How to Be Less Stressed at Work [+ Hacks for Instant Relief]

Being stressed at work is a real bummer. If stress has become a daily standard for you, this article is going to teach you how to be less stressed at work by explaining why it happens, what’s going on psychologically and hormonally in your brain and body when you’re stressed, and specific things you can start doing today to be less stressed at work, and start to enjoy it!

According to AIS, about 80% of people are stressed out about work, and about 50% say they need help figuring out how to manage it (the rest probably just feel hopeless).

The question is: what’s causing the stress, how do you combat its negative effects, and what can you do today to start taking back control of your day, and thrive at work?

Why We Get Stressed at Work

Most common reasons for stress at work

Any of these striking a chord?

The problem with chronic stress at work is that it affects your ability to perform and feel your best. Brain fog, distraction, tight muscles, and even depression can stem from stress. Gross.

Believe it or not though, some stress is actually good for you, and productive.

Good Stress Vs Bad Stress

Our bodies are biologically built to handle stress, and the effects of stress are supposed to be a positive reaction to a negative external stimulus. The problem is, when we become chronically stressed (stressed all the time), our brains and bodies become negatively affected because we aren’t built to be stressed 24/7.

Our bodies have something called the autonomic nervous system which includes the parasympathetic nervous system, which activates the “rest and digest” response when things are calm, and also the sympathetic nervous system, which activates the “fight or flight” response when things are stressful.

Ideally, we want most of our day to be spent in the rest and digest state, but as you know, that’s not usually the case.

Consider life thousands of years ago. Living in an environment where you had to be ready to run from a lion or predator at a moment’s notice. That’s when stress would be a good thing. We wanted to have our flight or fight response activated, or we’d be eaten. Nobody wants that to happen (except for the lion…).

Short spurts of stress can increase the urgency, energy, and focus that are required when our backs are against the wall at work, and sometimes it’s exactly what we need to perform at a high level. Long term stress, however, is detrimental.

Let’s go a little deeper into the brain and body and investigate what’s happening when we’re stressed.

What’s Happening in the Brain and Body When We’re Stressed?

Stress is an internal reaction to an external event that requires a change. All stress starts with how the brain interprets a situation, creating a chain reaction throughout the body.

When a stressful situation happens, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing called the amygdala sends a signal to the hypothalamus, which is in charge of the stress response.

The hypothalamus then sends two signals, one to the pituitary gland, and one to the adrenal medulla. This is where it gets interesting.

The pituitary gland then secretes adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which stimulates the adrenal cortex cortisol to help the body maintain a steady stream of blood sugar for energy and to cope with the stress, while the adrenal medulla secretes adrenaline to prepare the body for fight or flight.

Ideally after the “attack” is finished, the parasympathetic system takes back over and puts the body and brain back into the “rest and digest” state.

Short term stress is a perfectly healthy and normal part of life, and typically is no cause for concern. What is cause for concern is when we become stressed so frequently or so intensely that our bodies remain in a stressed state long term.

Chronic stress can cause chaos in your mind and body if left unchecked. It’s been shown to increase risk of various health and psychological issues like:

  • Anxiety
  • Unwanted weight gain
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Memory and focus impairment
  • Problems sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Heart disease
  • Impaired immune system

How to be less stressed at work

The occasional stressful situation while on the job is unavoidable and out of our control, but these hacks will help you take back control of how you respond to the everyday stressors at work.

8 Hacks to be less stressed at work, once and for all

Hack #1: Daily exercise

Exercise, even just a light 20 min walk, has numerous benefits for reducing pyschological stress like easing the mind, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system if you’re in nature, improves mood by releasing endorphins, and helps you get better sleep.

Hack #2: Take a supplement to reduce the negative effects of stress

Supplements with adaptogenic properties like Deep Breath help your body adapt to stress more easily, and are a good way to help your mind and body toward homeostatic regulation (everything being back to normal).

Hack #3: Get good sleep, consistently

Sleep and stress can easily become a vicious cycle. The more stressed you are, the harder it is to sleep, and the more stressed you become because your body isn’t recovering properly. Nip it in the bud and prioritize sleep as best you can.

Hack #4: Start your day with the most difficult task

The brain has a natural decline in mental energy and will power as the day rolls on, so to avoid a stressful task hanging over your head all day, get it done first thing in the morning while you’re fresh and not distracted.

Hack #5: Schedule your day the evening before

Lack of organization can cause intense feelings of overwhelm and anxiety. Try to end each day by taking 15 minutes to set your task schedule for the following day so when you wake up, you’ll know exactly what needs to get done.

Hack #6: Be honest with your coworkers

If you find yourself consistently having too much on your plate, it’s okay to be honest with your boss or your coworkers and ask for more support. Usually just letting them know how you’re feeling helps them to make fewer nonessential requests and lend a helping hand when they’re able which can relieve the looming stress of having a never-ending todo list.

Hack #7: Set clear boundaries for work and relaxation

With how interconnected we all are, and how accessible the internet is, it’s easy to fall into the trap of always being “on” even when you don’t have to be; checking email at home, sneaking in a little more work before bed, etc. It’s an important signal to your brain, however, to have a clear separation of work and relaxation so it knows it’s okay to rest. I suggest having hard cut off times for work being finished for the day, and at a minimum, a no work in the bedroom policy. Your subconscious is always paying attention to the signals you give it.

Hack #8: Take a mindful minute, and breathe

In times of extreme stress, take a few minutes to practice mindfulness meditation using an app like Oak, Headspace, or Calm. Even just 10 minutes helps reset your brain and actually trains it to problem solve more quickly. If you only have 30 seconds, try taking 6 deep breaths of about 5 seconds each (in through the nose and out through the mouth). 6 deep breaths have been shown to have an immediate effect on noticeably decreasing stress.

Remember, the goal isn’t to eliminate stress completely, it’s to learn how to better manage it and avoid chronic stress. Next time you’re at work and feeling stressed, give one of these hacks a try. Conquering chronic stress isn’t always easy, but it’s 100% possible. You’ve got this!

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