Work on one thing at a time
Today’s office worker changes tasks an average of every three minutes. Such a lightning-speed day of interruptions is helped along by the multi-tasking made possible by computers. Working on eight things at once might seem impressive, but it isn’t. Rather, it is exhausting, inefficient, and highly stressful. So, instead of constantly checking e-mails, having two or three documents open on your screen, or returning e-mails as they come in, structure your day to focus on one thing at a time. In particular, start your day by blocking out two hours for uninterrupted hands-on work. During this time, do not answer your phone or check e-mails. Then check e-mails and respond all at once. Go to lunch. Structure your afternoon in the same way. Designate a time immediately after lunch and an hour before you leave for returning calls. These are silent signs that stress is making you sick.
Work in short bursts
The flip side to multi-tasking is that it is hard to sustain creativity or intensity on one task for long stretches. Rather, our brains work in cycles of creativity, then take a rest. So try this: after an hour or so of concentrated work, get up for five minutes, walk around, do some stretches. Not only will this help the quality of your work, but by the time you finish your day, you’ll have fitted in 30 minutes of stress-reducing exercise.
Deal directly, but constructively, with difficult workplace relationships
“Toxic people” are those whose negativity or demeanour seems to drain or annoy you. This might be your boss, your assistant, your colleague—in other words, they are people with whom you frequently interact. After a negative encounter with a toxic person, the temptation is to be angry and accusatory. But that leads nowhere. Instead, try this direct, honest, and disarming approach: “I am finding our interactions stressful because of [blank] and am feeling bad about [blank]. I would like our working relationship to improve. What suggestions do you have for me?” Even if you feel that the other person is the one who should change, by asking for his or her suggestions, you avoid putting that person on the defensive. If your colleague is even a little bit reasonable, this might make him or her admit, “Well, I suppose there are some changes I could make too.” Use these tips to make stress management way easier.
Praise yourself at least once a day
Most of us don’t take enough time to praise ourselves for doing things well. So when you’ve completed an interim or long-term goal, tell yourself—out loud—what a good job you’ve done. You’ll get a burst of confidence that will go a long way toward helping you to maintain your cool amid the workplace madness.
Be creative in motivating yourself
Here’s a good one: write a check to an organization you loathe, put it in a stamped, addressed envelope and tell a trusted friend to post it if you fail to meet an important deadline or complete a vital task. Or take the positive route: give the friend something you really cherish or desire and let your friend give it back to you only if you achieve your goal. This is the difference between stress and anxiety.
Forego the coffee during team meetings or group work
A study sponsored by the British Economic and Social Research Council found that when men drank coffee while working together in a group, it tended to make the group less effective. The study also found that just the perception that the drink contained caffeine (whether or not it actually did) also increased the men’s feelings of stress and their heart rates.
Try this stress buster
Stand against the wall and slide down it as if you were sitting in a chair. Stay there for a few minutes without looking down, just feeling your spine against the wall. Breathe deeply (in through your nose, out through your mouth) and focus on one peaceful thought (waves crashing on the shore, a glass of wine by a roaring fire). Press your feet into the ground as you hold this position and picture the stress oozing out of your body. When you stand up, shake out your arms and legs and return to work refreshed. These mini meditations can also banish stress from your brain.
Keep a vacation file on your desk
Fill it with brochures of places you’d like to visit. When you’re feeling stressed, daydream your way through it. It will remind you of one reason you’re working, and provide a little virtual vacation.
Read a poem out loud twice a day
The cadence, words, and images will soothe your soul. Not into poetry? If you’re religious, try reading a psalm or other sacred writings. If you love music, listen to a few of your favorite songs.
Keep an inspiration wall
Make an altar or display in your office to remind you of your life outside the office. Include pictures of your spouse, children and/or pet, a photograph of yourself doing something fun, plus a memento that reminds you of a special occasion. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed and stressed out, take five minutes and simply stare at the display. Recall the day each picture was taken. Hold the memento and return in your mind to the place where you got it. Now you’re ready to return to work.