How to Deal With Stress at Work
Just imagine: everything is going perfectly. Work is decent – fun, even. Coworkers are nice. Things are going well. Then all of a sudden you’ve got 5 projects on the go, one of your coworkers started gossiping about you, and you realize you’re behind on a big deadline. Now you’re stressed – and who can blame you?
According to one study, stress accounts for $190 billion in healthcare costs in the US alone. And that’s not surprising when you consider 65% of adults say work causes them either some or a significant amount of stress.
If you’re wondering how to deal with stress at work, keep reading. We’ve rounded up 25 tips that can help you stay in control.
What to do: Track your stressors
How tracking your stressors helps:
Tracking what happens gives you the chance to:
- Look back
- Do a double take
- Prepare a response for next time
When it comes to tracking stressors, there are a couple ways to do it:
1. You can track just what happened and name the emotion you felt – for example, “Boss told me my work was crap. Felt like crap.”
2. Track why you think the stressor made you feel the way you did. For example “Boss said my work was crap. Feeling like my work here isn’t valued, which makes me feel like crap.”
Either one works, since the key in this step is documenting what’s going on. Choosing to write about your emotions (or not) is entirely up to you.
Plan of attack
What to do: Plan your reactions
How planning reactions helps:
A big part of moving past any challenge is having a plan. Stress may not be totally avoidable, but if you plan your responses to it then you can react with a formula or strategy instead of emotions or rage taking over.
To plan your reactions, you need to think about what could happen to you. One great way to do is to track stressors, but you can also brainstorm in the moment.
1. Write down a bunch of crappy things that could happen.
2. Think about how you should respond or could respond
3. Write down that plan in the format of “Action –> Response” so you have it handy
Doors, walls, and windows
What to do: Develop boundaries
How developing boundaries helps:
A boundary doesn’t mean you don’t do your job or you suddenly withdraw from life. it simply means you know what you’re good at and capable of – and you don’t let people push you beyond that in the context of your job.
When you develop boundaries, a key part of it is keeping them. Look for:
1. The things that you hate doing
2. The things that don’t bring you much happiness or value
3. The things that make you feel like crap
Chances are, these things will require some boundaries in order to manage. Look at what parts of those items you can’t avoid (for example, if it’s part of your key job description) and identify what you can. Then push yourself to simply say no to the things you can avoid.
What to do: Make time to recharge
How making time to recharge helps:
The more intense the stress, the more you need to recharge. Stress, like working out, tenses your muscles. Recharging is your time to recover and get stronger.
Making time to recharge can feel like the last thing you’re able to do when stressed out. Look for:
- Micro breaks. Even 5 minutes between meetings can be a good time to breathe and get ready for what’s next.
- Lifestyle changes. Taking a walking meeting, for example, is a great way to handle burnout and stress by getting your body moving.
- Schedule it in. Book time off in your calendar so no one can book you for things.
A regular reminder
What to do: Train yourself to relax
How training yourself to relax helps:
Often, stress gets worse when we don’t react well. A big part of reactions is whether can calm ourselves down enough to think clearly. Training yourself to relax can, in the moment, help you make a lot of progress.
When training yourself to relax, try:
- Focusing on one thing (for example, your breath or a point on the wall).
- If you lose focus, remind yourself of your focus and start again.
- Consider guided meditations to help you through the beginning.
- Do it alone or in a meeting room if you don’t feel comfortable doing it at your desk or on the work floor.
What to do: Talk to your boss or manager
How talking to your boss or manager helps:
Your boss or manager’s job is to help you perform. They may have other duties as well, but as a people leader they are responsible for their team. Leverage that, and trust them to help you out during a tough time.
An honest conversation about stress could really help. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Stick to experiences. This is about what happened and how you reacted.
- Don’t generalize or use broad statements like “it’s the worst thing.”
- Be open to other views. Your boss may give you tough, but fair feedback.
- Focus on practicality. You’re there to solve the problem, after all.
