Work is stressful. Whether you regularly deal with the unrealistic demands of a supervisor, you dread your toxic work environment, or you’re just tired of the same-old same-old daily grind, your job probably affects you more than you know. And according to a recent report from Mental Health America, you’re not the only one: Over 80 percent of employees MHA surveyed said workplace stress affects their personal relationships, and 35 percent said they regularly miss three to five days of work monthly because of it. Instead of allowing your life off the clock to take a hit — and unnecessarily exhausting your vacation and sick days just to guard your mental health — keep your stress levels in check at the office with these simple, mindful tools.
1. Take a mental vacation. Social worker Rita Milios, who regularly helps individuals facing at-work stress, says taking a few minutes to focus on something other than work during the day can pack a big punch in reducing stress — and at the very least, it breaks up your work day. “Feeling overwhelmed often comes from focusing on the things that are causing stress — what needs to be done, time restraints, or other worries,” Milios says. “Taking just five minutes to tune your mind into something totally different and relaxing can break the link to your spinning mental energy.” She recommends escaping the chaos by closing your eyes; taking a few moments to visualize a calming, relaxing scene; and fully immersing yourself in it, using all your senses. Afterwards, take a couple more deep breaths, open your eyes, and engage in the next tip.
2. Prioritize your tasks and projects. Being systematic about your to-do list might sound like a stressor, but Milios says being intentional about how you get things done can have the opposite effect. “Use an A, B, C system to label activities and actions — ‘A’ for things that must get done immediately, ‘B’ for things that are important but do not need to get done immediately, and ‘C’ for things that can be put off for a while or possibly indefinitely,” she says. “Tackle ‘A’ tasks until they are done, then move to ‘B’ tasks. Leave ‘C’ tasks for later and review the need for them as appropriate.” When your to-do list is organized by what actually needs to get done, you can focus on what matters without worrying unnecessarily about the next thing on the list.
3. Schedule and prioritize “me” time. It’s easy to wait until you’re ultra-stressed to take time for yourself. But by that point, Milios says, it may be too late to truly fill your tank. “The downfall is once you become depleted and have to steal energy from your ‘reserve tank,’ it is extremely difficult to build that reserve back up. Then, you have lost your ability to help yourself and everyone else as well,” she says. Rather than being “selfish” (as women have often been socially programmed to view it), Milios says taking time for ourselves is a vital step in maintaining our physical, mental, and emotional well-being — all of which positively contribute to your work performance. No time for a coffee run or walk outside during the work day? Waking up even 15 minutes earlier every morning to enjoy your daily coffee and mentally prepare for your day, or taking a short bath before bed can make a big difference.
4. Engage your senses. Your senses are more powerful than you think. Try listening to music you love (go for something that elicits happy memories — old college playlists, anyone?); having a quick, healthy snack; or breathing in a bright, motivating essential oil (try citrus for a quick pick-me-up). It may sound too easy, but even warming your hands on a hot mug of coffee can lift your spirits and empower you to make decisions when things are stressful. According to Business Insider, we are behaviorally influenced by touch, a phenomenon called “embodied cognition.” Hey, any excuse to have another latte, right?
While some level of stress at work is inevitable, it doesn’t have to consume you. By simply being mindful of what you need when (and, ideally, before) things get heated in the office, you can protect your mental health and make your workplace a more enjoyable place to be. If you’re experiencing severe stress or anxiety at work, though, make sure to talk to a healthcare professional about it.
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(Photo via Getty)