How do we navigate stress in the workplace? We have duties and obligations to perform at our best everyday. Our jobs require a high degree of skill and we make decisions that have lasting impacts. For this reason, all of us may feel varying levels of stress when it comes to showing up for work each day. The expectation to reap quantified or qualified results for an employer can truly put a burden on one mentally, emotionally and physically. Luckily, no one is alone in their experience of stress as it is common, and to certain degrees, necessary for us to grow, evolve and live. The goal is to learn how to alleviate the tensions that stress creates in our bodies.
Stress is a different experience for everyone. We all perceive stress differently psychologically. However, the body perceives all stressors as being the same. This means, for example, that a mental thought focusing on one’s current financial burden, can be interpreted by the body in the same way as running from a bear.
To the body, all stress summates. So whether we missed a deadline at work, or our projected targets didn’t pan out the way we expected, or we have to fire one of our employees, our body accumulates these stressors. Our bodies then begin to respond with negative symptoms we experience like brain fog, lack of sleep, weight gain, or degenerative disease. We can learn to manage these stressors by embracing them in the same way we experience them - mentally, emotionally and physically. When we do so, we offload the body's accumulation of stress, and make dealing with it a much smoother process.
Use these tips and integrate them at YOUR speed, and YOUR pace. Again, everyone is so different, when implementing methods to alleviate stress, really feel into how your body is responding. Only you can harness the power of your energy and learn to manage it to your own best ability. These are simple tools to help you with that.
1. Mental Reframing
Oftentimes, stress is due to a perception or belief around a specific situation. We feel the pressure of being stuck, out of control or under threat. One of my favorite quotes is written in the Course in Miracles that goes: “ The greatest form of a miracle is the shift in perception”. This is so inherently true, as reality is a blank slate, where meaning is made out of our own perception of what is in front of us.
Our own awareness materializes reality. With that being said, “reframing” allows us to choose a new perspective. To paint the picture for you - in reframing, we move from the bottom of the mountain to the top of the mountain, now able to see from a whole new viewpoint, and oftentimes the solution was underneath our nose the whole time.
Here is a brief reframing exercise you can use everyday to shift your awareness to focus on the solution to stress instead of perceived problems in life. What we focus on we create more of. Trust that fact and you’ll begin to shift from a reactive to a proactive mindset.
Let’s start by turning lemons into lemonade:
1. Begin to pay attention to negative self-talk. Maybe these are negative beliefs about yourself, your situation or your relationships. Write them down. Typically being best to carry a small notebook with you, write down all negative thoughts into one column.
2. After one to two days, keep score of just how many negative thoughts pass your mind. How many are there? Over 2-3 negative thoughts will adhere to a negative groove in your mind. The more often you think these same thoughts, the more likely they are to become a part of your outlook. Rank your thoughts from most frequent to least frequent.
3. After the two full days of writing down your thoughts, write down in the opposing column their direct opposite. For example, if your thought was “ Wow, I am such a boring person”, write down “I am an exciting person, with many interests”, or something along those lines. This will allow you to re-perceive what it is exactly that you feel like you're “missing” in your life. In reality, you’re never missing anything, you’re simply choosing a perception of lack in a given area.
4. Begin to decide how you can unravel these negative beliefs to retrain yourself to live the opposite. This is not just about thinking differently, but in taking new actions in the direction of what we wish to believe about ourselves or our situation. If our negative thought was “Im broke, and will always be broke”, look for evidence of abundance in your life. Wake up in the morning and write down each one of your blessings you're grateful for that day. Every action you take that is in the direction of the perspective you wish to have, you become more likely to see from that automatically.
5. Set intentions to ACT and...ACT. Acting out the intentions we set for ourselves is the most integral thing we can do. BE intentional on what it is you want for yourself in life, and set a plan of intentions you can live out each day. If it is “I have no time to myself”, begin to make time for yourself. Set just five minutes aside each day to do one thing you love. One five minute chunk can turn into twenty minutes, then an hour, so long as you hold that intention and live up to the word of intention you set for yourself.
Allow yourself to be the alchemist of your story. Decide how whatever negative situation you're perceiving in your life can be reframed as an opportunity. This will allow you to view “negative situations” as the contrast for what you actually want to create in life.
2. Relaxation Response Exercise
This is a wonderful approach to interrupting negative thought patterns, or physically stressful situations we face throughout the day. Maybe it's a big presentation at work, or we need to perform our best on sales calls. This exercise will allow you to physiologically release stress on a cellular level. This relaxation response is experienced through common exercises such as meditation, or tai chi, and shifts the nervous system from being ‘fight or flight’ dominant to ‘rest & digest’ dominant. Essentially, you’re training your body to think it is now in a relaxed environment.
There are many relaxation exercises you can implement into your lifestyle for lasting results. Given the purpose of this article which is stress in the workplace, I will give one that is easy to facilitate anywhere - box breathing.
