At Tingey Injury Law Firm, we have helped many clients who have been injured in the workplace. When the term “work injuries” comes up, people tend to think of physical damages, like slips and falls or repetitive motion injuries. However, mental stress in the workplace can cause damages that aren’t seen in the same way as physical damages but are no less troubling. So how do you keep a lid on work-induced stress? We asked professionals in a variety of industries. Here’s what they had to say:
Liz Jeneault is an award-winning former news anchor and the vice president of marketing for the popular product review website Faveable.
Bite your tongue
As a former news anchor, I know stress in the workplace. From endless hours of breaking news to cancelled interviews, getting stuck in bad weather, and equipment failing as you’re about to go live, there’s so much that can go wrong when you work in television. I sometimes wonder how I coped with it all, and especially while pregnant! My best advice is to take a deep breath during tough moments at work, and to always bite your tongue!
It’s far better to think about how you should respond to a stressful situation, rather than to respond right away. Often, things that aren’t all that stressful in the long run bother us more at first than they should. That’s why it’s better to collect your thoughts and respond later. I also feel it helps to be a good listener in stressful situations, rather than to be the one doing all the talking.
- Start a meditation practice. The natural stress relief from sitting quietly and bringing your focus from the “outside” world that is constantly interrupted by distractions to your “inner” world and finding your calm, centered space is wonderful.
- Use sound-assisted meditation exercises to allow you to reach that calm “inner” space quicker than through traditional meditation practices. The sound technology helps you naturally get into a very deep, relaxed state with little to no effort on your part so you can start to see the benefits from meditation immediately. Once you’re able to find that quiet, inner space through sound-assisted meditation exercises, with practice, you can return to that space easily, even when you are not listening to a meditation exercise. I use this practice all the time. Even in a tense meeting or court appearance, if I feel stressed or anxious, I just take a conscious, deep breath and remember that quiet inner space. Almost immediately, I will feel calmer and more centered, so I can listen better, react consciously, and respond more effectively.
- Have access to a short, sound-assisted meditation exercise geared toward releasing stress that you can use in a relatively short time after a tense meeting, at lunchtime after a stressful morning, or to just center yourself after a stressful day before heading home or to bed. When you are stressed, your brain waves are usually “running fast” and not at an optimal level. The sound waves in the meditation exercise will help you slow down your brain waves and help them become more coherent. This naturally reduces your stress and/or anxiety and helps you perform better in whatever you want to do next, including getting some sleep.
Gary Powell is general counsel at Emery Oleochemicals and creator of Legally Mindful®, a series of meditation exercises for attorneys. He previously spent over 25 years in litigation in private practice.
K.T. Redwine, a.k.a. Kate by Faith, is an Author, Servant Leader, and Speaker. Website: katebyfaith.com
Reflect on happy thoughts
- A great way to destress in the workplace is to walk outside and take time to reflect on happy thoughts.
- If you start getting overwhelmed, think about something that inspires you and shift your energy towards that. It will actually motivate you throughout the day and increase your productivity.
- You can also speak with your Work-Life Balance counselor if you have one. A lot of companies offer this as a great resource to help employees with mental health and wellness.
Our bodies work hard for us, but often we don’t reciprocate, especially with the demands of many of our modern workplaces.
My most used/useful tip is breathing:
Taking three deep, intentional breaths into the bottom of our bellies helps calm our whole system down. Placing your fingertips on your cheekbones with a bit of pressure (don’t hurt yourself!) while breathing enhances the practice. Your cheekbones are the end of your stomach meridian (in Traditional Chinese Medicine [TCM]) and aid in “digesting” everything, including information and demands on our time. Because this only takes a moment, it can be done anytime, anywhere–including at your over-filled desk!
Dr. Charlene Brown
Dr. Charlene Brown is a Transpersonal Psychologist specializing in practical (w)holistic leadership. A long-time educator, Dr. Brown is currently an independent consultant and leadership coach. For more information, you can find her at www.DrCharliBrown.com, and be sure to check out her new online course Practical Tools For Everyday Wellness.
Cheryl Haynes is the Founder of AchieveMentor LLC, a coaching and consulting firm specializing in inclusive team optimization strategies, emotional intelligence enhancement, and employee engagement. As a seasoned HR executive, she takes great pride in her expertise as a “pragmatic people issues problem solver.”
