Seriously stressed out at work right now? You’re not alone. In fact, one survey found that as many as 80 percent of Americans are too!
But it’s not just bad for your mental health. According to the CDC, problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints than any other life stressor, including money and family problems.
Stress is associated with a greater risk of depression, anxiety, heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, and autoimmune conditions.
In fact, a recent Harvard and Stanford study found that workplace stress is as detrimental to your health as secondhand smoke.
Why? Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests one way that stress can hurt our health. Inflammation is regulated by the hormone cortisol, which is secreted by the adrenal glands. The researchers found that chronic stress affects the brain-adrenal connection and inflammation can get out of control.
This is commonly referred to as “adrenal fatigue,” which decreases your body’s ability to regulate inflammation and can promote the development of chronic and autoimmune diseases.
As a functional medicine practitioner, I see on a daily basis how job stress can affect our health. I work with many patients whose well-being took a turn for the worse in a stressful work environment.
Here are some of the tips I recommend to create calm for yourself (and others!) and combat stress at your job:
1. Set your alarm earlier.
The seed of the day is the morning — so start it off right. Instead of hitting the snooze button one too many times, give yourself plenty of time to slowly wake up.
Have a glass of green tea and spend time in silence, centering yourself for the day. Running around the house at the last minute because you slept in sets off a stressful start to the day.
2. Write a reasonable to-do list.
I recommend getting to work a little early — that might sound horrible to some, but it will give you time to yourself to focus your day.
Take a few minutes out of your morning to make a list of what you would like to accomplish. Start with more pressing needs then work your way to longer-term goals. Highlight the tasks as they are accomplished .
This approach will gather the mental clutter and organize it all into an orderly list. The idea is that you’ll become more productive at your job. But also remember, if it all doesn’t get done today, give yourself grace — there is always tomorrow.
3. Organize your space mindfully.
Clutter on the outside can cause clutter on the inside. Schedule time each week to clean up your desk and office space. Throw away papers and items that you don’t need. Minimizing office mess is a great way to bring calm to your day.
4. Create your personal Zen zone.
After you have removed clutter from your work space, design an environment that truly calms you. An aromatherapy diffuser with lavender or citrus scents can give you a lift. And a small waterfall feature or some live plants will bring some of the outside into your office. A little Zen can go a long way.
5. Focus on each task, one by one.
As you are moving through the day’s to-do list, remain present with the task at hand. Preoccupied thoughts on the future or the past can cause anxiety and decrease your potential.
Don’t make boring work a means to an end, simply watching the clock tick by. However mundane your to-do may be, honor it. Let that present moment be a meditation exercise. Fully accepting the task decreases stress and can help bring you inner peace.
6. Practice conscious breathing throughout the day.
When we’re stressed and holding in tension, our breath can become shallow — which only feeds the anxiety further. Observing your breath is a fundamental way to bring inner stillness to your day.
I recommend conscious breathing to anchor you in the present moment. Whenever you find yourself getting stressed at work, take a few moments to just breathe naturally and focus on those breaths, letting worries and anxieties diffuse and drift away.
7. Avoid texting and scrolling through social media.
As many as 60 percent of employees check their social media accounts multiple times throughout the workday. Compulsively checking status updates, “likes,” “favorites,” and retweets pulls you out of the present moment, distracting you and decreasing your productivity. It’s the perfect combination for stress.
LifeEdited founder Graham Hill, an expert in the field of simplifying life, told me once that texting at work today is akin to using the work phone off and on all day 20 years ago. If you wouldn’t be on your office phone all those times that you’re texting, chances are you should put your cellphone away. If you’d like to learn more about how to unplug and give yourself a tech detox, read my tips.
8. Ignore office gossip.
It’s so easy to get caught up in complaining about a certain co-worker, client, or boss. Negative chatter and gossiping has a way of eroding mindfulness and building a toxic work environment.
When you hear gossip at the proverbial watercooler, just walk away or try to change the subject. Be the change you want to see at work.
9. Eat calming foods.
The foods we choose to eat have a profound ability to strengthen or weaken our body’s response to stress at work. I recommend enjoying healthy fats like coconut oil and avocados that nourish your brain, the so-called CEO of your stress response.
10. Avoid brain-zapping foods.
In addition to feeding your brain with the right stuff at work, it’s also crucial to steer clear of the foods that zap healthy brain function. That includes sugar and gluten, among other harmful items. The office vending machine should never be an option — unless there are bags of kale chips in there.
11. Head outside at least once during the day.
When you have a break, go soak up some sun. Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is essential for lifting your mood and brain function. If it’s not a sunny day, simply going outside can still refresh a stressful workday.
Find a way to connect with nature. Even if there’s just one tree outside your office, go sit next to that tree! Sit still for a moment and practice that conscious breathing.
12. Go to bed early.
Be sure to get enough Zzz’s at night to ensure you’re recharged for the next day of work. Research published in JAMA showed that optimal sleep for most people is around seven hours per night.