Box breathing is a wonderful exercise because it helps to properly deliver oxygen throughout our bodies. A very common, yet insufficiently shallow breathing pattern, is usually what can cause an increase in anxiety. Deeper breathing allows the body to calm down, while receiving the oxygen it needs.
Start by focusing your awareness on your breathing. Leave all negative thoughts, and begin to inhale deeply and slowly, counting 5 seconds to finish your inhale. Hold your breath for five seconds, and begin to exhale for five seconds. Slowly release the air in your lungs. Allow yourself to sit quietly, practicing this breathing technique at least five repetitions. It is just about impossible to practice such conscious breathing while staying stressed at the same time.
Focusing on your breath in this way will help to calm you by activating the rest and digest branch of the nervous system. This allows you to stay relaxed, focused and at peace by stimulating a physiological chain of events to initiate that switch away from stress.
3. Unstructured / Play Time
Yes, that is right, schedule a time in your calendar everyday for play! This can be any form of play that you enjoy, but I suggest a form of play that doesn't involve the use of your brain! Think to yourself - Is there an activity you enjoy that is creative, or allows you to return to your child-self? Schedule a time in your day to do just that. Either before work, after work, or on your break at the office, taking breaks throughout life allows one to refocus on what is most important.
This freedom of time allows us to return to “structured” / “work time” with more effectiveness, and a sense of flow as we dip our toes into creative corners of our lives throughout the day and week. Not to mention, being playful greatly reduces tension in the workplace, and in our bodies and minds.
4. Manage Sleep / Wake Times
Sleep quantity and quality is a big one for many. When we do not get the sleep we need, we end up getting our energy on ‘credit’ - reaching for caffeine, sugar and stimulants to keep us going. This ends up being ineffective because it drains us of resources and not allow us to build vitality, nor handle stress effectively.
There could be a whole article on sleep. But when discussing work related stress, try to keep a regular sleep schedule, and relieve yourself from the burden of bright screens. Artificial lights, as seen in offices and in computer or phone screens, greatly damages our body’s ability to harmonize sleep and wake hormones.
One way to combat this is by wearing blue-light blocking glasses, and being diligent about toning down the screen use close to bed. At least an hour before bed, shut down all screens. Light a candle, and either use the last hour before bed for meditation time, or an hour of light reading. This will allow your rest and repair hormones to dominate before sleeping, instead of your heightened cortisol levels produced in reaction to bright lights or screens. Your body releases more and more cortisol the more it senses bright lights.
Next, adhere to a stricter sleep schedule. By getting to bed on the same hour each night, and waking at the same hour each day, you're training your body to follow the same wake and sleep hormonal cycle. This further entrains you to be more alert at work, handle stress more effectively, and reap the benefits of deep sleep from stabilized hormones.
5. Take Horizontal Rests
Anytime you begin to feel woozy, light headed, or brain fogged at work, schedule a ten to fifteen minute break to just lay horizontally. Luckily, some offices have complimentary seating to allow such relaxation, and taking advantage of such seating will give you the chance to rest your eyes and body to relieve you of any cognitive pressure you have.
Yes, Laugh! The common saying goes “Laughter is your greatest medicine”. This is so inherently true. Just as you smile, the rest of your cells smile as well. While this is not a literal statement, you can understand the energetic significance behind laughing off a perceived stress, mistake or pent up tension in life’s busy days. Find enjoyment in the little things in life, and your life will be filled with enjoyment. Afterall, what you seek is what you find. It can be as simple as that.
When releasing tension through laughter, we gain an inherent blessing in connecting to the deepest part of ourselves that knows life is truly meant to be enjoyed, and lived in bliss. Take a moment to yourself. Watch a five minute video from your favorite comedian, or scroll your favorite meme page, or, the best option, go to lunch with your friend that makes you laugh. You’ll release unnecessary tension just by laughing and forgetting the tension pent up throughout the day.
Move! Stagnant bodies lead to stagnant thoughts, and more accumulated tension if we don't have the chance to release it throughout the day. There are many reasons exercise will help you alleviate stress, but finding movement that is enjoyable to YOU, not an obligation, will allow you to alleviate stress even more by facilitating an activity that brings more joy to your life!
Regular movement balances the natural processes in your body such as deep breathing, detoxification, or fluidity of the vascular and lymphatic system. Allowing your body and its systems to flow in this way, allows your thoughts to flow similarly and release all stagnant tension withholding you from feeling your best each day.
Try to find fifteen-thirty minutes a day during your work day to be active. Walk around the building on your lunch break, or walk to your favorite coffee shop in the morning before work with a coworker. These small bouts of movement allow you to thoroughly give your body the movement it NEEDS on top of a regular movement practice.
Set the intention to begin utilizing these action steps as a way to alleviate stress on a daily basis. In the workplace, it can oftentimes be a very busy and fast paced environment.
With that, holding space to slow down and remember your intention to stay balanced and attentive to your body’s messages will help you stay aware around what changes you can implement in the moment.
Just remember, everyday is a new day to lean into these practices and to truly fine tune which approaches work best for you in the long run of elevating your vitality.