mallory Creveling stresses that our brains may be physically incapable of focusing on more than one activity at a time—and trying to force it to multitask only leads to inefficiency and mediocre work product.
“While experts used to give tips on how to improve multitasking skills, that approach to plowing through a to-do list is no longer in vogue. What they advocate works better: being present in the moment so you can concentrate on one activity—and one activity only.”
If we aren’t viewing our work to-do list realistically, we’ll feel we underperform and will inevitably grow stressed. Instead of pushing yourself to work on multiple projects at once, focus on prioritizing. Intentionally put away your phone, close out your email, and dedicate the time needed to accomplish the most pressing item of the day.
3. Write About It
You don’t have to start with “dear diary”, but studies do show that writing about your emotions improves resilience, decreases stress, and leads to faster healing from physical wounds. In one study, participants who wrote about their emotions following a punch biopsy wound were six times more likely to have experienced healing 10 days after the wound than a control group.
Next time you begin to get stressed, take some time to reflect upon your stressor. Have you experienced this situation in the past? What was the outcome? Did it turn out better or worse than you anticipated? Similar healing benefits have been shown in patients who practiced expressive writing prior to an injury. So instead of complaining to your spouse about an upcoming presentation that’s stressing you out, try breaking out your teenage journal and writing about it instead.
4. Take a Walk
Few people feel they have time to exercise every day. But spending even 20 minutes walking outdoors a few times a week is shown to decrease stress, reduce fatigue, and boost healthy endorphins. The benefits are greater than simply burning calories. Endorphins decrease your levels of stress hormones, making you more resilient against stressful situations in the future.
And walking with friends is even better—not only giving you an opportunity to receive emotional support during stressful situations, but also lowering blood pressure and stress hormone levels. If you’re having a stressful day, try taking a brief walk during your lunch break. Breathe deeply and walk briskly to get your heart pumping. Chances are you’ll walk back to your desk with more energy and optimism than you left with.
5. Laugh it Off
When you’re overwhelmed at work, the last thing you feel like doing is laughing. But according to a recent study by Loma Linda University, this may be exactly what your body needs to shake off a bad mood and combat the negative effects of stress. According to Yagana Shah’s recent article in The Huffington Post, researchers found that after twenty minutes spent watching funny content, participants showed increased short-term memory and decreased stress levels compared to a control group.
Similarly, The Mayo Clinic touts the benefits of laughter to include soothing tension, activating a stress response, and improving mood. So next time you’re stressed at work, take 30 seconds and hop onto Youtube for a favorite silly video. The stress relief you’ll get from a few moments of laughter will be worth a few minutes of low productivity.