8 Tips for Coping with Work Stress

Work can be stressful, but that doesn’t mean you have to live your life in a high-stress state.

Still, most working Americans do, according to recent studies, which also suggest our culture of nose-to-the-grindstone drudgery at all costs is something we really can’t afford.

Entrepreneur.com reports that almost 40 percent of work-related illnesses each year can be traced to stress and anxiety, which are reportedly also responsible for an estimated 10.4 million lost working days annually.

Essentially, the U.S. workforce is pushing itself to the limit, either because of economic factors or the belief that the harder we work, the more rewards we’ll reap.

But more often than not, longer hours and heavier workloads result in stress and burnout instead of promotions and raises. In the long run, that stress negatively impacts our overall performance and, eventually, our health and well-being — not to mention our attitude. And nobody wants to give the office crabby pants or basket case a raise.

The goods news is there are various tried-and-true methods for coping with workplace stress. Cutting back on hours worked when possible, not coming into work when sick, delegating tasks or sharing your workload if you can, and maintaining a healthy diet are all good places to start.

Following are eight additional methods for restoring your sanity and sense of peace as well as reducing work stress. And no, lunchtime martinis are not on the list.

1. Step Away from the Computer

Regardless of workload and environment, we can all spare at least 10 minutes to spend away from our blinking monitors and a never-ending stream of emails. Since you’re probably going to eat lunch at your desk anyway, nobody can fault you for taking a recuperative 10-minute break. In some states, your employer is legally obligated to give you paid rest periods.

California, for example, requires employers to offer paid 10-minute breaks for every four hours of work. While it may seem like an interruption in workflow, a break — one that includes a change of scenery — is a good way to recharge your system so you can return to work refreshed and more relaxed. Think fewer typos and a perkier disposition.

2. Take That Vacation

Along the same lines, if you’ve accrued paid vacation time, for the love of all that is holy — take it! This might seem like a no-brainer but a troubling number of American workers are not using their paid time off, despite the fact that one out of four claim to be “very” or “extremely” stressed, according to Overwhelmed America.

The group’s Project: Time Off found that the two main reasons workers don’t take vacations is not wanting to return to an overwhelming workload and worrying that they’d be leaving the office in a lurch. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki isn’t a fan of skipping vacation. “I think it’s really important to take time off, and I’ve always found that sometimes you get really good insights by taking time off.” Going on vacation is good for you and it’s good for the company, resulting in a well-rested employee with less stress.

3. Unplug

A major source of stress for many professionals is the absence of boundaries between their work and private lives. We live in a time where leaving the office at 5 (if we’re lucky) is no guarantee our work day is over. And while we can’t control whether our boss needs something emailed to her at 6:30, or a client texts at 9 p.m., we can control how we spend the rest of our time outside of the office.

The less time we spend on our phones, laptops and tablets — browsing emails that can wait until the morning, posting photos of our pasta pomodoro to Instagram, or stalking an ex’s new flame — the clearer a line we establish between work and rest. In other words, if you’re on the computer all day long, why spend the night online if you don’t have to? Unplugging will reinforce a sense of comfort and relaxation in your hours away from the office.

A major source of stress for professionals is the absence of boundaries between work and life. Click To Tweet

4. Laugh

We’ve all heard that laughter is good medicine, but it’s also an instant destresser. If you’re lucky enough to work with people who share your sense of humor, take advantage of it. If your coworkers are about as funny as a zit on date night, there’s always YouTube. Laughing, according to the Mayo Clinic, releases endorphins —  creating a natural “high” and relaxed feeling — and soothes physical tension through increased blood flow. In the long-term, living a laughter-filled life improves your overall mood and boosts your immune system.

5. Make a List

It’s 11 at night and you can’t stop playing over and over in your head how much you have to do tomorrow —  a seemingly tangled mess of appointments, phone calls, meetings, emails, and reports. Break it down task by task and in which order it should be done. That’s right. Make a good old fashioned “To Do” list. Get it out of your brain and on paper.

You’ll find instant relief in knowing how manageable tomorrow will be with a clear game plan — and knowing that the next day all you have to do is follow your own directions. Microsoft founder Bill Gates is a proponent of the manageability system. “(The) ability to boil things down, to just work on things that really count, to think through the basics … It’s a special form of genius.”

6. Get Some Sleep

One of the most vicious circles in the workplace stress syndrome is how it impacts our ability to get a good night’s sleep, and how the resulting lack of sleep contributes to stress the next day. The American Psychological Association notes that sleep recharges our minds and lets our bodies rest — making it “a necessary human function.” Without enough sleep, our memory, judgment, and mood suffer.

In general, the APA says, research suggests most Americans could benefit from 60 to 90 more minutes a night, meaning they’d be healthier, happier and functioning at higher levels. Breathing exercises, shutting the cell phone off at night, eating earlier in the evening, drinking specialty teas, regular exercise, and making lists as discussed above can all help in improving sleeping habits.

7. Get Some Exercise

One word: endorphins — what the Mayo Clinic calls the “brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters” and one of the chief benefits of physical exercise. It’s why more and more companies are providing employees with access to in-house gyms. Indeed, according to mayoclinic.org, a rush of those neurotransmitters can result from pretty much any kind of rigorous physical activity: whether a good workout or a pickup game of basketball.

Exercise is also “meditation in motion,” the Mayo Clinic says, like a hiatus from worries while you focus on crushing the tennis ball over the net. Both the mental clarity and endorphin rush help to improve mood, and over time, the physical activity increases resilience and ability to cope with stress.

8. Be Kind to Yourself

Let’s face it: the world can be a rotten place sometimes and the professional workplace is no exception. The last thing you need in a stressful environment is a doom-and-gloom inner monologue or personal critic. Recognize the symptoms of stress and try to be proactive; don’t wait until you’re almost in a frenzy to address the issue. Do something positive or calming. Keep your favorite beverage in the office fridge so you can treat yourself during tense moments. Invest in artisanal lotions; the scent of lavender is said to have a natural calming effect. Take an actual lunch break once in awhile, or schedule a massage.

It might sound hokey, but self-care and pampering yourself with treats here and there is a necessary reminder that despite how stressful it can get, life is full little joys.