The American Psychological Association’s recent Stress in America Survey found that work was cited as the number one source of stress for the third year in a row by a majority of Americans.1 Common sources of work stress include:
Few opportunities for growth or advancement
Work that isn’t engaging or challenging
Not enough pay
Lack of social support
Not having enough control over job-related decisions
Conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations
What’s so bad about workplace stress? Well, first it’s important to recognize that some amount of stress at work can actually result in increased productivity and better work. However, when stress levels become unproductive and chronic, there is a documented association between work stress and health. For example, some studies have described how the chronic stress associated with upcoming deadlines at work was associated with a six-fold increase in the incidence of heart attacks.2 Other research has shown that chronic work stress can cause high blood pressure, increased susceptibility to diabetes and cancer, gastrointestinal issues, and muscular and skeletal issues.3 And while you can’t always avoid the tensions that occur on the job, you can take steps to manage work-related stress. In this article, we share 5 proven ways to reduce work-related stress.
5 proven ways to reduce work-related stress
Track your stressors. The first thing to do when you start to feel stress at work is to try and identify which situations create the most stress and how you respond to them. If you can, record your thoughts, feelings, and information about the environment, including the people and activities involved, the setting, and how you reacted at the moment you noticed the stress. How did you feel at that moment? What did you do in response to the stressor? Did you take a walk? Grab another cup of coffee? Grind your teeth? Taking notes can help you find patterns among your stressors and your reactions to them - which is the first step in being better able to address them.
Get a healthy amount of sleep each night. Sleep is so critical to our psychological and physical well-being that even a little sleep deprivation or poor sleep can affect our memory, judgment, and mood. Adults who sleep fewer than eight hours a night are more likely to report symptoms of stress, such as feeling irritable or angry, feeling overwhelmed, lacking interest, motivation, or energy, and losing patience more often.4 If you struggle with sleep, consider strategies like limiting caffeine and alcohol, keeping a regular sleep-wake pattern, or sleep aids such as guided meditation or calming music.
Get more exercise. Recent research shows that exercising influences the functioning of the amygdala directly. (The amygdala is the region of the brain associated with emotional processing and has shown to be very susceptible to stressful events. It in turn sends ‘fight or flight’ signals to the rest of our body, setting off the stress response.). A recent study suggests that exercise drives the interactions associated with activity in the amygdala towards feelings of happiness and against fear. Also, individuals who are more physically active appear to enjoy greater anxiety relief benefits. In short, if you want to maximize the stress-reducing effects of exercise, get active more often.5 And it doesn’t have to be running a marathon - research has shown that even a 15-20 minute walk each day can help reduce chronic stress.
Spend time in nature. We spend more time indoors than any generation before us. Some research suggests that we spend almost 90% of our time inside.6 But science says that spending time in nature reduces stress significantly. One recent study showed that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces — local parks or other natural environments, either all at once or spaced over several visits — were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t.7 So, get outside - take a walk, ride a bike, go hiking on weekends. Even if the weather seems bad - as the old Scandinavian saying goes, “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes” - put on a hat and coat and get outside to reduce stress!
Practice mindfulness strategies such as deep breathing, meditation, or body scans. Common sense says that these activities would seem calming and soothing in the face of stress, but did you know that studies show that these techniques have been demonstrated to lower blood pressure, potentially via changing the body’s inflammatory response?8 These activities work because they help reduce the activation of your sympathetic nervous system, which controls the body’s response to a perceived threat, and at the same time, activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps reduce any overall stress and anxiety you may be experiencing. Also consider body scan meditation which involves paying attention to parts of the body and sensations in each, in a gradual sequence from your toes to your head. You can try guided body scans (often available online) or learn to do them by yourself. Body scan meditation is a good way to release tension you might not even realize you're experiencing.
The reality is that work will likely always contain some amount of stress, which you can’t control. But know that you do have control over your response to that stress. Try some of the strategies listed here and see if they help reduce those feelings of tension and anxiety that come along with stress.
Optivio is an enterprise-level stress management and performance optimization platform that can help your workforce better manage stress. Learn more about it here: http://www.optivio.com/technology
1. American Psychological Association, Stress in America 2021
2. Johansen C, Feychting M, Møller M, Arnsbo P, Ahlbom A, Olsen JH. Risk of severe cardiac arrhythmia in male utility workers: A nationwide Danish cohort study. Am J Epidemiol. 2002;156(9):857–61.
3. Hypertension, Effects of Work Stress on Ambulatory Blood Pressure, Heart Rate, and Heart Rate Variability, 2020
4. American Psychological Association, Stress in America 2021
5. James Hewitt, Which stress reduction technique is most effective?
6. James Hewitt, How to make improving cognitive performance easy
7. Journal Nature: Scientific Reports, Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing
8. James Hewitt, Which stress reduction technique is most effective?