Americans can put another feather in our caps: We’ve ranked above average yet again. Unfortunately, the metric in question happens to be our stress levels. (Thanks for the stark reminder, Gallup.)
All joking aside, stress has reached what some are calling epidemic proportions — especially on the job. According to a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report, 75% of workers feel more burned out than previous generations. Many employees name work stress as a barrier to happier family lives, with 80% of respondents saying their jobs stress them out, per the American Institute of Stress.
Why all this mess over stress? Much of the problem comes from increasing workplace responsibilities without a corresponding boost in authority or control. Not everyone collapses when the stress meter rises, though. Some individuals are able to reframe stress to stave off anxiety-related health problems such as headaches, nausea, memory loss, fatigue, and mood swings.
A study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison examined the connection between a high-stress lifestyle and a negative perception of stress. Researchers found that people who lead high-stress lives and have a negative perception of stress tend to deal with increased health risks. The good news? A change in perspective can help people endure stress with fewer negative outcomes. When a Harvard team put participants through stressful situations, they found that people who had been educated on the function of stress breezed through the tests with far more ease and confidence.
Stress can be a positive trigger, especially if it keeps you from procrastinating or nudges you to take calculated risks. Still, no one should feel inundated by monkeys on their back every week. Ceaseless work stress might be a sign to seek greener pastures. Occasional stress, on the other hand, can be managed.
Want to boost your mental fortitude so you can successfully handle a looming stress-bender of a day? Try these five strategies to navigate tension like a pro:
1. Wake up early.
Tempted to hit the snooze button on your alarm? You’re only going to give yourself a late start, something that can quickly devolve into feelings of exasperation as time slips away.
Even if you aren’t looking forward to what awaits you at the office, force yourself to stick to your regular routine. Get up at the same time, drink your coffee, and make plans just as you would any other morning. By sticking to a routine, your body won’t be in panic mode when you get to work.
2. Prioritize your tasks.
Take five minutes before bed to jot down a to-do list for the next day, including any items giving you anxiety. Doing so frees your mind to focus on sleep rather than worry about what’s coming tomorrow. Be as specific as you can — go with tasks like “Spend 15 minutes outlining the presentation for next week” rather than “Work on presentation.”
In the morning, review your list and underline any tasks you dread. Guess what? Those are the things you’ll crush first. Otherwise, you would spend hours fretting about them and not being able to concentrate on anything else. Once the big stressors are gone, enjoy the thrill of crossing off your accomplishments one after another.
3. Practice peace before pandemonium.
Rather than hurriedly heading straight into turmoil, give yourself permission to zone out a bit. For some people, that means going on a walk around the block. For others, it may involve journaling, meditating, or listening to music. The point is to not do anything related to work and just breathe — and live.
Maura Thomas, an author and expert on attention management and productivity, recommends quietude as a way to regain control. “Starting out feeling rushed and overwhelmed can set the tone for a day full of the same,” Thomas explains. “One way that you can start the day a little less frazzled and a little more in control of your attention is to have a routine that includes some quiet time, such as meditation, reading, deep breathing, or stretching.”
4. Fuel your body.
Before you fall into the vending machine trap, heed this warning: Salty and sugary snack foods may comfort you temporarily, but they won’t give you the energy and mental clarity you need to accept stress and regulate your responses. Instead of relying on processed goodies, keep a stash of nutritious snacks in your car, bag, or desk. Make them your go-to treats to get you through the tough times at work. If you have natural, nutrient-rich foods on hand, you’ll never worry about getting a bite on the go.
Set your nutrition intentions each morning, but remember to not be too hard on yourself — your criticism will just compound your stress. As Nathan Sheets, CEO of Nature Nate’s Honey Co. puts it, “This is a lifetime journey, and you can expect bumps along the way. Just give yourself a little grace and get back to those healthy choices when you can.”
5. Make time for loved ones.
When your feet hit the floor, do you instantly grab your dog’s leash and rush outside? Is your morning a mix of banging incessantly on your teen’s door to “wake up” and frantically looking for an unwrinkled shirt? Embrace the bedlam and let yourself absorb the humor of the moment by spending some extra time with your loved ones — it’s great for your psyche.
Not only does focusing on your loved ones and solving problems before work get you out of your head, but it also can bolster your attitude. A kiss from your kiddo or snuggle with a four-legged friend does wonders to reduce the hold stress has on your life.
Your life will probably never be stress-free — and that’s perfectly OK. Rather than let your stressors live in your head, push them as far away as you can. The more mental distance you create between you and any aggravations, the less control they will have on your life.