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10 easy self-care hacks guaranteed to reduce stress at work

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My heart is racing, my mouth is dry, and I have a surge of energy. You may think that I’m running a marathon, where in fact I’m just feeling overwhelmed at work. I know I’m not alone. In fact, 3 out of 4 Americans describe their work as being stressful and 54% of Americans are concerned about the level of stress in their daily lives. Rather than succumbing to burnout, I want you to try these 10 easy ways to reduce stress at work. Trust me, taking these steps towards your self-care will help you avoid burnout and feel more balanced.

Now that some of us have to return to the workplace after over a year of working from home, it is critical to identify and integrate healthy ways to reduce stress at work.

In this article, I will briefly explain how stress attacks your mind and body. Then I will provide you 10 easy self-care hacks that will guarantee to reduce your stress in the workplace. Start using these tips today so you can feel motivated, energetic, and most importantly happy and stress-free at work.

What is stress?

Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension that is seen in reaction to an event that makes someone feel frustrated, angry, or nervous.

Can stress be good for you?

In the short term, stress can be helpful to make sure that something bad does not happen to you. Our brains are designed to protect us from harm and potential threats, therefore your stress response is activated to help you.

However, if you experience chronic stress, the stress manifests in your body and can turn into symptoms of illness.

As a result, stress over a long period of time can be detrimental to your physical and psychological health.

How stressed are you?

First, it’s important to get a baseline to find out what your current stress level is before you try to figure out ways to reduce stress at work or school.

To find out your current stress level, you can take this free quiz.

We are influenced by both external and internal factors that impact our level of stress. Some of these are protective factors like your friends and family whereas others can be a source of your stress such as your home environment or finances.

A woman working at home with her two children playing in the background

Sometimes when you’re experiencing relational stress, you may notice your stress level is higher, your life is out of balance as a result negatively impacting how you function in the workplace.

How your body responds to stress

Although we are living in the 21st century, our bodies evolved to be able to respond to attacks by predators, often known as the “fight or flight” stress response. Essentially our hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol, are pumped into our bloodstream when we’re under stress.

Though today’s stressors are different, our primitive responses remain the same.

Woman working on her laptop on her bed while dog sleeps beside her

When you feel stressed, your adrenal glands release the same adrenaline and cortisol hormones to avoid danger as your evolutionary ancestors did.

These hormones cause you to become more alert and your heart rate, and blood pressure to increase. Instead of running away or throwing a spear at the charging lion, you try to cope with the situation in new ways.

“The fight-or-flight response itself is meant to be short-term and adaptive, which makes sense: When your body goes into that mode, your normal immune function is temporarily shut down. If you think of fight-or-flight as triggered by something like a tiger chasing you, your body devotes energy and resources to running away, not to digest the last thing you ate — or to sending immune-fighting cells to kill a cold virus. It’s when you’re in that state chronically that the cascading inflammatory response is set up.”

Denise Schipani Here’s how stress and inflammation are linked

Researchers have demonstrated that the maladaptive response to stress over time creates chronic physical and mental health problems due to the increase of inflammation in the body.

The latest brain health research is repeatedly showing a connection between inflammation and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.

How do I recognize if I’m under too much stress?

Each of us has a different threshold for stress. For some, buying a house or changing careers might be overwhelmingly stressful, while others might relish the change. It’s important to get a handle on what you personally find stressful and how you react to stress.

If you’re concerned that you might be feeling too much stress, look for physical, emotional, or behavioral red flags that persist over time.

Physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Insomnia
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Grinding teeth
  • Muscle tics
  • Stomachaches
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Backaches
  • Neck pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • High blood pressure
  • Skin problems, such as hives
  • Reduced sexual desire

Emotional and behavioral symptoms of stress include:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Overeating
  • Not eating
  • Gaining or losing a lot of weight
  • Difficulty concentrating -Impaired short-term memory
  • Deteriorating productivity at home, work, or school
  • Poor outlook on the future
  • Difficulty maintaining positive personal relationships
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Unproductive worry
  • Sadness, anxiety, or depression

Are there unhealthy ways to deal with stress?

It’s human nature to distract yourself when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed. This is especially true in the workplace, in school, and at home.

When you’re in the workplace and stressed out about a looming project deadline, you may find it easier to scroll through your social media feed and drink endless cups of coffee, instead of actually working on your project.

These activities might bring temporary relief but fail to lessen your stress in any meaningful way. In fact, these behaviors are self-defeating because they only increase stress over the long haul, both physically and emotionally.

