Heart Health: Dealing with Work Stress
We all experience work stress sometimes, but is yours affecting your health?
Short-term stress can be helpful for getting things done and meeting deadlines, but chronic work stress—whether it comes from coworkers, a packed schedule, or fear of cutbacks or layoffs—negatively impacts quality of life, both physically and emotionally. This can, in turn, alter work performance and overall happiness with your career and life.
To prevent this from happening, managing day-to-day stress is important. Thankfully, there are several ways to do it.
Identify What’s Causing Work Stress
For the next two weeks, write in a journal about what’s bothering you most at work. Record how you feel, what you’re thinking about, and what’s going on in your environment—including the situations and people involved—and how you react to it.
Writing about what’s stressing you can help identify patterns and get to the root of where the biggest problems lie. This helps you pinpoint what needs to improve—and when it’s time to speak with a supervisor.
Choose Alternative Ways to Respond
Many of us turn to fast food or sugary foods, alcohol, or habits like smoking to relieve stress. But there are other ways to cope that feel good too.
Choose 2 or 3 healthy coping habits, such as:
- Doing yoga or meditation
- Going for a walk
- Writing in a journal
- Spending more time with friends or family
- Reading a book
- Going to the gym
- Speaking with a loved one you trust or a mental health professional
- Taking a nap
- Eating a wholesome meal
Pick activities that are good for you and make you feel good, or that you think will help. Use them as ammunition for dealing with work stress then write about what worked best.
Take Care of Yourself Daily
There may be many things you can’t control at work, but one thing you can control is taking care of yourself. Remember the basics:
Eat well (and regularly): Have breakfast before work, even if it has to be small before you head out the door. Not eating enough or eating junk foods can cause irritability, anxiousness, mood swings and low energy levels—a disaster for getting through a work day.
Aim to eat vegetables with every meal, and focus on whole foods. Keep snacks like pieces of fruit or homemade trail mix at your desk.
Get regular exercise: Find time to move before, during, or after work. Try to get 30 minutes or more of activity into your day, even if you break it up into short segments. Exercise helps reduce stress, anxiety and depression, improve blood flow, and release endorphins that make you feel good and focused—and better able to handle what the day throws at you.
Sleep at least seven hours: Eight hours is best. You might have trouble sleeping because of your stress, while at the same time not sleeping enough can cause more stress and overwhelm. Aim to stop the cycle by making rest a priority.
Try going to bed earlier and setting up your environment for better sleep, like dimming the lights in the evening and reading a paperback book instead of using electronics before bed.
Work on Your Work-Life Balance
Our hyper-connected world might make you feel like being available 24/7 is expected, but being “on” at all times isn’t healthy and shouldn’t be expected.
Set work-life boundaries that keep the two separate. Make it a rule to turn off your computer when 5pm rolls around and not check email at home, during dinner, on the weekends, or at 2am on vacation, for example.
This also means giving yourself time and permission to let go, do enjoyable things just because you like them, and recharge.
Shorten Your Daily To-Do List
This one might be hard at first, but see what you can drop from your schedule.
Avoid scheduling things too close together or packing your day full. Make a list of what you want to get done and rank each in order of priority. If something can wait until tomorrow, bump it and focus on the biggest “shoulds.”
This might also involve communicating with your boss or coworkers about your workload. Is there anything you can delegate to someone else? Are you taking on more responsibilities than your job entails? Be open and honest about how the work is impacting you and what you’d need to make things work better.
The Bottom Line
Don’t let work-related stress take over your life. Try these strategies to reduce the impact and support your physical and emotional health throughout your career.
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