Under ideal circumstances work can bring us meaning and purpose, but for many people it can also be a primary source of stress. We also know that more than one in four workers in Canada report experiencing high levels of stress on a regular basis. Stress at work can emerge suddenly in the face of high-pressure projects, deadlines, and crises, or can be an ongoing response to a difficult boss, toxic company culture, or a job that is misaligned with our strengths or values. Stress can also affect performance and well-being at work even if that stress is arising from other areas of life.
Stress activates the “fight or flight” response, and so in small doses it can help us to be more alert and focused when dealing with a sudden crisis; however, when this response is constantly activated, it negatively impacts our ability to function at our best. Chronic stress is also associated with many adverse health effects, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and infertility, in addition to mental health problems like anxiety and depression.
The upside is that stress is manageable. There are many effective and simple ways to calm the nervous system and de-activate the stress response when it’s not helpful. The following are quick tips that can be easily integrated into a busy workday:
Work De-Stress Tips
- Just breathe: The quickest way to diffuse stress is to mindfully focus on slowing and deepening the breath. You can use a technique such as box breathing or belly breathing, or download an app (i.e. Headspace, Calm) that will guide you through a quick meditation.
- Visualization: Try visualizing your favourite tranquil place—one that you associate with peace and well-being. Recall as many details as possible as you imagine yourself in that space. Another option is to keep a few photos on hand that you can use to vividly remember specific times when you were happy and relaxed.
- Connect with nature: Take a short walk through a nearby forest, park or other green space, which research suggests can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels. There is also evidence that having plants in your office can have similar beneficial effects.
- Get moving: Sitting for long periods in front of a computer can increase existing tension and stress, so be sure to take a few minutes each hour to stretch, walk across the office, or try one of the many two-minute workouts available online.
- Keep a list of what matters: Make a list of the people and things that are most important to you in life. When you’re finding yourself preoccupied with smaller, daily stressors, it can be helpful to reflect on this list and contextualize these stressors within the bigger picture.
- Use the best medicine: Laughter is a powerful stress reliever. Watch a couple minutes of your favourite comedian, call a funny friend, recall your most hilarious memory, or have a quick chat with that person in your office who always has you in stiches.
- Reach out for support: Talking to someone who will listen and be empathic can help to relieve stress both in the moment, and build the sense of connectedness that promotes longer-term resilience.
These tips can help you to achieve a greater sense of calm at work and develop effective tools to cope with stress throughout your life. If you’re finding that your stress becomes unmanageable or chronic, it is also advisable to reach out to a qualified clinician for help.
By: Zoë Laksman, Psy.D, C.Psych and Laura Clarridge, Ph.D.
Zoë Laksman has practiced as a Registered Clinical Psychologist at The Clinic on Dupont since 2007. Laura Clarridge is a certified executive coach who helps her clients find fulfilling educational and career pathways. Their backgrounds and training have shaped their interest in promoting improved psychological health, interpersonal functioning and wellness. They work together as a clinical team and as the developers of The Clinic on Dupont’s online presence.