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Mental Health

7 Ways to Ease Work Stress — Including the Desktop Decoration That Can Dial Down Tension Fast

Plus, how best to use your lunch break to shake off stress

Stressed at work? Join the club. According to the American Institute of Stress, 83% of U.S. workers suffer from work-related stress, with 25% saying their job is their top stressor. And that number only seems to be growing. Indeed, Google searches for “how to reduce work stress” have jumped by more than 300% of late.

So what causes work stress, and what can we do about it? Read on for some proven tips to curb workplace stress and prevent it from spilling into our personal lives.

What causes stress at work?

A 2016 study in the BJ Psych Bulletin found that everything from unrealistic demands to an imbalance of effort vs. reward, poor communication and not enough breaks were some of many factors that contributed to work stress.

“Women get stressed at work for many reasons,” says clinical psychologist Renee Solomon, PsyD, CEO of Forward Recovery. “This can be related to feeling the need to be a people pleaser, not feeling good enough and worrying about how coworkers and clients perceive them.”

Adds Janelle Peifer, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Richmond, “Women are more likely to be tapped for service roles that take time, effort and energy and do not necessarily provide pathways to promotion that other roles might. These types of activities can create a sense of stress where women are constantly busy but not reaping the rewards of their efforts.”

Why it’s key to reduce work stress

Work stress can carry over into other parts of our lives. “Many women contend with the multiplicity of roles — friend, caregiver, partner, mother — that they have to take on in the workplace and at home,” says Dr. Peifer. “Because of this, women are often walking a tightrope of various demands simultaneously and trying their best to practice self-care amidst this.” Even worse, chronic stress can cause short-term health effects like headaches and poor sleep. And in the long run it can lead to high blood pressure, weakened immunity, anxiety and depression. “Stress is a normative part of life and, in the right amounts, can increase performance and heighten clarity. But in high doses and over time, stress is detrimental to our physical, emotional and social health,” warns Dr. Peifer.

Now that we know work stress can have an adverse effect on our lives, what can we do about it? Keep reading to find out what our experts have to say.

How to reduce work stress

Holding boundaries on work and home life is essential, which means figuring out ways to unplug mentally and physically.

“Finding a transition activity to differentiate the end of your workday and ensure that it does not bleed over is essential, especially if you work from home,” says Dr. Peifer. “Also, taking screen and brain breaks throughout the day can help mitigate stress. This means getting outside for a few minutes a day or planning a lunch date to ensure you connect with other human beings outside of work. Having a plan to take care of yourself whether you’re in or outside the office is important,” she adds.

Here are some other ways our experts say you can alleviate stress:

1. How to reduce stress at work: Develop a sisterhood of support

how to reduce stress at work: Smiling coworkers in discussion in design studio

Dr. Peifer recommends developing a community of women who can help validate your experiences and offer concrete techniques to navigate workplace stress. This can also mean looking for jobs that value you as a woman and provide an uplifting and conscientious work environment.

2. Engage in a sustainable self-care practice

Even small daily activities of intentional care can go a long way in helping to manage work stress. “This may be an expressive activity, like art or a hobby, mindfulness, movement, meditation or something else,” explains Dr. Peifer.

3. How to reduce stress at work: Reevaluate your workplace needs

Regularly reflect on what is causing stress and what is working well in your work environment. “Work with mentors and individually to identify steps to improve stressors in the workplace and strategically enhance your experience. Instead of waiting for a review, have a regular self-review built in to catch things causing strain, and work with your team to develop solutions,” advises Dr. Peifer.

4. Walk it out

how to reduce stress at work: Business Lifestyle. Mid Adult Confidence Female Manager Wearing Beige Pant Suit Walking Fast Against Modern Office Background, Holding Smartphone, Smiling And Looking Away. Front View, Full Length, Ambient Light, Copy Space

Many studies have explored the vast benefits of walking for our health — but it’s also a powerful stress-buster.

“Even a quick 15-minute stroll triggers the release of endorphins and regulates cortisol to keep hormones in check and your mind healthy. All the while, physical activity gets blood pumping, ensuring your organs receive the oxygen and nutrients they need to deal with all that stress,” says Walter Gjergja, 32nd-generation Shaolin monk and co-founder of Zing Coach.

5. Spend time in nature

Spending 120 minutes a week in the fresh air can reduce stress by at least 30%, so eating lunch in a park might be all you need to get you through a difficult day at the office. “Spending time in nature promotes relaxation and enhances mood by increasing serotonin production. Plus, being outdoors encourages you to exercise and reduces negative feelings, so it’s great for your mind and body,” attests Gjergja.

No time to get outside? Consider placing a plant or two on your desk. Research shows small indoor plants can ease work stress.

6. Eat well and stay hydrated

how to reduce stress at work: mature adult woman drinking water from a glass

When stressed, we snack — and not on the healthy stuff. “Comfort foods are typically high in refined sugars and unhealthy fats, which offer temporary pleasure but increase stress levels over time. Foods high in sugar and processed carbohydrates cause blood sugar spikes, which trigger the release of stress hormones. The same goes for drinking copious amounts of caffeine. For your mental well-being, stick to water and opt for a balanced and nutritious diet, no matter how tempting coffee and candy may be. The very short-term comfort will inevitably be followed by feeling even worse,” says Gjergja.

7. How to reduce stress at work: Put your smartphone away

Last but not least, give yourself a tech break. Gjergja says scrolling social media may get the dopamine flowing, but the constant exposure to often-idealized content can lead to social comparison and feelings of inadequacy. The result? Increased stress levels every time you refresh your feed. Add the relentless stream of notifications, and your brain is bound to experience information overload. “The digital world does have its perks — connection, community and education. But you need to turn the tech off now and then, especially when you’re getting ready to turn in for the night. The blue light from screens disrupts our circadian rhythm and affects our ability to fall asleep. And the irritability that comes with fatigue will do little to improve your state of mind,” says Gjergja.

For more on stress, click through the links below!

Stressed? Tired of Making Decisions? Experts Share 4 Easy Ways to Give Your Brain a Break & Find Peace

Doctors Break the Silence on Stress and Diarrhea: What They Want You to Know

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