Workplace stress is inevitable. Some people thrive in fast-paced jobs and others not so much. Short deadlines, endless paperwork, the occasional angry customer and meetings that drag on for hours can cause various levels of stress. However, it is the way that you respond to the pressures and demands of each situation that can either cause stress or alleviate it.
Not surprisingly, people respond to stress differently. This response depends on both, the individual’s personality and the culture of their workplace.
Biology of Stress
Stress sets off an alarm in the brain, and the body prepares for defensive action. The nervous system is aroused and hormones are released to sharpen the senses, quicken the pulse, deepen respiration and tighten the muscles (“fight or flight” response).
Short-term effects of Stress
- Shallow breathing
- Difficulty sleeping
- Abdominal discomfort
Long-term effects of Stress
- Heart disease
- Back pain
- Lasting muscle aches and pains
- Weakened immune system.
Stress can also affect your mind by impairing concentration and imagination. It increases your chances of making mistakes because you’re not thinking clearly. Constant stress can affect your emotions and behavior in the workplace by making you grouchy, impatient, less excited about your job and even depressed.
- Check reality. When you’re in a high-pressure situation, examine your train of thought to see if it is adding to the stress you feel. Are you imagining a far worse outcome than is likely?
- Manage time. Proper time and priority management can reduce a lot of workplace stress.
- Take a break. Hourly mini-breaks during which you stretch your shoulders, back and neck can provide physical stress relief.
- Be realistic. If you have a heavy workload, do not take on extra work and be honest with yourself.
- Breathe deeply. Calmness is associated with relaxed, deep breathing.
- Try meditating for 5 to 10 minutes a day to relieve stress. Sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes and relax your muscles.
- Visualize yourself relaxed. If your mind is too busy to meditate, try creating a peaceful visualization (daydream). Visualize anything that keeps your thoughts away from current stressors.
- Listen to relaxing music. Music can calm your heartbeat and nourish your soul.
- Drink hot tea instead of coffee. Coffee raises levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Green tea is high in antioxidants that help combat free radicals, which is a byproduct of stress and aging.
- Practice kindness. By showing your co-worker an act of kindness, it induces the relaxation response.
- Think positively. Try engaging your mind in positive thinking. 30 seconds is enough time to shift your heart’s rhythm from a stressed to relaxed one.
- Communicate. Talking with a family member or friend outside of work can help put things into perspective.
If you’ve tried these self-help methods but continue to be highly stressed, it is advisable to consult a physician or mental health professional.
Dr. Aarti Pais is a Family Medicine Physician at Crescent City Physicians, Inc., a subsidiary of Touro Infirmary. She completed her internship at Tulane University and her residency at East Jefferson General Hospital. Dr. Pais is Board Certified by the American Board of Family Medicine and treats patients at her uptown clinic located on the campus of Touro Infirmary.