In today’s world, it is easy to be stressed out from demanding jobs, long commutes and home responsibilities. But it is important to be able to manage your stress. Your health depends on it.
“Any type of stress, but especially the low-grade, chronic stress that we experience at work and in our stressful ‘too-busy’ lives, leads to both behavioral changes (less exercise, eating more comfort foods, drinking, smoking, etc.) and biochemical changes (higher levels of stress hormones like cortisol) which can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure and cholesterol, elevate appetite, increase fat gain– especially in the abdominal region, reduce sex drive and lead to memory and emotional problems, etc.,” says Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D., nutritional biochemist and author of The Secret of Vigor: How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance and Reclaim Your Natural Energy.
De-stress while at work. Even in stressful situations, there are ways to tackle the stress. Build in transition time. “One of the greatest sources of stress for people is not effectively transitioning from work to home and vice versa. Park your car reasonably far away from your workplace entrance and take a moment to leave the stress from home behind before heading into work,” says Core Performance founder Mark Verstegen.
Once you’re at work, it is also important to have some “me” time. “While at work, take at least 20 minutes each day to seek some solitude or alone time,” says Steve Siebold, author of the book 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of The World Class: The Thought Processes, Habits and Philosophies of the Great Ones.
Organization is also key to preventing stress at work. “Take it one task at a time and don't let the emotions of one problem bleed over into the others,” says Siebold. “Take on the tougher and more time-consuming tasks at work at the beginning of the day, and save the less important ones and easier ones for later in the day.” Adds LeAura Alderson, CEO, My Trainer Fitness LLC. “Plan of attack: start your day with a top five things-to-do list, and do them before doing anything else, including--or especially—email.”
Physically relieving stress is also important. “Americans spend long hours in the car and at their desks sitting, which can shorten your hip flexors and lead to neck and back pain, making you look and feel more tense. Each hour, do a few quick stretches to lengthen your muscles and give your spine a break. Or keep a tennis ball at your desk--rolling it under your feet and around your chest and neck muscles can help reduce aches and pains and increase circulation during long days,” says Verstegen. Suggests Alderson, “Energize, 5-10 minutes of exercise several times a day: at your desk, walking briskly around or in the building, taking the stairs if you can.”
Your mental state also plays a role in stress. “Look on the bright side (really)--as simplistic as it sounds, the fact that you can look to what is improving in a given situation can help to psychologically buffer the stress in others areas,” says Talbott.
Setting up boundaries at work is also important. “Loose boundaries--including gossip, venting your feelings to all your co-workers, complaining at work (other than constructive requests framed in a goal-oriented fashion) add to stress,” notes Los Angeles-based psychologist Dr. Judy Rosenberg. “It's okay to have one or two colleagues that you share your feelings with--at lunch or on break, or preferably after work, but don't turn your work environment into a gossip/venting/counseling session.”
Try to create a relaxed environment at work. “If you are holding a hostility or resentment, communicate it quickly and effectively, says Dr. Rosenberg. “Get a desk calendar with a new cartoon every day, share a joke you got via e-mail, tell a co-worker the cute thing your kid said (or listen to your colleague’s story) or talk about the funny scene in the latest hit movie. This kind of engagement will lower your blood pressure, calm your pulse and generally help you release a lot of stress,” advises Tina B. Tessina, a licensed psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three.
Watch what you eat. Believe it or not, food or lack of food can cause stress. Don’t skip lunch and stay hydrated. But do skip the coffee, says Tessina. “Instead of a coffee break, go outside, breathe the air and drink some water,” she notes.
When stress at work is extremely high, look for outside inspiration. “Keep a picture of a favorite vacation spot or dream vacation on your desk, or your computer, and take frequent short breaks to look at it and have a mental escape moment,” says Tessina. “Or if you're religious, pray or meditate for a few moments when things get tense.”
When the workday is over, don’t take your stress home. “Home can be a refuge, if you set it up that way,” says Tessina. “Coming home from work requires changing gears, and the first hour is the crucial one. It's stressful for several reasons. Commuting itself is stressful and bringing that tension home with you is not good. Coming home can be more stressful for women because they tend to value their home and relationships more than men do.”
Prepare your transition to home. “Check in by email or phone before leaving work to make sure you're on the same page with your spouse and kids about errands to run on the way home, starting dinner, getting homework done, etc.,” says Tessina.
“Take the time to de-stress once you come home. Take a shower or hot bath, go to the gym, do some mindless tasks and take a few minutes just to yourself. Meditate, stretch, eat a light nutritious snack, etc. Once you wind down, it is easier to switch gears from work mindedness to home mindedness,” notes Dr. Rosenberg.
At home, unplug. “Turn off all the gadgets and technology, including cell phones, TV, computers, etc. and just relax at home,” says Tessina. “Have an ‘outlet’ (a hobby or some diversion outside of work). Hang out with friends. Avoid social isolation; tough times are always easier when you're around other people.”
Dr. Rosenberg says it is also good to share happiness. “Be a giver. Coming home also means sharing your love and listening ear with those around you. Listen to how your spouse’s day went. Help out in the kitchen and around the house. Be proactive and volunteer it up, rather than wait for them to ask you. Know that if you take care of and share with others, you will find it easier to take care of yourself.”
Stress is inevitable, but there are steps you can take to avoid stress. “Learn to say no. Some bosses will keep giving you work if you say yes all the time. It is important to remain professional and to say no, when you have other priorities,” says confidence coach Christopher Delaney, founder of Employment King.
Taking care of your body, he says, also helps you to be stress-free. “Exercise and drinking water is a great way to prevent stress. People who are stressed will often miss meals and not drink enough water or get enough exercise. Our body, once missing these necessities, will not work as well,” notes Delaney.