How to Reduce Stress at Work

How to Reduce Stress at Work

By Michele Lefler

Living Moon Meditation

Stress. We know that small doses can be beneficial, but large amounts are not good for us. There are very real health consequences to continuous exposure to stress. So we try to reduce our stress levels as much as possible. But what do you do when you are stressed at work? Quitting is not always an option, and even if it were, it is usually not the best alternative. So how exactly can you deal with or reduce stress at work? Here are some of my biggest tips for overcoming workplace stress. 

Self Care

Self care is your relationship and your connection to yourself. It is being attuned to and understanding what you need to be your most constructive, effective, and authentic self whatever your most constructive, effective, and authentic self is. That varies from person to person so there is no real way to say what it is for everybody. A lot of times when people think of self care they think in terms of either mental health or physical health, and those are critical but they are only two aspects of yourself. Self care encompasses every aspect of who you are. It is your physical health and wellness, it is your mental health and wellness, it is your social, emotional and spiritual well-being. Everything that makes up who you are goes into caring for yourself and makes up what self care is. So if we think of self care in terms of caring for each part of our well-being then the number one thing that you should look at in terms of self care is asking yourself who and what can support you.

A lot of times we think of self care as something we will do later at the end of the day. We may think, “I’m at work now. I don’t have time for self care. I’ll do it when I get home.” But then we get home and we are tired, and we have to take care of the family, and we have to prepare dinner, and we do not have time to do this self care thing. All we want to do is watch Netflix and chill at the end of the day. Watching Netflix is not caring for yourself. It may be a mental break because you are not having to think about something, but it is not an aspect of caring for your wellness- for your health. That is not to say that you should not do it, but it is not self care. 

Instead of thinking of self care as something we need to do later we need to think of it as how we can weave moments of self care into our day. It is better than waiting until the end of the day or the end of the week. Here is an example: It is Saturday and you get a whole day to yourself. The likelihood is not that you will spend that entire day on self care. But, in this example, by some miracle, you do. That is not as effective to your well-being as having little 5 minute pops of self care weaved into your day seven days a week. If you stop thinking of self care as something big you will do later, you are much more free- and likely- to find small acts of caring for yourself every day. 

Making Self Care Part of Your Work Day Routine

Get out of your office/away from your desk and eat lunch. This is my number one tip! Many people do not eat lunch but grab a snack of some sort. If they do eat lunch it is often at their desk while they continue working. This means you are not able to be mindful of what you are eating and you are not getting a break. 

Take your breaks. Depending on the length of time you are at work, it is likely that you will have time for at least one break during the day. Often people do not take their breaks because they think it makes them appear more productive. While that may be true, you are not doing your wellness any favors by not stopping for a bit. Taking breaks allows you to rest your eyes, get physical activity, and clear your mind. This helps you come back post-break to more productive work. 

Be kind to yourself. You are human and you make mistakes. That does not mean that you need to beat yourself up. When you make a mistake at work, be kind to yourself. You would not berate a co-worker for making a mistake. Treat yourself the same way. There are very few mistakes that we can make that can not be fixed in some way. Find a way to fix the mistake, do that, and just move on with what you are doing.

Drink a lot of water. Whether you are at work or not, drink lots of water. Water is critical for your health. Your body is made up of mostly water. You need it, so make sure you drink lots of water. 

Eat healthy snacks. Eat healthy snacks at work when you can instead of grabbing unhealthy snacks like candy or pastries. Grab an apple or carrot sticks or some healthy alternative. Care for yourself by watching the things that you put into your body and eat healthy things. 

Talk to your supervisor about your emotional needs. We all have emotional needs just like we have mental and physical needs. We are human and we have needs. Talk to your supervisor about those needs. If you need to take an extra moment or extra break because something challenging is going on, then ask for it. Talk to your supervisor about it. It can be easy to do it, but do not just ignore the things that you need during the day to keep your mental health or your physical or emotional health going. 

Ask for help when you need it. There is no shame in needing help from time to time. Ask somebody for help. It can be a co-worker or your supervisor. Most people want to see you succeed, and sometimes it takes a bit of help to do it.  

