Feeling flustered at work is often part and parcel of having a job; there’s always something to do, whether that’s centred around meetings, project management, emails, dealing with colleagues or simply doing your job.
But minimal stress levels are actually – wait for it – not always a terrible thing. A little work stress can help our bodies be more productive and get stuff done, in fact, it’s a major motivator for many people and there’s even a word for the good type of stress that helps us to drive forward and complete tasks – it’s called eustress which quite literally means, ‘good stress’ .
However as lifestyle website the Cusp reports, problems at work can arise when we’re constantly feeling overwhelmed because “we keep ourselves in a state of stress for too long” meaning that we might end up feeling anxious or down. “The human body just isn’t cut out to operate in ‘fight or flight’ mode all day, every day” they explain. Makes sense to us. And really, it’s fairly normal to go through periods of feeling a bit overwhelmed at work.
If you think your mental health is suffering as a result of your workload or environment though, you should let your boss know as soon as you can because they are required to make provisions for you. For milder situations though, there are a few simple things you can do yourself in order to alleviate those feelings of stress and anxiety. Here are five simple stress hacks for the workplace…
1. Get green
Work stress can sometimes be caused by the building you work in.
Ever heard of sick building syndrome? It’s a well recognised health issue which can plague people who have to stare at screens at work, are based where there’s poor ventilation, or who are stressed and displaying cold and flu-like symptoms for prolonged periods of time.
Sick building syndrome is basically caused by poor ventilation and cheap building materials and the symptoms only really stop when you start working somewhere else.
However, one NASA study of people who worked inside the Skylab space station in the 1970s and who suffered from burning eyes and respiratory difficulties, found that introducing several plants to the lab alleviated all negative reactions; scientists found that the plants worked to remove the toxins in the air, which were causing sick building syndrome. Today it’s less likely that your office environment is the only cause of your stress or sickness, but the study does prove that buying a few ferns or cacti not only brightens your desk, but actually boosts your immune system by cleaning the air around you.
2. Set boundaries
Whether you’re new to your role, find it hard to say no, or just have a boss that likes to take advantage, it’s important to establish boundaries at work.
Work stress can build up if you allow other people to keep on piling the tasks, or your boss starts doesn’t respect your boundaries and workload.
It can hard to set boundaries with senior colleagues if you’re not used to doing so, so why not make a list on paper of all the things that are stressing you out at work before you speak to your boss? Get your notes in order, practice what you want to say, and ask to chat to them when they’re in a good mood. Explain that you’re struggling with things but emphasise that you want to get things done and you’re committed to working there and that you’d like to find a way to manage your workload together.
Once you get comfortable with establishing these boundaries, you will start setting more realistic expectations for yourself. You can’t do it all after all – and your boss needs to know that.
3. Curb your caffeine
Too much coffee can keep you up at night and reduce your chance of getting high-quality REM sleep, which then negatively impacts on your productivity in the day at work.
Coffee can also trick you into thinking that it boosts your concentration, but one study from John Hopkins University found that caffeine-related performance improvement is non-existent without caffeine withdrawal. What this means is that basically caffeine reduces your cognitive performance and has a negative impact on your mood.
The only way to get back to normal is to drink more of it, meaning the caffeine is just taking your performance back to normal for a short period – not actually helping you out. Yikes.
Don’t add additional work stress because you can’t be sensible with your cinnamon lattes – keep track of your hot drink quota.
4. Go for a walk
When we’re feeling overwhelmed at our desk, the one thing we often end up doing is staying glued to our seats in an attempt to get everything done in double quick time, because that’s what we need to do to feel better, right? Wrong.
Work stress can worsen without a lunch-break, or five mins away from your desk. Don’t neglect your time-outs, because they can actually help make you more focused in the long run.
We’re at our most alert in the morning and studies show our decision making and attention spans gradually deplete as our brain gets more tired over the course of the day.
If we don’t have a short break away from our responsibilities, we won’t be as useful at carrying out tasks. Pop out for food, take a stroll outside, fake a toilet break – just step away from that screen for some period!
5. Try some herbals
If you’re a fan of herbals, why not swap out your coffee for green tea? Green tea contains a compound called L-theanine which is a unique amino acid that can significantly reduce anxiety and can increase alertness.
If you don’t like the liquid stuff, you can buy L-theanine on its own; one study found that those who took L-theanine saw a reduction in their heart rate and overall reported feelings of stress.
Failing that, ginger, camomile, lemon and elderflower teas are all high in antioxidants; the white blossom from the Elder tree is a traditional cure for colds, lemon helps to break down fats in the digestive tract and ginger is supposed to stimulate circulation. Work stress be gone!
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