A woman biting a pencil while staring at her computer because she has WFH burnout

Let’s just say that you’re using these distractions to avoid what is really the root of your stress. Avoidance is a way to cope with your stress but we all know that eventually, you’ll have to complete that project right?

So how exactly do you learn to handle your stress in a healthier way?

Importance of handling stress

Why do some people seem to respond to stress better than others?

First, it’s important to know that each person deals with stress in their own way. Some may cope better because of their lifestyle, past experiences, habits, or social support.

The 24/7 demands of today’s busy lifestyle are a reason why it’s important for you to reduce stress at work and other aspects of your life.

This is vital because if stress is constant or prolonged, like high-pressure work, relationship problems, financial worries, a loved one’s illness, can wreak havoc on your emotional balance and raise your risk of chronic illness.

Three important features of coping with stress are the following:

  • What you think
  • How you feel
  • How you respond to the stressful situation

A great tip to learn to respond rather than react when you’re under stress is to tell yourself “I’m not under attack. I am safe.”

Taking a few deep breaths and saying this mantra gives your brain time to pause and calm down. In doing so, you will respond from the logical part of your brain.

10 easiest ways to reduce stress at work

Now that you took the quiz to find out your baseline, know all about what stress is as well as the importance of handling your stress, you can tap into this list of ways to reduce stress at work.

1. Trick your brain

Did you know that when you feel more in control of a stressful situation and view it as a challenge, rather than a threat then your body has lower amounts of stress hormones?

In addition, having healthy coping mechanisms helps you respond better to a stressful situation.

Interestingly enough, how you think of the stressful situation impacts how your body reacts. You can actually trick your brain into going into a “fight or flight” response.

Clip art of human brain

Oftentimes I get anxious when I have a meeting with my manager at work. I notice that my heart starts racing and my mouth gets dry. Therefore, my body is preparing me for a perceived threat.

To trick my brain, I take a few deep breaths, sip some water and reassure myself that I am safe. I tell myself that the physiological response is a positive challenge to prepare me for this meeting. Soon after, my heart rate slows down and I feel calmer.

Executing this trick takes time and practice. You just have to stay consistent and before you know it, you can see that it’s one of the easy ways to reduce stress at work.

2. Take a time out

Oftentimes when you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, you become emotionally dysregulated.

Emotional dysregulation is when you are feeling a range of emotions like sadness, anger, irritability, and frustration. You are not able to calm down, you focus your attention on the negative and project your unpleasant emotions onto others.

When you are emotionally dysregulated, your mind is hijacked and you can’t think clearly. So instead of lashing out in anger or frustration, learn to push pause.

Getaway House Big Bear Pantea Rahimian sitting on the bed reading

Keep in mind, it takes your brain approximately 20 to 30 minutes to calm down.

Since your body and brain are hijacked with adrenaline and cortisol, it’s best to do something active, not passive. Activities like walking outside, taking deep breaths, or talking to a co-worker will help you calm down.

Taking a time out is a great way to reduce the stress at work so you can act and not react when you’re overwhelmed and under stress.

3. Watch a cute animal video

According to a new study by the University of Leeds, watching cute animal videos can help reduce stress levels by up to 50%, reduce your heart rate and blood pressure in under a minute.

So if you want immediate stress relief, watch a cute animal video.

Watching a video is one of the most enjoyable ways to reduce stress at work and bring much-needed laughter to your day.

4. Take some deep breaths

Just focusing on your breath or changing the way you breathe can make a big difference to your overall stress level. Breathing techniques can calm your body and your brain in just a few minutes.

When you breathe deeply, you are countering the effects of the “fight or flight” response from your body and activating the parasympathetic response.

Try this one-minute deep breathing video.

Another breath practice is the following: take a deep inhale for a count of 5, hold it for 2, and exhale for 5. Repeat for a cycle of 10 breaths.

5. Talk to a friend or colleague

Have you noticed that you cope better with stress when you talk with someone?

Sometimes it’s challenging to deal with stressors when you’re alone and isolated. On the other hand, when you communicate with a confidante, you naturally begin feeling better.

Ways to reduce stress at work by talking to a friend

Cultivate and find meaningful ways to connect with your support network. This, in turn, will bolster your mental and physical health and make you more resilient.

Remember, your friendships are vital not just for your health, but also for your survival.

