What You Can Do to Manage Stress at Work
Any workplace can have stressful elements, whether these stressors come in the form of time constraints or a heavy workload. However, it should immediately be a point of concern if workplace pressure is persistently high and starts to overwhelm employees.
Based on data from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), this seemed to be the case for an estimated 914,000 UK employees last year. The HSE reported that the UK lost 17 million working days to work-related stress and mental health problems from 2021 to 2022. This leads not only to a loss of productivity for businesses but, more importantly, can affect employee well-being and their overall quality of life.
But chronic work-related stress doesn’t have to be a common case. Aside from employers offering mental health assistance and benefits, workers themselves can take the initiative in managing both short-term and long-term stress at work through the following ways.
Recite positive affirmations
When you feel stressed, it can be easy to fall into what psychologists call ruminations, or repetitive patterns of negative thinking. Affirmations are a concrete way to counteract these thoughts and bring your focus back to what matters most in the present.
In this article published in The Conversation, psychology professor Glenn Williams points out that such affirmations can tap into the positive elements of our well-being and allow us to become better at solving problems. Examples of empowering affirmations you can recite to yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed are: I transcend stress of any kind and I move forward with full confidence.
Practice breathing techniques
Stressors can activate your fight-or-flight response, making your heart beat faster and your breath quicken. While this stress response can happen by reflex, a great technique for calming yourself down is to voluntarily take slow and deep breaths. Among the easiest breathing exercises to learn is the 4-7-8 method — take 4 seconds to breathe in deeply to your nose, 7 seconds to hold your breath, and 8 seconds to slowly exhale through your mouth. Doing so can help you let go of the present stress, regain focus, and feel more centred.
Go for a walk
If you’re looking for a more dynamic way to work off stress, you can try stepping away from your work and going out for a walk. Regardless of your fitness levels, this physical activity can trigger the release of ‘feel-good’ chemicals like endorphins in your brain, therefore boosting your overall mood. Being one with nature can also enhance your creative output and help you come up with solutions for your problems. If you’re in the office and have no green spaces around you, walking up and down the stairs or past windows with an outside view can still be as energizing as a cup of coffee.
Protect your gut health
Did you know that the repeated activation of stress responses like the fight-or-flight mode can ultimately take a toll on your body? An article from Well and Good explains how stress and anxiety can even trigger symptoms in the gut, leading to pain, inflammation, digestive issues, and bowel dysfunction. This can be explained by the gut-brain axis, in which the two organs send signals to each other whenever you’re experiencing stress or discomfort. Some of the best ways to manage your stress for a happier, healthier gut are to eat fresh, whole foods like fruits and veggies, exercise regularly, and stay hydrated.
It can be tempting to do more than one thing at a time when you have too many tasks flooding your to-do list. But the American Psychological Association advises against multitasking, as the mental overload from switching between tasks (especially when they greatly vary in complexity) can affect your cognitive performance and even slow you down.
Instead, reset your focus and concentration by only doing one task at a time. You might consider setting a clear and specific intention at the start of every work day as well as throughout the day, or by simply listing out tasks by order of importance.
Add greenery to your workspace
On top of a clean and clutter-free workspace, it also helps to add natural elements to create a more comfortable, pleasant environment. A global study by Green Plants for Green Buildings in 2019 found that having indoor plants increased workers’ well-being by 15% and their productivity by 6%. Whether you add lush greenery or potted plants, they can help restore your memory, attention, and focus. With improved indoor air quality, you’re also able to perform better at work.
Improve workplace ergonomics
Work-related stress can also manifest itself physically, be it through neck or back pain, fatigue, or overall discomfort and tension. This is especially observed in cases where you work long hours in the same position and end up straining your body’s muscles and joints.
You can train yourself to maintain the correct posture and position while working, but improving ergonomics helps you achieve this more easily. In fact, an article from Open Access Government cites a study in Denmark where office workers reported that their use of ergonomic furniture reduced the risk of aches, musculoskeletal injuries, and cardiovascular disease by up to 40%.
Among the range of ergonomic solutions you can try are height-adjustable chairs. While the price range of ergonomic chairs can get a little bit expensive, the Alera Elusion Swivel Chair is an affordable model with several adjustable features for its backrest, armrest, tilt, and seat glide for optimal support. You can further improve your working posture by investing in a desk with adjustable height, and an ergonomic keyboard that reduces strain on your arms, wrists, and fingers.
Incorporate exercise into your daily routine
Due to busy schedules, workers might struggle to make time to meet the recommended levels of physical activity. But a business case by the Workplace Movement UK emphasises that physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles can negatively impact employees’ personal health, presenteeism, and performance.
Thus, our past article on How to Avoid or Overcome Burnout suggests exercise as a way to lower stress levels while also improving one’s mood, energy, and mental clarity. Even if you can’t find time to make it to the gym, why not try squeezing in exercise by doing five minutes of yoga in between meetings or while waiting for your coffee to brew.
There are also desk-based workouts you can do — like wrist stretches when you’ve been using the computer for too long; high-knees for some quick cardio while standing up; and seated leg raises to build up your core strength. Lastly, taking a brisk walk around the block also allows you to combine the therapeutic benefits of both exercise and nature!
Eat healthily and mindfully
To complement exercise and movement in your daily lifestyle, it also helps to adopt habits for healthy and mindful eating. In a study cited by Healthy Performance UK, it was found that inadequate nutrition can reduce employee efficiency by 20%. With this decline, employees are more likely to be sick, demotivated, absent from work, or vulnerable to workplace accidents.
While eating a balanced diet is easier said than done, you can start by trying your best not to skip any meals. Instead, load up on protein for breakfast so you can stay full for longer, steady your blood sugar, and avoid overeating for the rest of your meals. Meanwhile, mindfulness can be cultivated by being attentive to the nutritional value of the foods you eat, starting with small portions, and eating slowly to savour each bite. These can help you focus more on what you put into your body, rather than being tempted to eat more than what you need!
As with all things, start small and take it day by day when you try to integrate these changes into your daily life. If you need additional support and motivation in this journey, sign up to our newsletter or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know how we can support you on your holistic health and success journey. Wondersource also offers corporation solutions around Mind, Body, and Work. Our holistic approach is empowering ambitious professionals to live healthy and achieve both personal and professional goals, while maintaining an optimal level of work-life balance.