The 10 tips below are an effective toolkit for reducing stress at work. When combined together this is a holistic approach for rebalancing which is simple, tested and effective, helping stressed out people to regain composure, a sense of control and create inner calm amid whatever stress triggers are lurking.
From the moment you wake up in the morning until the moment you go to sleep, there are adjustments you can make to your “way of being” and your “way of doing” that will reduce work-related stress…
1. Choose the Tone
You automatically wake with a mood. You swing your feet out of bed and put them on the floor and right then there is already a default energy going on inside of you. It might be good or it might be gloomy. If you’re stressed at work, it’s safe to say you’re probably waking up with a less than optimal mood before you even arrive at work.
If you don’t consciously observe that mood as soon as you wake up, and then proactively adjust it to a tone that works better for you, then you will carry that default mood with you for the rest of your day and it will bleed into everything. It will impact the types of thoughts you have, how you feel, how you react to everyone around you and it will drastically impact your ability to cope with stress triggers.
Alternatively, if you consciously choose a tone for your day that works for you, and are thus more positive and calm to start with, you’re less likely to react to your triggers and succumb to them with a stressful reaction.
To choose a tone for the day and create it, simply think of how you want to feel, and how you want your day to go. Then engage in either:
- basic positive self-talk, repeatedly stating to yourself your preferred type of feeling and the type of day you want to have, and/or
- listen to energising music you enjoy to shift yourself into an optimal mood before you leave the house.
You have the power to set the tone of your day before you walk out the door.
2. Set Yourself Up
When you arrive at your workplace, enter with the mindset that you’re in control – of yourself, of your tasks, of your job, of your day. Act like a leader – the leader of your own life.
While it may be true that you regularly have unexpected things arise through the course of an average day, and you may well be at the beck-and-call of other people, and you may in fact have very little outward control over your workflow, you ALWAYS have total control over how you frame it mentally for yourself.
And, how you frame it is the one thing that will stress you out or calm you. Take the attitude that you are in control of what is going on, starting inside of you and flowing out into your attitude, your body language, your tone of voice, the words you speak, the way you behave and the actions you choose, irrespective of what is going on around you.
3. Feed the Monster
Good luck feeling calm and in control if you’re regularly tired, thirsty and hungry.
You have to take good care of yourself in order to feel balanced enough to maintain a sense of calm and to have the “fuel in your tank” to proactively and effectively manage any stress you do feel inside when it arises.
As soon as you become exhausted, hungry and dehydrated, you feel weakened in the body, and the mind has a tendency to run riot at that moment. You need adequate energy reserves to help you rise above your mind noise and stress reaction, in order to choose alternative positive ways of perceiving and behaving in difficult situations.
That energy you draw upon comes partly from rest, food and water… nourishment of your physical self. The less you are nourished, the more unconsciously reactive you are (as opposed to consciously responsive). The more reactive you are, the more stress escalates. Your fuse becomes shorter and shorter, and you lose control of your ability to manage yourself and the situation.
Many of us work in jobs that are so busy that once you are enter the work environment, and you get on the treadmill for the day of attending to all your tasks, appointments and unfolding demands… the nourishment you need is not always instantly accessible when you need it. You have to pre-plan your fuel reserves and intentionally have them on-hand so you can take care of yourself when it matters most.
Keep adequate food stocked in your work environment and have water right in front of you at your workspace constantly. Make it easy for yourself – set yourself up for success.
4. See What’s Meaningful
People all over the planet are running around like headless chickens totally and utterly absorbed by their work like nothing else matters. We can very easily lose perspective of what is truly meaningful and important above and beyond the job we are doing, the company we are in, the stressors that are around us and the priorities that have to be attended to. It can feel all-consuming.
When I see people in deep stress over their work or because of their work environment, one thing always strikes me… they have become lost in a do-or-die mentality about it.They have lost sight of the fact that there are billions of people in the world, in hundreds of countries, doing millions of different types of work, for gazillions of different companies. They could be doing anything, anywhere, for anyone if they wanted to, and this job they are in is just ONE job, for ONE company, at this ONE moment in time, and it is not the totality of their life, and it is not the be-all-and-end-all.
But, it does legitimately feel like that when you’re the one stuck in the middle of it!
