Stress might feel like a normal and acceptable byproduct of today’s world, but it can take its toll on your body. When the acute response to a stressful moment has passed — the heart pounding and shallow breathing that may accompany a close call while driving or bad news from a family member — the body will fall back into a relaxed state. But constant episodes of acute stress or even continual low levels of stress can contribute to chronic stress. According to the American Psychological Association, this condition that can negatively affect nearly every part of you: muscles, lungs, heart and blood vessels, adrenal glands, liver, stomach, bowel, esophagus, parts of the brain, the nervous system, and even reproductive health in both men and women.
“In life, people tend to fill up their plate and take on more than they should, but at work it can be even more prevalent” said Patricia Sheffield, a certified wellness coach at Samaritan Health Services. “Stress affects physical and emotional health and makes people less satisfied with their jobs.”
Stress at work can come in the form of disagreements with coworkers or a supervisor, feeling like there isn’t enough time to accomplish what is needed and inappropriate or excessive demands.
“There’s really an awareness now that life can easily get extremely busy and cause a lot of stress,” said Sheffield. “People need to be purposeful about how to manage their stress.”
Sheffield shares these tips for managing stress at work.1. Set boundaries between work and home.
Sheffield reports that this is the top thing she sees people struggle with.
“Setting boundaries can be really difficult to do because people feel like they should say yes to everything,” said Sheffield. “But they end up missing out on their home life and time with family and friends because they haven’t set up proper boundaries.”
This may include not responding to emails or phone calls after a certain time of day, saying no to projects you don’t have time to complete within regular work hours or taking accrued vacation time.
Sheffield encourages people to communicate these boundaries with your supervisor and coworkers so others know what to expect, and to respect others who have set up their own work/life boundaries.2. Get some physical activity during the day.
Physical activity during the day — even if it’s just a 10-minute walk — is a great way to clear your mind and take a break from your computer or work space. But take it one step farther and incorporate regular cardio workouts into your week to boost your stress reduction.
Sheffield reports that physical activity is what seems to reap the biggest benefit, especially for those who may have turned to alcohol or drugs to help cope with work stress.
“Setting a regular time for a run or to go to the gym can make the biggest difference if you’re feeling burned out at work or overwhelmed with work demands,” she said.3. Get good quality sleep.
Most adults need seven to nine hours of quality sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends turning off or putting away electronic devices (including your cell phone) an hour before you go to bed to help your body calm down for sleep.
4. Make time for leisure activities or hobbies.
Doing things you enjoy can lower stress levels and help you feel better.
“I’m a big believer in people seeking out or developing a passion for things they enjoy,” said Sheffield. “If it’s work, that’s fabulous, but if it’s other things then really pursue those passions in your off hours and take time to live the life that you want to live.”
That doesn’t have to mean hang gliding or mountain climbing. Even simple things like gardening, knitting or hiking with your family are beneficial.
Sheffield, who also counsels cancer survivors as they consider the end of their life, notes that travel and spending time with friends and family are the things mentioned most often as missed opportunities.
5. Eat for a healthy life.
Eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated and avoiding using substances like alcohol and drugs to deal with stress will help keep your body strong. In the moment you may feel like a takeout pizza, but your body will thank you for a home cooked meal.