Stress in the workplace is inescapable. Even the most Zen of individuals will have to face stress, be it in the form of a tough project with a tight deadline, an unhappy customer, a demanding boss or partner, or a toxic colleague. As much as you want to avoid stress, there’s no denying the fact that you will have to deal with it sooner or later.
The negative effects of stress are wide-ranging. It can affect you mentally, physically, emotionally, and psychologically. It can drive you to drink, take drugs, and depend on chemical substances to get through it. In extreme cases, stress can lead to depression and suicide.
Physically, stress can mess up your immune system and sleep, making you more prone to illnesses and diseases. You’ll look and feel older and weaker and lose or gain weight (by skipping meals or stress eating, respectively). Emotionally, you’ll find yourself cranky, short-tempered, and easily irritated. Your personal relationships may suffer as a result of stress at work — you’re not able to manage your time properly and do a poor job of juggling your responsibilities at home and at work.
Suffice to say that stress, if not managed properly, can be damaging to practically all aspects of your life.
Fortunately, there are healthy ways to manage stress. By cultivating the right mindset and prepping yourself physically and psychologically, you’ll be able to sail through stressful situations with minimal damage.
Here are some ways to manage and overcome stress:
1. Get moving.
Exercise isn’t just for losing weight and looking good; it can also help you feel good and ready your system for dealing with stress better.
Stress can speed up the production of stress hormones that weaken your immune system and cloud your thinking. With exercise, however, you increase the production of feel-good hormones that help you combat stress, think more positively, and relax your mind.
Not a fan of boring gym workouts? You can take up jogging or brisk walking or just set aside some time for yoga. Exercise is a good kind of distraction — it lets your mind and body take a breather from daily worries and improves your mood afterward. Plus, it tires you out in a good way so you get a good night’s sleep — and sleep is one of the first things that stress interferes with.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends getting 2 hours and 30 minutes of exercise every week. If you don’t have the time, you can just go for 30-minute workouts 4 times a week.
2. Eat right.
Another way to reduce stress is to make healthy dietary choices. For example, if you’re feeling particularly frazzled at work, take time out for a tea (instead of coffee) break. It has a much lower caffeine content than coffee, so you get the energy boost sans the crash. Plus, tea contains powerful antioxidants that counteract free radical damage caused by stress.
Other healthy, stress-busting foods include:
- Green leafy veggies – They contain folate, a mineral that aids in the production of dopamine, the pleasure-inducing hormone that helps you feel calmer and happier.
- Oatmeal – It contains complex carbs needed in the production of serotonin, a hormone associated with depression and anxiety. Swap your sugary sweets for this healthy carb instead.
- Fatty fish – Salmon and other fatty fish are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties to counteract the effects of stress on the body.
- Blueberries – These fruits are also loaded with potent antioxidants to fight off stress-induced toxins and strengthen your immune system.
3. Take a deep breath.
In fact, take LOTS of deep breaths. Deep breathing sends signals to your brain to relax and slow down. It increases and improves blood circulation in the body and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to promote a sense of calm.
So the next time you’re about to pitch an idea to your hard-to-please boss or meet up with a difficult client, prep yourself with some deep breathing exercises. You’ll notice a significant decrease in your anxiety levels and feel a surge of confidence.
4. Let it out.
Bottling up your stress can lead to some serious consequences — heart disease, panic attacks, insomnia, and the like. You need a healthy outlet for your stress to seep out of your system, such as journaling, bonding with your pet, connecting with loved ones, exercising (personal recommendation — boxing), or playing sports.
However, make sure that you don’t dwell on the source of your stress after letting it out. The point is to manage stress in a healthy way, and obsessing about stressors defeats that purpose. So after airing out your stress to your best friend or significant other, or letting it all out in your journal, tell yourself it’s time to move on to other productive tasks or activities.
5. Develop a healthy response to stress.
Wise people say that you can’t control others, but you CAN control yourself. That principle applies to how you approach stressful situations and people. Changing your expectations and attitude can help you cope with stress better. For example, you’re upset with a co-worker you’re collaborating with for an important project. Ask yourself why you’re upset with that person. Is it because he or she isn’t performing according to your standards? Perhaps you’re expecting perfection, which, to be honest, is unrealistic. Stop setting unreasonable expectations on yourself and others, and learn how to be okay with “good enough.” Think about it: Isn’t meeting a deadline with a satisfactory output way better than missing it because you didn’t want to settle with just average results?
When you realize and accept that you can’t control everything and learn to go with the flow, you’ll feel much calmer and less stressed.
At work, there is no escaping stress. Fortunately, there are ways to manage and overcome stressful situations. Eating right, making healthy lifestyle choices, exercising, and keeping things in perspective are just some of the things you can do to reduce stress and its negative effects on you.
By taking conscious steps to manage and overcome stress, you’re reducing the severity of its impact on your health and well-being.