Not to belittle the stress someone is experiencing, nor to belittle the importance of their job, or the value their company offers the world, but truly it’s vital to realise that work is just one way that we each express ourselves into the world. And, while for some of us it may be a very important part of life and we love it, we still must rise high above it all and realise that our lives are much more expansive beyond just what we do.
From a higher perspective there are more meaningful and important things in life that also deserve our attention, and when we place our attention upon those things, it instantly helps to balance us out and mentally put our work and stress triggers into their rightful place… as just one part of this ride called life, and not the only thing going on.
So – solution… place something in your work environment where you can see it every day that SYMBOLISES what is deeply meaningful and important in your life beyond your work. It might be a reminder of health, it might be a photo of loved ones, it might be a reminder of a passion you have. The reminder can be a visual image, a trinket… anything that helps you to instantly recall the bigger picture of your life outside this job and work environment.
When you feel stressed, go to that reminder and sit with your attention on it for a few minutes. It balances your focus so you don’t get lost in tunnel vision.
5. Suck It Up
When you’re stressed out, remember to suck in calming, fresh air!
Breathing is a calmly action for your mind and body. Not normal shallow chest breathing that happens instinctively, but consciously breathing slowly and deeply all the way down into your belly (diaphragmatic breathing). It helps to balance your body, interrupting and reducing the intensity of stress reaction.
Take a few moments regularly throughout your day and evening, when under stress, to breathe slowly and deeply while knowing that it absolutely makes a profound difference to how you feel. Your mind/body will respond. It has cumulative effect, so the more you practise it consistently, the more balanced you will feel. It’s free stress medicinefrom nature, available 24 x 7.
6. Cut the Excuses & Excuse Yourself
How many times have you heard yourself say you can’t take a break, you can’t go out to lunch, you can’t go for a walk, you can’t take a vacation, you can’t leave work on time, you can’t not work at home in the evening, or you can’t XYZ because you’re too busy?
And yet a part of you also knows that this will always be the case… there will ALWAYS be too much to do, and seemingly not enough time, so when will you ever take a break?
A great stress management practise is to cut your excuses and to find ways to regularly excuse yourself from your work for small breaks to breathe, clear your mind and reset, ready to return to the tasks refreshed.
Pushing ahead under stress is not as effective as momentarily pausing to recalibrate. When you excuse yourself from your tasks for 5 minutes to sit quietly and breathe deeply away from your work, or to take 10 minutes to walk around outside and enjoy other sights/sounds, or take a whole day off as time-out for yourself, you literally take your mind and body OFF the tasks and allow space. You then return to work slightly adjusted because of that momentary distance, and your effectiveness increases as a result.
Taking breaks will not diminish your productivity. Taking breaks will not hurt your deadlines. Taking breaks will not stall your career advancement. Taking breaks WILL increase your productivity and ensure you have the stamina to sustain a long term career in any field and to do so without losing your mind in the process and damaging your health.
We still have work cultures across the world that are riddled with people operating in the Old School Work Paradigm which is founded upon “it’s all about how much you work” (rather than the truth… it’s HOW you work, not how much you work), and consequently we have people all over the world in their mid-late career years who are suffering health problems accumulated from imbalanced work habits because they haven’t been able to sustain the compounding pressure over the years (naturally!), and eventually the mind/body system breaks down in various ways as a cry for balance.
Stepping back does not mean losing ground. Stepping back in this way is what creates leaps forward.
Companies with unspoken rules about “working to the bone”, where eyebrows are raised if people do take breaks, where it’s questioned why someone wouldn’t drive harder, who simultaneously do not promote regular breaks, are quite simply in poor form and archaic. This type of environment drives stress, which drives unhappiness, which drives turnover, which increases costs and there is nothing common sense about that.
7. Clarity for Sanity
One powerful way to manage stress is to UNDERSTAND it. No matter what situation in life you find yourself in, at work or at home, when you can get clarity about it, and you’re able to understand it better, it gives you a sense of control (even if you don’t actually have literal direct control). That sense of control makes you feel more confident, enabling you tobetter cope.
Ask yourself if your stress is because of something
- situational, temporary, passing, or
- pervasive, systemic, cultural, ingrained.