- Set aside 10-15 minutes to infuse intention into your workday. Before leaving your work area for the evening, or during the quiet moments leading up to bedtime, draft a plan for the next day. This plan is a written productivity commitment to yourself that should include key deadline-related activities broken down into manageable tasks. Include at least one wellness walk away from your work area as a commitment to your list. If weather permits, an outside walk is most effective. As a policy, most companies provide at least one 15 min break within the standard 8 hour workday. It’s best to enlist a work buddy to join you on your wellness walk. Take it a step further and empower your buddy to keep you on task with your walk. A plan full of tasks completed is visual validation of your products that can help to reframe the sometimes overwhelming dread associated with workplace stress.
- It’s also necessary for you to commit to leaving your work area during your lunch period at least two days per week. Share this commitment with your walk buddy, even if you decide you’d like to take the time alone to decompress. This creates accountability and improves the likelihood you will take at least two much-needed opportunities to replenish energy and refocus during your workweek.
- In my last office, I wrote the number 86,400 in the top right-hand corner of my whiteboard. My daily work stress was forever transformed by a story that I believe most effectively places work stress into context. We all receive the gift of 86,400 seconds each and every day. If we find ourselves allowing workplace stress to impact our entire day we’re literally throwing away all 86,400 seconds. If upon waking we received $86,400 today, and $3,600 was in crumbled bills (6 hours of active work..not including meetings), would we throw away all $86,400? I think not.
Take things slow
Take A Break
Sometimes, work can get overwhelming and the best thing to do in those moments is to take a step back. Looking at the situation with a fresh pair of eyes will help you gain a new perspective and decrease your stress. It doesn’t even have to be a long break. Sometimes you’ll only need 10 seconds to come back with a new perspective.
One Thing At A Time
When you look at everything that needs to get done, you may feel the need to rush and multitask, but you should take things slow. You’ll do a better job at your tasks if you do them one at a time. When you’re constantly switching your focus, you’ll end up getting sloppy and making mistakes. Quality is more important than quantity. Stick to doing one thing at a time and you will feel calmer.
Linda Morgan – Womens Health Expert and a Health & Wellness Consultant. MotivationNook
Lisa Richards is a nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet. She has been featured on Today, US News, Women’s Health magazine, Huffington Post, Healthline, the San Francisco Chronicle, Reader’s Digest, Lifehack, Insider, and Well+Good, among others.
Food can both help and hinder the body’s response to stress. Inflammatory foods put the body under physical stress and can also create a hormonal reaction where the body produces a larger amount of stress hormones. These foods are primarily refined carbohydrates, sugar, gluten, and, to some degree, alcohol. Removing processed convenience foods is the quickest way to reduce the amount of stress-enhancing food in your diet. This is especially important when it comes to snacking at work.
Snacking is something we all do. Whether it be in a grazing manner all throughout the day or at specific times, snacking is typically a part of all our routines. This is especially true in the workplace and can, but doesn’t have to, lead to weight gain and health issues. Most common snacks are made of refined carbohydrates and loaded with sugar, which results in inflammation in the body leading to many issues.
Since you know snacking is going to occur at the office, be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to snacking at work. This looks different for each person but here are a few [ideas] that may work for your situation.
- Pack your snacks ahead of time. Choose one day a week for snack/meal prep so you can have your nutrient-dense snacks on hand when the temptations come.
- Provide the workplace snacks occasionally. It seems there is one or two people that always bring the snacks, and they aren’t usually healthy. Decide that one day of the week will be your day to bring snacks for the group and make it healthy.
- Remember everyone’s habits are different. Just because someone who “looks” like they can eat whatever they want is indulging in unhealthy snacks doesn’t mean they haven’t made sacrifices somewhere else to be able to enjoy the food they’re eating.
One of the most effective ways to stay calm in the workplace is to take the time to spend a couple of minutes outside – at least once per workday if possible. The physical and mental toll of remaining indoors, at a workspace or in front of a computer, is significant. In addition to work-related stress, muscle stiffness and eye strain are genuine, stress-inducing factors that need to be considered. Taking the time during a break to head outside to not only breathe fresh air but to stretch your muscles and take in some vitamin D can have a significant impact on both physical and mental health.
Eat and drink
A lack of nourishment is one of the most commonly encountered causes of workplace stress. Due to the hectic nature of a workday, it’s easy enough to skip a meal and neglect to keep yourself hydrated. However, a lack of water and nutrients can have a major impact on our psyche, compounding stress to unhealthy levels. Make sure you eat a nutritionally dense breakfast and lunch, as well as drink at least eight 8-oz glasses of water per day to keep your body and mind sharp, as well as to keep stress at bay.
