As a society, we’ve come to assume that a high level of workplace stress is more or less par for the course. Many businesses make no bones about the fact that they expect their employees to work long hours in high-pressure situations.
But we might be a bit less accepting of all of this if we took proper stock of how stress is impacting both our health and productivity.
Let’s take a look at how stress can harm us and our work, as well as how we can fight it when we are in the office.
Basically, stress is a natural physiological reaction that humans have developed over millennia to make them more capable of dealing with dangerous situations. But the human body is not designed to be stressed continuously. So if you spend a good portion of your work hours stressed, the negative health impacts will accumulate progressively.
Not to be dramatic, but here are some of the things that excessive and prolonged stress has been known to cause:
Of course, if office workers are getting sick more often from stress, this also has a big impact on productivity levels. In a very straightforward way, stress can make workers take more sick leave.
But stress also causes poor productivity even when people are at work. One of the main reasons for this is that high levels of stress correlate with the human ‘fight or flight’ response. The thing about the fight or flight response is that it’s not a response used for thinking. When we get stressed, our brain literally shuts down and we start looking to do something instead. This is why there is a direct link between anxiety and poor concentration.
Another way that stress hurts productivity is that it makes us sleep badly. The simple fact is that if we don’t get enough good-quality sleep, our brain starts to suffer drastically. We lose focus, feel less motivated, and are just generally more sleepy.
Stress is a war you have to fight on a number of fronts. Let’s look at the key battles you need to win to achieve office wellness.
Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first. By now, most people are aware that stepping away from a stressful task can have big cognitive benefits. If we can trick our brains into not thinking about the thing that is causing us stress, then it can often have the effect of decluttering our thoughts about it.
But break-taking isn’t just a good thing to do when we get in a rut. Taking frequent breaks can actually work to prevent getting stuck with stressful thoughts in the first place. Stepping away from the desk and giving the brain a rest can have the effect of conserving mental energy so that we can perform at our peak for longer.
Of course, when you take a break, it’s critical that you are doing something that is actually positive. Perhaps the most positive thing you can do to reduce workplace stress is to take up a little exercise.
This doesn’t mean nipping out to the gym for a quick workout. Interestingly, you don’t need to invest much time or energy into exercising to get a destressing benefit. Even just dropping down and doing twenty pushups can have the immediate effect of reducing cortisol levels.
Of course, higher intensity exercise for longer periods will provide greater destressing benefits. But if you mix light exercise into your workday, you can manage stress on a short-term basis.
Another good way to get your mind feeling calm is to do some basic meditation. This doesn’t mean you have to go full zen. Simple breathing exercises for a period of a minute can also have an immediate impact on your cortisol levels.
If you close your eyes, control your breathing, and focus your mind on your breath, you are already following the basic principles of meditation. Doing this can have the immediate effect of slowing your heart rate, reducing blood pressure, and bringing you to a state of relaxation.
Wellness in the workplace also has a lot to do with who we are interacting with and how. Of course, there is the odd horrorshow workplace where it’s hard to get along with anyone. But in most places, there are going to be at least a couple of people that you can have a conversation with.
Even if these people aren’t your best friends, it’s a good idea to foster your relationships with them and take the time to engage with them on a personal level each day. Socialising with friends has been shown to produce endorphins, which is a chemical that makes us feel happier and less stressed.
If you want to know how to manage stress at work, it’s important to remember that the management process cannot be confined to the workplace. Managing stress is something you need to be doing all the time.
So, the first step is to absolutely ensure that you are getting enough good-quality sleep. To do this, you need to be following all of the sleep hygiene principles, which means no falling asleep to Netflix.
But, also, you should be making sure that you go to sleep according to a regular schedule. This will get your body into a good rhythm so that it knows when it’s time to rest and when it’s time to perform.
But wellness at work also comes down to that age-old idea of ‘leaving work at work’. You need to be fully switching your mind off from work thoughts when you leave the office. So, make sure you go and do enjoyable activities like sports and social events to give your brain a break and to pump up your endorphins.
With all of that being said, make sure you reach out and get help if stress is getting the better of you at work.