6. Go on a walk

Exercise is a fantastic stress reliever that can work in minutes. Taking a walk allows you to get a change of scenery and can give you a new perspective.

So whether you just take a stroll around the office to get a break from a daunting task or go for a long walk in a park, this activity is a simple yet effective way to rejuvenate your mind and body.

7. Get a hug

One of the best ways to reduce stress at work is to get a hug.

When you hug someone, oxytocin (also known as the “cuddle hormone”) is released. Oxytocin is associated with higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress.

Hugging is one of the ways to reduce stress at work

This hormone also reduces the stress hormone norepinephrine and can produce a sense of relaxation.

Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask someone for a hug. This simple gesture will help both of you feel happier and less stressed.

8. Start coloring

Research consistently shows that coloring can have a meditative effect. Remember the whole adult coloring book trend? Well, if you tried it you may remember how relaxed you felt during and after coloring.

One study found that anxiety levels decline in people who were coloring complex geometric patterns, making it a perfect outlet for stress reduction.

Coloring is one of the ways to reduce stress at work

Coloring is an easy and enjoyable stress relief activity that you can try at your home, school, or office. You can get free printable adult coloring pages and even use highlighters to color.

9. Practice progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation involves relaxing all the muscles in your body, one by one. This is one of my favorite stress relief activities.

This practice requires you to tighten and relax each muscle group, starting with your forehead and moving down to your toes. 

With progressive muscle relaxation, you’ll learn to recognize and identify tension and tightness in your body. Through this exercise, you will gain a better appreciation of your body and be able to relax more easily.

This is a great exercise to try if you’re having a hard time falling asleep at night. For more tips on how to sleep better check out 10 Ways To Put A Racing Mind To Bed And Sleep Now.

10. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 method:

The “5-4-3-2-1” tool is a simple yet effective method for regaining control of your mind when stress or anxiety threatens to take over.

I teach this method to my clients because it works well and you can use it anywhere and at any time.

A woman with long hair drinking a cup of tea to practice self-care

This method works wonders and consists of more than counting backward from five. Rather, the hack helps bring us back to the present by relying on our five senses – sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.

Next time you want to have immediate stress relief do the following:

  • Name 5 Things That You Can See
  • Identify 4 Things That You Can Hear
  • What Are 3 Things That You Can Feel
  • Find 2 Things That You Can Smell
  • Name 1 Thing That You Can Taste

This method is available to you even when you may feel like you’re running a marathon. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling zen and relaxed.

I still feel like my life is spinning out of control. What are some other tips for reducing stress?

  • Try to look at change as a positive challenge, not a threat.
  • Work to resolve conflicts with other people.
  • Get away from your daily stresses through hobbies, sports, or social activities that you enjoy.
  • Develop friendships or other forms of social support.
  • Share your feelings and ask for help if you need it. Don’t try to cope alone.
  • Give yourself positive feedback and go easy on self-criticism.
  • Get organized and plan ahead.
  • Slow down. Take one thing at a time, rather than trying to juggle everything at once.
  • Be realistic about what’s possible. Learn to compromise.
  • Practice acceptance.
  • Practice gratitude.
  • Enjoy yourself. Look for humor in difficult situations.

When should I start looking for help from a counselor?

To begin with, there is no shame in getting professional help as one of the ways to reduce stress at work. Remember, more than half of Americans are feeling work stress and symptoms of burnout.

A female therapist talking to her client

In short, get professional help if you notice that despite diligent attempts at stress management, you continue to have physical or psychological symptoms of stress for more than two months.

To learn more, check out This is how to start therapy the right way.

Wrap-up

There have been many times in my life where I felt like nothing was going my way. Since I struggle with depression and anxiety, learning to manage my stress is instrumental for my mental health.

Although I work hard every day to maintain my mental health, there are times when external stressors throw my life out of balance. It is in these times that I reach out to my therapist. Talking to a counselor along with engaging in all my other self-care activities helps prevent burnout.

Moreover, my job as a medical social worker is inherently stressful. I work in a fast-paced environment and provide mental health services to children and adults who have had extensive trauma. This can be draining and overwhelming to my mind and body.

However, I’ve learned to engage and identify ways to reduce stress at work while I’m in the office. As a result, I’m happy and productive because I’ve learned that I can’t eliminate stress; instead, I can manage it.

Now, it’s up to you to take action!

  1. Share this article on social media to support me in publishing more high-quality content in the future
  2. Implement what you’ve learned throughout the article and share your experiences on social media

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