The quick pace of the business and professional world today is pushing people to be the most efficient, multitasking, technology-savvy versions of themselves. Work culture and performance expectations are stress-inducing like never before.
It is helpful to recognize the difference between positive and negative levels of stress. There is a theory called the Yerkes-Dodson principle that tells us good stress, or “eustress,” is not only positive, but necessary. This sort of stress is associated with positive motivation, manifesting more as a pressure to do the best you can rather than becoming anxious. But the principle argues that beyond an optimal amount, health and performance will inevitably suffer with an increase of stress.
Here are seven proven ways to reduce and combat the stress factors in your work day.
7 Scientifically Proven Ways to Reduce Stress at Work
Stand up to your obstacles and do something about them. You will find they haven’t half the strength you think they have.
— Norman Vincent Peale
1. A place for everything and everything in its place
Didn’t your mother always tell you “cleanliness is next to godliness”? The concept that being clean is a sign of spiritual purity and goodness might be considered extreme these days, but there is something to be said for the connection between physical and mental clutter. When the space we inhabit is chaotic and disorganized, whether it is our living space or our work space, it can be challenging to direct the necessary amount of energy towards our well-being and health. On average, people in disorganized environments can spend up to 90 minutes a day looking for things. Time wasted searching for misplaced items is time that could have been spent handling projects, personal communication, or perhaps a short lunchtime meditation.
2. Establish boundaries
Because our smartphone culture has designed a way for people to stay connected at any time in any place, an expectation of constant reachability has evolved alongside it. Going without a phone during days off will likely trigger a bout of nomophobia and is rarely a viable option. So we take our email and messaging apps with us, and remain at the mercy of clients, coworkers, and employers.
But the crux of the matter is: the world will not stop spinning if we take a reprieve from all the things we deal with on our days on. Try the incommunicado approach, and communicate clearly that during your break, day off, or vacation, you are out of touch, gone fishin’, AWOL, what have you – just let people know not to expect a response.
3. Clarify performance expectations
Similar to number two, seeking clarification of what exactly is expected of you has a lot to do with communication and mutual understanding. It can seem easier to stay silent amidst feelings of confusion or trepidation to avoid embarrassment, judgment, or a sense of inadequacy for not being able to solve a problem by ourselves. Speak up. Chances are, a little communication will end up helping everyone better understand their role and the desired outcome.
4. Develop a support system
Having a strong system of support and communication is vital for success and personal well-being in all places where humans interact and coexist. A study on interpersonal relationships in the workplace conducted by a professor at Delta University in Nigeria found that successful performance within any organization depends on the ability of members to effectively interact with their superiors, subordinates and co-workers. Reach out to coworkers who seem to have similar values to your own, and find strength and empowerment in a sense of community.
5. Keep a daily journal
Whether you really love your job, or you really don’t, it can be extremely beneficial to your state of mind to spend a few moments recording the events of the work day, and the impact they had on you. Not only does it provide an opportunity to reflect and consciously assess certain events or interpersonal situations, it also creates an emotional breadcrumb trail to explore later on. This can be an amazing tool to retrospectively identify if things are changing, for better or worse, and whether you are in a situation that is ultimately serving you.
6. Have a plant-based, nutrient heavy lunch
Somebody brought donuts again… While it will be more tempting and time-efficient to gobble down two Boston Creams at coffee break than to source out a well-balanced salad, your brain and your energy levels will not appreciate it. Foods with a high glycemic index (high blood sugar response) are digested rapidly and can cause dramatic spikes in insulin levels, and associated energy fluctuations. The body can respond to these fluctuations with sluggishness, lack of energy or focus, and increased cravings for these sorts of foods, which will restart the cycle. In contrast, low GI foods slow absorption and digestion, and have proven health benefits. Explore lunches with lots of vegetables and little or no sugar, emphasizing proteins and healthy carbohydrates instead.
7. Cultivate relaxation techniques outside of work
Explore ways to relax outside of work – first thing in the morning, on your break, or after dinner. A lifestyle with an emphasis on an overall state of wellness will permeate your mental state inside the office. The physical and mental benefits of a regular exercise practice are easy to find. And don’t forget the brain! The brain is a muscle, and like other muscles in the body, can be strengthened with meditation. Explore specific guided meditations, or source out yoga classes nearby or online. A steady yoga practice can deliver a beneficial combo of physical strengthening and mental restoration.