What Experts Say About Coping With Stress at Work

It’s no secret that the workplace is a common starting point for a stressful day. Whether you love your livelihood or not, what you do to pay the bills is more closely tied to how you spend each day than just about anything else. In a job you hate that could mean dealing with an overbearing boss, having to play nice with coworkers you don’t like, or simply lacking fulfillment at the end of the day. Meanwhile, tight deadlines and a heavy load of responsibilities can stack points up in the stress column of even a job that you love.

Whichever side of the coin you’re on, stress created at work doesn’t simply disappear when you head home for the day. At the very least, a stressful work environment will give you a headache or stomachache for the rest of day. But if a stressful work environment persists, it can contribute to depression, insomnia, obesity, and even heart disease. All this is to say that feeling stress from work is both common and worth taking seriously. So what do the experts — from doctors to researchers to organizations like the American Psychological Association — have to say about coping with stress at work?

Set boundaries:

How long did you last go without checking your phone? Whether it’s social media, text messages, or email, our affinity for staying plugged in has blurred the boundaries of acceptable work contact hours. Can you really blame your boss for sending an email late at night when we’re all so used to checking it after work hours anyway?

Sticking to your own boundaries of when you will and will not check work emails will alleviate the stress that can come with it. Even if the emails themselves aren’t bringing stress, they are associated with work. And if you’re reading this, we’ve likely established work is what’s stressing you out. So as long as you’re not required to be on call 24 hours a day, don’t willingly make yourself a slave to work emails.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your supervisor:

The American Psychological Association suggests that a healthy conversation with your supervisor in difficult times is more beneficial than you might think. It’s natural to assume that’s a horrible idea; who goes directly to the source to gripe about their problems, right? Well, a healthy employee is a productive employee, so your boss has a built-in incentive to help minimize work-related stress and create an environment that promotes every employee’s well-being.

The APA is also clear to point out your objective can’t be to lay out a list of complaints for your boss. Instead, asking them to help you find employer-sponsored wellness resources (counseling, for example), identifying ways to maximize time management, or even just enlisting help to make your workspace more comfortable are all ways a boss can be a part of reducing stress.

Schedule breaks to increase focus:

For anybody with a heavy workload, it’s natural to think the best plan of attack is to put your head down and labor your way through a workday. Truthfully, this is tough to do over the span of an 8-to-10-hour day in the office. “Instead, productivity goes down, stress levels go up and you have very little energy left over for your family,” says business psychologist and author of Success Under Stress, Sharon Melnick, Ph.D. Melnick says it’s been shown an intense 90 minutes of focus followed by a brief period of downtime and recovery will release that little bit of stress we built up and recharge us for more productivity.

Sit up straight:


Yes, really. “Your posture influences psychology and that influences behavior,” says Post Doctoral Associate and lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Andy Yap. Yap researched how posture can affect job performance by running workspace experiments. He found that sitting in tight and constrained positions, like being hunched over, can increase stress simply by making us feel less powerful. Yap suggests even getting up from a cramped space to strike “power poses” can help us stretch out and alleviate momentary stress.

Get more sleep:

This is so obvious it feels generic and disingenuous. It also feels like a Catch-22. If stress exists and is prominent, sleep is not going to be your greatest friend. On the flip side, healthy sleep patterns can be one of the most effective ways to eliminate that same stress.

Leaning on our friends at the APA once again, they remind us research has proven Americans would be happier, healthier, and safer with just an extra 60 to 90 minutes of sleep each night. So where can we find that extra hour or so of sleep? Doctors say the best way for us to control our sleeping patterns is to manage our time at the end of the night. Starting habits that promote a regular “winding down” period will teach your body when it’s time to get ready for sleep. “Start winding down two hours before bedtime,” says Dr. Neil Kavey, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at The New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. “Stop all work and end phone calls to family and friends, as often they are activating. Watching television is all right in the evening. However, an hour before bed, I recommend reading or listening to music.”

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