If something is situational and temporary, such as a high pressure project which has a deadline, you can frame your mindset around that, and manage yourselfand your deliverables to that end goal. You do so knowing that this stressful reaction you’re feeling is linked directly to the external triggers around you and that those triggers will pass. This is light at the end of the tunnel, and it allows you to box the stress situation neatly, realising this is not a long term issue, and other remedial action is not necessarily required. The situation instead calls for you to manage yourself better in response to the triggers for that set period of time.
Alternatively, if something is pervasive and ingrained, such as your work environment is generally toxic (due to other people and the culture) or your position/team resourcing is constantly inadequate, then these can be seen as more systemic issues with no clear end in sight. This is where action of some kind may be required.
8. Act When Action is Warranted
For stress which you can clearly link to pervasive, systemic issues in your work/workplace, there may come a point when your stress warrants further action.
Yes, you can adjust yourself to better respond to the triggers, but you also have to ask if you want to stay in the firing line of an ingrained issue or if you want to do something positive about it.
Action may include things like adjustments to work or workflow, conversations about resourcing with the appropriate people involved, introducing smarter work practices, actively seeking to improve workplace communication and relationships (directly yourself or talking to internal leaders/influencers regarding how to be instigate positive change). This is where you seek change in the external situation to reduce the originating cause of stress, while also managing your internal response to whatever is happening. Are you simply in the wrong job? Check out the post: 7 Dead Giveaways It's Time to Change Jobs.
9. Close the Loop
End your day by “closing the loop” at work. This means looking at your workflow position (e.g. tasks list) from the day, and identifying what is complete, what is carrying over to tomorrow, and making a clear plan (e.g a new “to do” list) for the next day so you can feel complete in your mind about everything before leaving to go home.
Take 5-10 minutes just prior to leaving work to do this exercise. What is outstanding that needs to be done tomorrow, what are the priorities? For anything that has to be done in the future (not tomorrow) put reminders in your calender that will auto-alert you. This clears them from your list, from your mind, and they are off your radar for now. That creates mental space to focus on the immediate priorities instead. The immediate priorities for action are then put into your plan for the coming day. You can set that plan of action as a hand written task list if that works best for you, others prefer an electronic task list, or blocks of time in an online calendar dedicated to key tasks. Utilise whatever method aligns best to your natural way of operating, but the key is this:
- You create a sense of clarity about where you stand, that gives you closure and you feel more in control before you leave work for the day.
- You don’t carry all of it cycling inside your mind and accidentally take it home with you (going over and over in your head all the things that were done, weren’t done, and have to be done).
- You enter work the following day with a sense of direction and empowerment for what lies ahead (which feeds perfectly into #2 above “Set Yourself Up for the Day”, creating an easier and more professional flow from one day into the next).
To take this one step further, CLEAR your workspace at the end of each day. This might sound like a mammoth task for some people, but if you have a simple practise in place to physically manage files, paperwork, tools, equipment etc and you get into that habit, then you have a clean environment to walk into the next day. And the point is this… people who are stressed out do not benefit from being in a visually chaotic environment. It is immensely helpful for stressed out people to see clear space, order and organisation.
A cluttered, stressed-out mind does not need a visually cluttered and disorganised environment.
10. Create the Unwind
Unwinding at the end of each day doesn’t naturally happen for some people. Particularly if someone is stressed out, they need a little helping hand to unwind.
Become proactive then and create an Unwind Ritual for your evening at home, something that triggers your mind and body into relaxation mode. Certain smells, sounds and activities will help with this. Think soft, gentle and lulling. That means anything which is the opposite of this you might like to avoid prior to going to sleep – the last thing you need when stressed out is to have disrupted sleep, and anything that is loud, harsh, activating and stimulating just prior to bed (smells, sounds and activities) will do that.
An unwind ritual can be meditation practices of any nature, taking a bath, using aromatherapy relaxation scents, listening to relaxing music, using audios to guide you through visualizations into relaxation, and listening to “white noise” can be helpful for shifting out of mind noise.
Reflect for a moment on what you find most relaxing and soothing. Incorporate those things into your late evenings just before going to sleep, or play with the above suggestions to find something that works for you. Once you find an Unwind Ritual, it then helps you switch off each night, setting up for good sleep, which in turns makes you more balanced and nourished to support a better coming day.