We've all experienced stressful work days or weeks (or even months!) and we know they can be challenging. Some stress is good: it motivates you to work harder and get things done and can provide a sense of accomplishment. Often times, however, work stress can be bad for your health and cause problems over time. Constant stress over a long period of time can be especially harmful to the body. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, long term stress can impact the immune, digestive, cardiovascular, sleep, and reproductive systems and cause symptoms like headaches, sleeplessness, sadness, anger, or irritability.
Luckily there are many stress busting strategies and some can even be done during the work day.
Go for a walk
Walking for just 20 minutes can dramatically reduce stress. In fact, it's been shown that the first 20 minutes of daily exercise is the most beneficial to us—especially for those of us who have a more sedentary lifestyle. Simply going for a 20 minute walk on your lunch break can reduce stress which leads to a longer life and reduced disease risk. Try starting with even just a 5 minute stroll and see how you feel.
Of course, if you're more ambitious you can try more intense workouts. I'm a big fan of the Peloton app subscription. The subscription is relatively inexpensive and there is a wealth of content to go through for some great workouts.
Meditation is a very old practice that is thousands of years old. There are many different forms of meditation, but many of them involve being still for a period of time and focusing your attention on your breath. Another technique is called body scanning; in this technique, you focus your attention on different parts of your body while maintaining awareness of how each body part is feeling. Meditation not only reduces stress but it has been proven to actually change your brain for the better. The changes to your brain make it easier to handle stress in the future as well.
Try watching some funny videos or taking a moment to do something that makes you laugh. Laughing is an excellent form of stress relief and it's such an easy thing to do. Laughing reduces the level of stress hormones in the body like cortisol and adrenaline which reduces the feelings of stress. Laughing can also distract us from the stressful things occurring in our life and of course laughing simply feels good. Try watching a funny movie or having dinner with some friends. A night of laughter can go a long way!
Talk to a co-worker
Talk to a friend or co-worker about the stressful things weighing you down. Venting about your troubles to someone else can help relieve some of the stress. In a recent study, it was found that venting to other co-workers can be great for your mental health. Discussing problems with others at work can help you form stronger bonds with your co-workers and work through your issues. Talking through issues with co-workers is helpful because they often can relate to the issues that you are going through. Being heard and having your problems validated is very helpful in relieving stress and working through the problem.
Talk to a professional
Sometimes it's helpful to talk to a professional counsellor or therapist. For example, cognitive therapy under the direction of a trained professional can be a great tool for improving resilience in the face of stress. The idea behind cognitive therapy is to train ourselves to have a more positive internal response to day-to-day stressors. For example, if you run into unexpected traffic, how do you react? Do you relax and put on some good music, or do you fret about how long the commute is taking? All sorts of small stressful events happen throughout every day. For some, there is a persistent habit of negative self-talk—a negative internal dialog which exacerbates stressful events. Therapy can help you get back on course and teach you how to have more positive reactions to stress.
This suggestion may be the least familiar to you. Acupuncture is a practice that is thousands of years old. The practice involves inserting very fine needles through the skin at strategic points on you body to balance the flow of energy in the body. Opinions on the effectiveness of acupuncture are mixed but, anecdotally, it has been shown to be an effective treatment for stress as well as anxiety and depression.
There is evidence that acupuncture lowers hormone levels associated with the stress response in the body. An animal study involving rats showed that when the animals were faced with a stressful situation, acupuncture was effective at lowering stress hormones that regulate digestion, emotions, the immune system, and more.
Pick up a new hobby
Trying out a new hobby can be a great way to get you thinking about more positive things while you're not at work. Achieving that feeling of accomplishment is a great way to reduce stress and break those patterns of negative thought. Cooking, baking, pottery, sewing—the options are endless! Pick up a new hobby to add some variety to your life relieve some of that stress.
While stress at work can accumulate and feel like it is taking over your life, there is always something you can try to alleviate it. Try these stress busters to break the cycle of stressful or negative thought and get yourself back on track.