Mandy S Schaller
Mandy S Schaller, LCSW is a therapist and generalist in anxiety, with 20 years’ experience in supporting others in managing as well as improving mental, relational, and brain health. While primarily providing individual and family therapy, Mandy has also provided many group inservices on coping with stress, anger management, and sharpening communication skills. Website: mandyschaller.com
Relaxing the entire body & nervous system
Meditation—you don’t have to travel to a monastery in India to do it. You don’t need much time; yes- the longer you allow the more benefits, but even finding a preferably quiet, comfortable space for 10 minutes a day is enough to experience physical and mental benefits according to research. Regular meditation can reduce anxiety, moderate chronic pain, reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol levels, and reduce muscle tension. Research is emerging daily that supports the heart-brain connection so reduced inflammation in the body and reduced myocardial oxygen demand equates to improved cardiovascular and mental health. Linking your meditation practice to a word, sound, mantra or prayer is recommended to support intention in creating new chemistry and pathways in the brain. Example: Breathe in Calm, Breathe out fear/tension.
Visualization—mentally visiting a scary memory or a calm visit to the beach creates a physiological response in the body and brain. This challenges all the old beliefs about the brain; it doesn’t die off as we grow older, we can change the brain, create new pathways, and slow the aging disease process.
Music—research to explore the mysterious organ–the brain–is slowly on the rise, but we do know that certain beats per minute in music can change our brain state (i.e., reducing ADHD symptoms, producing chemicals to ward off a cold, and reducing anxiety).
BREATHING deeply—drawing your breath into the gut, expanding the diaphragm and then [sending the breath] into each portion of the lungs (also known as yogic breathing) allows respiration rate to slow down, relaxing the entire body & nervous system. We know that there are nerves connecting the lungs to the vagal nerve at the base of the brain. A calm vagal nerve equals a calm system overall.
If all else fails—call for back up! There are plenty of wellness professionals that are available to provide in-office training to improve the overall climate of the workplace, not to mention reduce over company health care costs.
Manage stressful situations
Positive Self Talk
Often patterns of self-talk about a situation regarding work duties, coworkers, and bosses tend to be negative. Changing these negative self-talk patterns into positive statements can encourage and help you to manage stressful situations at work.
Acknowledge your Triggers/Be Aware
Know and understand what triggers stress and be aware of your reactions to those triggers. What you say or do in response to a situation can actually increase or decrease the likelihood of the situation improving.
Avoid the Hero Syndrome
Know your limits and set boundaries around helping others, especially when your workload seems impossible. Setting boundaries gives guidelines on safe and permissible ways for others to treat you. Lack of boundaries could land you in the position of needing help or getting behind on your own work or expectations.
Increase Problem Solving Skills
Good problem-solving skills can help us to be less avoidant of our problems, less impulsive, [better equipped] to identify long term solutions instead of quick fixes, and [more] accepting of problems that may be unsolvable.
Maintain Rational Detachment
Remind yourself that if and when you are the target of an outburst or negative situation from peers or managers that you are rarely the cause of the behavior. Don’t take these negative comments or actions personally.
Clarence McFerren II
Clarence McFerren II, an inspiring arts educator is a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, American University, and Cambridge College. He’s known for mental health advocacy and his informative Tedx Talk titled Mental Liberation through Dance, which focused on detracting the negative stigma of mental illnesses in society. Website: drmacj.com
Some stress can be considered good for your health. Fredrick Douglass once said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” However, an overabundance of stress can be a shock to the body both mentally and physically causing death due to irregularities. As a mental health advocate, it is important to keep a growth mindset, similar to the month of April, which is known for its showers that nurture the development of trees and flowers. Yet, all trees and flowers take different journeys to blossom in the future.
The workplace, like nature, will have its ups and downs, seasons of growth as well as stagnation (a fixed mindset). During these times of stagnation, one must “live” more and “worry” less because the world will continue with or without you (life vs. death).
The best tip to stay calm in the workplace is to “breathe” which is what we were born to do as humans. Focusing on slow, deep breathing allows heart palpitations to subside to a steady pace. Also, laughter is a great way to take the mind away from negativity or intrusive thoughts and release positive endorphins in the body to encourage the feeling of happiness.
Stress is like an annoying fly that continues to buzz around you but will never leave. Then, eventually, you learn how to take control of your emotions and choose “happy” rather than freely surrendering it to stress, a fly, or the workplace.
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