Stop Workplace Stress In Its Tracks
Does this sound like you? Running all day, trying to handle conflicting requests from multiple clients, colleagues, and/or supervisors, managing staff, facing deadlines, and hoping to maintain your personal life, perhaps wanting to address family needs as well. Offices are breeding grounds for stress. And we've all had days that start off wrong and only get worse, to the point that you begin to feel that you're living the adult's version of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
You may feel stress, but you don't have to marinate in it. Try these stress-busting techniques instead.
1. Breathe. Stress is a by-product of the "fight or flight" response, which is a biologically-driven response to a perceived danger signal. The "fight or flight" response causes the body to make certain physiological adjustments, including tightening muscles and increasing the rate of heartbeat and breathing, so that our bodies are ready to fight off the danger or to run away from it. The stress we feel is a consequence of this response, which is well designed to help us survive if we spot a tiger but not so well designed to help us cope with a pressing deadline - there's nothing in a deadline to fight against or to run from. Engaging in deep breathing can interrupt the "fight or flight" response by relaxing the body and releasing stress so we can do the necessary tasks to face the more "civilized" threats that we tend to face today. The quickest way to release tension is to take deep breaths that fully inflate your lungs and provide your body with sufficient oxygen, alternating with slow exhalations. Try breathing in and out to a count of 7.
2. Move. It's important to get up and walk around when you're feeling stressed. There are two reasons for this: first, it allows you an opportunity to release some of the tension in your muscles, and second, moving allows you to shift your perspective in a tangible way. Make sure you get up and walk around at least every other hour.
3. Relaxation exercise. Find an audio guided visualization or develop a meditation practice. It only takes 5 or 10 minutes to feel relaxed once you've become accustomed to the relaxation process. You can close your office door, pop in a CD or turn on your iPod, sit comfortably in your chair, and relax.
4. Anger release plus frame shift. This is my favorite way to move through stress based on anger and frustration. Go somewhere private (a parked car is a good place) and allow yourself two minutes to rant out loud about whatever is making you angry. The idea here is to release the anger in a safe place, somewhere that won't create negative repercussions. Do not do this in your office! Having ranted for two minutes, shift your attention to gratitude. Take two minutes to identify, out loud, those things for which you're grateful, no matter how small or how repetitive they may be. This exercise will release your frustration and refocus your mind on what's good in your life.
5. Laugh. Yes, it's hard to do when you're in the moment of stress. But make time to watch a funny movie, read a funny book, or listen to a comedy performance that makes you laugh. You might even want to keep a list of things that make you laugh (such as a TV series, a great website, a friend who always makes you laugh, etc.) so you don't have to think it through when you need to laugh. You might even try to take a humorous look at what's causing you stress and see whether you can reframe the situation in a way that allows you to find the comedy. Getting a guffaw going can take as little as 5 or 10 minutes, and you'll feel like a new person.
It's difficult, if not impossible, to avoid stress entirely. These tactics will allow you to perform emergency stress reduction, but you must also be aware when you're beginning to feel stressed. Do a self-check periodically (hourly, when you get up and move, or some other interval that works for you) so you can notice stress build-up so you can take these stress reduction steps before the stress level becomes unmanageable.