Ways to Handle Stress in the Workplace
The average business professional has 30 to 100 projects on their plate. Modern workers are interrupted seven times an hour and distracted up to 2.1 hours a day. And four out of 10 people working at large companies are experiencing a major corporate restructuring, and therefore facing uncertainly about their futures. This may be why more than 40% of adults say they lie awake at night plagued by the stressful events of the day.
"People are asking me for answers," says Sharon Melnick, Ph.D., a business psychologist and author of just released Success Under Stress. "Everyone feels overwhelmed and overly busy."
Is there a way to maintain steady focus throughout the day? Is it possible to do everything that needs to get done and still have energy left over after work? How do you keep cool under so many demands? Informed by 10 years of Harvard research and field-tested by more than 6,000 clients and trainees, Melnick offers the following strategies to take your work stress down a peg, before it takes over your life.
Act Rather Than React
"We experience stress when we feel that situations are out of our control," says Melnick. It activates the stress hormone and, if chronic, wears down confidence, concentration and well-being. She advises that you identify the aspects of the situation you can control and aspects you can't. Typically, you're in control of your actions and responses, but not in control of macro forces or someone else's tone, for example. "Be impeccable for your 50%," she advises. And try to let go of the rest.
Take A Deep Breath
If you're feeling overwhelmed or are coming out of a tense meeting and need to clear your head, a few minutes of deep breathing will restore balance, says Melnick. Simply inhale for five seconds, hold and exhale in equal counts through the nose. "It's like getting the calm and focus of a 90-minute yoga class in three minutes or less at your desk," she says.
"Most of us are bombarded during the day," says Melnick. Emails, phone calls, pop ins, instant messages and sudden, urgent deadlines conspire to make today's workers more distracted than ever. While you may not have control over the interrupters, you can control your response. Melnick advises responding in one of three ways: Accept the interruption, cut it off, or diagnosis its importance and make a plan. Many interruptions are recurring and can be anticipated. "You want to have preset criteria for which response you want to make," she says. You can also train those around you by answering email during certain windows, setting up office hours to talk in person or closing the door when you need to focus.
Schedule Your Day For Energy And Focus
Most of us go through the day using a "push, push, push" approach, thinking if we work the full eight to 10 hours, we'll get more done. Instead, productivity goes down, stress levels go up and you have very little energy left over for your family, Melnick says. She advises scheduling breaks throughout the day to walk, stretch at your desk or do a breathing exercise. "Tony Schwartz of the Energy Project has shown that if we have intense concentration for about 90 minutes, followed by a brief period of recovery, we can clear the buildup of stress and rejuvenate ourselves," she says.
Eat Right And Sleep Well
"Eating badly will stress your system," says Melnick, who advises eating a low-sugar, high-protein diet. "And when you're not sleeping well, you're not getting the rejuvenating effects." According to the CDC, an estimated 60 million Americans do not get sufficient sleep, which is a critical recovery period for the body. If racing thoughts keep you from falling asleep or you wake up in the night and can't get back to sleep, Melnick suggests a simple breathing trick that will knock you out fast: Cover your right nostril and breathe through your left for three to five minutes.