Stress is a useful and required for a normal, healthy, functioning body. In fact, a little stress is necessary in order to help you feel more alert, more focused and more productive. If we never had any stress, we’d probably never get anything done! In this article, we’ll look at some ways to reduce stress at work.
The key is to make sure that your stress levels are at an optimal level, and your natural cycles to line up with the times when you need to be most productive during the day.
Let’s start with your morning, before you even get to work.
Get rid of your alarm
Alarms work because the sudden noises they make are unnatural – they make us sit up and take notice. They trigger a stress response.
And now bear in mind that when this happens, you are often in the very deepest stage of sleep.
Reduce stress by waking up gently. One option is to use a fitness tracker/smart watch that has a smart alarm function. These work by monitoring your heartrate and your movement during the night, in order to estimate how awake or asleep you are at any given stage. Using this information, they can then wake you up at the point when you’re in light REM sleep, rather than deep sleep. The result is that you’re woken at a point when you’re already coming around anyway – and this is combined with a gentle nudge from a vibration, rather than a loud ringing.
Avoid rush hour to reduce stress
Commuting to work at peak hour is one of the worst things you can do for your stress levels throughout the day. A typical commute will trigger fear. Moving something quickly towards a person’s face will cause them to recoil and to see an increase in their heartrate and their stress response. Now think about a typical commute – filled with people moving rapidly towards you, lots of noise, lots of pollution and generally huge amounts of chaos.
If you’re stuck in traffic surrounded by cars and trucks going nowhere and having horns blaring is very stressful!
Before your day has even begun, you’ll be experiencing huge amounts of stress.
This might be outside of your control. But if it is within your control, then avoid this kind of commute. Even just going in an hour earlier to avoid the rush-hour may be a good choice.
If you commute, listen to some music or something you enjoy. Instead of getting frustrated and having road rage, listen to a podcast of something you’re interested in or that inspires you – you will be much happier and calmer by the time you get to work!
Once you’re at work, there are certain other things you can do to help you reduce stress at work.
Skip the coffee
Coffee works by triggering a stress response.
It starts by mimicking adenosine in your brain. Adenosine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. As adenosine builds up, the more tired you get and the less active the brain becomes. When you drink coffee, the caffeine binds to adenosine receptors in the brain. Caffeine has the opposite effect of adenosine. Caffeine gives you an instant boost in energy levels by making you feel more awake and focussed.
This also leads to a general increase in brain activity though and this is where the stress response comes in. The brain notices this sudden wakefulness and what do you know, it assumes that something very important must be going on. And then you get a release of more neurotransmitters associated with stress, like adrenaline. This increases the heartrate, dilates the pupils, muscles tighten … in other words, it creates a stress response. Reduce stress by reducing your caffeine intake.
Caffeine in itself is not bad. In small doses it can help boost memory and wakefulness and may have some other health benefits. But what it also is, is a quick way to make any stressful situation worse. If you’ve got a busy day, you just commuted during rush hour and you sit down at work to drink a big cup of coffee, you’re only going to make yourself more stressed and wired.
And guess what? Once again, this is going to result in a crash shortly afterward when your energy levels have been depleted. Don’t drink caffeine as part of a routine. Drink it when you need that extra push – don’t rely on it and don’t combine it with other stressors.
Manage your blood sugar
One very simple way to keep your stress at bay, is to avoid letting your blood sugar drop too low. Low blood sugar triggers the release of cortisol and other stress hormones.
The best way to manage your blood sugar levels, is to avoid consuming simple carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the best source of blood sugar for the human body but the problem is that in their simple form, they release energy into the blood much too quickly. This results in a sudden spike in sugar, which then gets taken up and leaves you drained again. Not ideal for working.
If you have pancakes and syrup, it will wake you up and make you feel good in the morning but an hour later you’ll start to run low on energy and that will cue the release of cortisol.
Try consuming a source of calories that will release the sugar more gradually into your bloodstream. A great choice is some form of complex carbohydrate, such as oats. This takes longer to reach the blood stream, providing a steady stream of blood sugar and prevents you from going into alert ‘starvation’ mode.
When you consume a fat, this will sit in the stomach while it gets broken down, providing you with a steady release of energy that will help you go about your business throughout the day. Try avocados for a source of good fats.
Comfort is fantastic for reducing stress. It only takes your keys to be digging into your pocket for example, for your body to consider you as uncomfortable and potentially being damaged. If you can sit in a more supportive and comfortable chair, in a comfortable temperature, surrounded by things that put you at ease (plants have been shown to do this well for most people), then you will start to feel a lot calmer – even when you’re at work and other stresses are being thrown at you.
Spend time away from screens
Computers, smartphones and television are all great – for entertainment and increasing productivity. Unfortunately, they’re bad for us when it comes to stress hormones. Light from screens can trigger the release of cortisol. Constant messages and alerts essentially trigger a series of small stress responses while we’re surfing the web.
This is manageable but it becomes problematic when you spend too much time on the computer. Simply going for occasional walks and taking breaks from the screen throughout the day are great way to help your body recover. Take a break and use the Best Stress Relief Technique to help get you through the day.
Another tip is to take time off just before bed. If you aim to have a restorative and restful night’s sleep, then you need to give yourself time to wind down before you go to sleep. Taking time away from computers is one of the best ways to do this. Before bed, have a bath with epsom salts instead to relieve muscle soreness and stress. Or read a real book. Give yourself half an hour of screen off time before bed and you’ll get to sleep much quicker and feel more refreshed when you wake up.
At the end of your working day, clear your desk. This routine will be a signal to your brain that the working day is over and you can start to relax. It will also make it less stressful for you the next morning – when you see a clean desk, it’s like a fresh start but if your desk is messy from yesterday, you go into stress and overwhelm.
You may not be able to get rid of all the stress in your life (and nor should you), but too much stress is not sustainable. We need to learn how to reduce stress at work in order to maintain a healthy, balanced life. We’ve given you some useful tips to get you started. Do you have any other stress reducing tips?