We live in a fast-paced world, and stress can come from just about anywhere. Both at home and at work, the effects of long-term stress—physical health problems, trouble concentrating, anxiety, depression, anger, and even suicide—can be devastating.
While marriage, divorce, and moving are often ranked as the three most stressful events in contemporary life, stress at the workplace is not far behind. According to a 2008 American Psychological Association study, 74% of people surveyed reported work as the most significant source of stress in their lives.
While people can certainly thrive in high-stress situations, ignoring long-term stress at work can be damaging to your health and career.
That said, stress management is never out of your hands. There are plenty of changes you can make to help control it.
Change Your Habits at Work: While general pressure, deadlines, increased responsibilities, and fear of termination can all contribute to a generally stressful atmosphere, that doesn't mean you have to remain passive at the workplace. Here are some modifications you can make that might help:
Know Yourself: We're often not even aware of the stress we're under, or if we are, we're not sure of the source. Try to stay in tune with your body and your emotions while you're at work. Does your heart rate spike in certain situations? Note it. Do you find yourself particularly aggressive or angry around certain people? Note it. Is there a certain responsibility that makes you break into a cold sweat? Note it. Once you become aware of specific triggers for stress, it's possible you'll be able to do something about them.
Work on Your Communication Skills: Talking through your problems with a manager or a coworker in a calm, reasoned manner can go a long way toward repairing interpersonal relationships and ultimately reducing stress in the workplace. If you find yourself in a particularly heated or emotional exchange, consider taking a break and resuming the conversation later.
Don't be excessively negative toward coworkers, even if you disagree with them. And if you have a complaint or a problem to raise, work out beforehand what you want to say. Communicating your thoughts and feelings successfully can be a major relief of stress.
Practice Deep Breathing Exercises: You might not know it, but when you're anxious or stressed, chances are your breathing is shallow and irregular. This creates a bad feedback loop, as irregular breathing can cause even more stress.
Take a few minutes each day to focus on deep breathing. Not only will it calm you down, but it can clear your mind and help you work.
Counseling, yoga, and meditation all offer specific methods of deep breathing, but the general idea is usually the same. While sitting up straight, take in long, deep breaths through your nose, then slowly exhale through your mouth. Do this for several minutes - you might try closing your eyes, too. You'll be amazed how effective it can be.
Change Your Habits Away from Work: It's possible that your daily routines and habits, unquestioned and developed over the years, are contributing to an intolerable amount of stress. Sometimes it's the simplest aspects of our lives that need to be revamped.
Get More Sleep: Sleep deprivation and stress go hand-in-hand and, in fact, form a vicious cycle, one problem encouraging and contributing to the other. We need sleep to rest and process stress. And yet the trends are moving in the wrong direction. A 2005 National Sleep Foundation poll found that U.S. residents sleep, on average, 2 hours less than they did in the 19th century and one hour less than 50 years ago. In general, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
Exercise More: People have a built-in ability to fight stress: physical exercise. Scientists and health-care professionals are virtually unanimous in touting the benefits of a regular exercise routine. Jogging, biking, swimming, walking, or just about anything else that gets your heart rate up will increase your brain's production of endorphins and improve your mood.
Leave for Work Early: You might just think of yourself as always on the go, but rushing to get to work is a bad start to any day. Try this experiment: For a week, leave home 15 minutes before your usual departure time, and see what kind of impact it has.