Have a work friend. Many of us have heard that we do not go to work to make friends but to do a job. Sure, that is true, but we also need friends. Everybody needs a friend everywhere so make a friend at work. Have somebody who you work with that you can commiserate with and talk to about things. Ideally this will be a co-worker and not a supervisor. This is not to say that you can not have a friendship with your boss, but with a co-worker you are doing the same job. You know what each other is going through. With a supervisor there is a power differential at play that can make an equitable friendship more difficult. 

Activities That Fit Into a 15 Minute Break

It can be a challenge for some people to take a break because they just do not know what to do with that time. They may have plenty of things they want to do, but they may not fit into a short time frame. However, there are loads of self-care strategies that can easily fit into a 15 minute break. 

Breathe. We all breathe, but I am talking about focusing on your breathing and really thinking about your breathing. Be present with your breathing. Feel your chest rising or your belly expanding and moving out and in as you take a breath. That really focuses your mind on what you are doing and calms down a lot of the mental chatter that is going on. 

Stretching or Light Exercise. You can stretch whether that be standing up and stretching or if you are at your desk you can stretch your arms or your neck. Light exercise of any kind is beneficial. This could be walking. You can do that outside or inside if the weather is not nice. Just moving your body is important 

Reading. Read something- whether it be a book or flipping through a magazine. Even reading the back of a can in the breakroom is beneficial. Just read something. It changes what your mind is focused on. 

Listen to music. Put in headphones and listen to your favorite music. Many people find music to be extremely relaxing. Music definitely puts us in a different frame of mind. 

Go to the bathroom. Actually go to the bathroom when you need to. Take a bathroom break even if you are not on an official break. If you are at work and you have to pee please do not hold it. A lot of times people do not go to the bathroom they just hold it as long as they possibly can. Maybe this is because they feel like they do not have the right to go pee. Maybe it is another reason.  You probably have to go at some point so get up and go. 

Working From Home

This has been on the rise since 2020, and many people are finding it difficult to draw a line between their work life and home life. This can be tricky when your home is your office. It is easy to get to the end of the work day and just continue working. This is where strong personal boundaries come into play. It can be a bit difficult to do, but you need to have a set routine at the end of the work day. Perhaps creating a ritual around shutting down your computer and physically moving to another area of your home. If you need to be online during your home life, make sure you do something else away from the computer after work before coming back online. Also, create a schedule for your day around a set lunchtime and break times. 

Tips for Supervisors

There are plenty of tips for supervisors to help foster self-care in the workplace as well. Supervisors are responsible for helping to promote their own self-care as well as that of their employees. 

Build pauses into the work day. If you have to schedule a meeting instead of an hour long meeting, maybe schedule a 50-minute meeting. This leaves an extra 10 minutes before the next thing starts and then that gives 10 minutes that you or your staff could do some little thing for mental health. 

Be flexible in letting your staff step out and attend to personal business. We are all human and we all have lives. We all have things going on in our lives outside of our work. It may not always be appropriate for a staff member to answer their personal phone, but if they know they have the ability to return a call home when necessary it helps them to feel respected as people with lives outside of work. 

Support your staff’s mindfulness journeys. Provide helpful tools and sessions on mental health issues. Have a staff meeting, or a portion of a staff meeting, that focuses on mental health and ways that your staff can recharge. Make wellness check-ins with your staff a priority. Talk to your staff about how they are doing their job, but also talk with your staff about what they have going on outside of work. Be sure that you are talking with your staff about their mental health, their wellness, and about things that they have going on that they may not necessarily think to tell you or talk to you about that could impact their day-to-day performance.

These are just a few tips for reducing stress in your work day. There are many more than these, and it may be that you have a few stress busting tricks of your own up your sleeve. The more little bits of stress reduction you can fit in your day, the more your different wellness selves will thank you. Have you tried any of these tips? Which ones are you eager to try?

Latest posts by Charlotte Cremers (see all)

MS, University of Tartu
Sleep specialist

Using the acquired academic and professional experience, I advise patients with various complaints about mental health - depressed mood, nervousness, lack of energy and interest, sleep disorders, panic attacks, obsessive thoughts and anxieties, difficulty concentrating, and stress. In my free time, I love to paint and go on long walks on the beach. One of my latest obsessions is sudoku – a wonderful activity to calm an unease mind.

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