It’s already noon and you’re sitting at your desk, but have “nothing to show” for the last four hours. You are staring at the same overwhelming task list you made at eight o’clock this morning. The stress sets in: How did I get this far behind? How am I ever going to catch up now?
You are not alone. Workplace stress is a common affliction among Americans. The average business professional has anywhere from 30 to 100 tasks on their plate on any given day. Modern employees are interrupted seven times an hour and distracted up to two full hours each day. Four out of 10 employees at large companies feel “uncertain about their future.”
Americans’ notion of “productive” is very literal: producing work product. We need immediate, tangible results in order to feel like we are contributing adequately in our workplace. Our workplace culture will not change overnight, but we can control how we react to stress and anxiety in the workplace.
How to Alleviate Stress at Work
1. Rethink your “to do” list.
Listing every tiny task you have to complete throughout the day will result in an overwhelming “to do” list. Instead, think of your list as a list of goals instead of a list of tasks. Each day, pick three goals to meet and choose one big goal for the week, such as completing a larger project. The steps you have to take to complete each goal are implied. This will make your lists more manageable and less overwhelming. This method also sets crystal clear priorities for each day. Anything you complete on top of those three goals are like extra credit, which will give you a much-needed confidence boost.
2. Practice time blocking.
Contrary to popular belief, multitasking does not make you more productive. While you can’t predict every curveball that comes your way, you can prevent the unnecessary interruptions that are within your control. Time blocking is a method for maximizing your productivity throughout the workday. You assign specific tasks to specific times of the day — blocks of time. For example, by assigning a specific time to check your inbox each day (30 minutes at 8am and 30 minutes at 1pm) you eliminate the urge to check email throughout the day or respond to messages instantly. On average, it takes people 23 minutes to switch between tasks so this method saves you time. By saving time you are being proactive about your stress management and getting ahead of anxiety.
3. Unplug to recharge.
But I’m so stressed! But I have so much to do! But I can’t possibly step away from my screen! You can and you should. Study after study proves that if you take a break, you will be far more productive when you return to work. Take advantage of your lunch break and dine away from your desk to give yourself a moment to decompress, reducing anxiety. Additionally, consider employing techniques like the Pomodoro Method for time management, which suggests that working in 25-minute intervals with built-in 5-minute breaks actually increases productivity.
4. Unwind in a green space.
When you feel particularly anxious, turn off your phone and take a walk in a green space. Research shows that stress levels are directly related to the amount of green space in a person’s surroundings. The more green space, such as tree-lined streets and parks, the less stressed a person is likely to be. Being able to see trees and nature from your office window also reduces workplace anxiety. That said, if you don’t work near a window in your office consider the addition of a plant to your desk. Here is a list of over a dozen plants that thrive with little to no sunlight.
5. Laughter is the best medicine.
When it comes to stress, laughter really is the best medicine. Socialize more with a funny coworker or bookmark websites with funny videos and articles for a quick pick-me-up. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter relieves your stress response by increasing endorphins in your brain in addition to soothing tension in your body. The long term effects of laughing are so powerful that they can even reduce the effects of chronic depression.
6. Don’t forget to breathe.
Mindful meditation is a powerful stress-reducer. Mindful meditation reduces stress by actually lowering your blood pressure and encouraging ‘emotion regulation’ in the practitioner. Meditation trains you to recognize your emotions for what they are: a response to stimuli in your environment. Training yourself to be mindful discourages you from ruminating on the past or worrying about the future — both of which you cannot change.
Mindful meditation is a daily practice that requires guidance, training, and discipline. Start your meditation practice today with this 3-Minute Guided Meditation from AVS Mindfulness. Visit avsmindfulness.com to learn how more about our instructional mindfulness meditation app, slated for release in 2018.