Talk to a professional
What to do: Get outside support
How getting outside support helps:
Outside support may be exactly what you need. Trained professionals can help you uncover deeper reasons for your stress, give you coping mechanisms, and help you build more healthy responses to stressors in your life and work.
If you’re not getting the support you need at work, outside support may be helpful. Keep in mind:
- Reach out to licensed professionals.
- A coach can help you uncover your own strengths.
- A therapist can help you develop coping mechanisms.
- You can “interview” professionals as well. If it’s not working, you don’t have to continue.
- Check your benefits to see which professionals may be covered.
Talk to yourself – kind of
What to do: Challenge negative thoughts
How challenging negative thoughts helps:
We control all of our thoughts – challenging negative ones will help ensure your thoughts don’t control you.
The best way to challenge negative thoughts is by following the thought to its logical end. For example, if a negative thought is that your boss is horrible to you and singling you out, think about that.
- What other ways could you prove that true or false?
- If you can prove it true, what can you do to solve the problem?
- If you can’t solve the problem, what can you do?
By thinking about things to their logical end, you may discover the thought isn’t actually true. And if it is, then you develop an action plan.
What to do: Practice mindfulness
How practicing mindfulness helps:
When your mind is wandering and you can’t seem to concentrate or stop your mind from racing, mindfulness may be just what you need.
Mindfulness is similar to traditional meditation, but focused on being present in the room you’re in. Often, our minds wander. Mindfulness brings things back into focus.
- Consider guided mindfulness meditations – there are many free on YouTube.
- Start small. Even just 2-3 minutes is a good beginning.
- Be consistent. Mindfulness is like training your brain, similar to how you train other muscles. Too much time off and you lose the benefit.
Start as you want to continue
What to do: Start the day off right
How starting the day off right helps:
People often underestimate the idea of starting as you mean to continue. When you start your day off right, you start your day with a mindset of success and feeling good. That mindset can last throughout a lot of crap that may come at you during the day.
Start the day off right with:
- A big glass of water
- A regular routine that makes you feel good
- Getting up a little earlier than usual so you aren’t rushing (even just 10 minutes)
- Writing out your daily priorities
Stay out of the drama
What to do: Avoid conflict
How avoiding the conflict helps:
It sounds simple because it is. Whenever you have a choice in the matter, avoid conflict. You don’t need to engage with extra drama.
- Don’t respond to gossip.
- Ignore messages that don’t apply to you and your work.
- If someone asks your opinion on something non-work related, say you’re too busy to chat at that time.
- If there’s drama in the office, don’t engage with it.
- Plan out a full day of your work, breaks, and lunch so you don’t have time to engage in any conflicts.
- If an email or message annoys you, don’t immediately respond. Wait an hour or two.
Know what’s expected of you
What to do: Get clear on job requirements
How getting job expectations clarity helps:
A lot of stressors at work can come from misaligned expectations that either puts you in a position where you’re not doing what you were hired for or the company doesn’t know what you do so they don’t value you as much as they should. Clarifying job expectations can help with that inconsistency.
- Ask your manager what key business metrics your work rolls up into.
- Ask for feedback based on those metrics only – is your performance driving the business forward?
- Look back at your job description from when you got hired. Are you doing those tasks?
- Try connecting your own work to the company’s customers. Is there a clear pathway?
Lists are helpful
What to do: Stay organized
How organization helps:
When you’re thinking of how to handle stress at work, staying organized is a top tip. If you know what you’re supposed to be doing and who you’re working with, it’s much easier to solve problems that arise and pre-empt challenges.
- Have a daily priorities list.
- Have a weekly and monthly big to-do’s list.
- Use technologies like Trello or Asana to help you keep track of things.
- Don’t be afraid to collaborate – share your task lists with colleagues to see how you can support each other.
- Time box your tasks and cross them off when you’re done.
One thing at a time
What to do: Don’t multitask
How avoiding multitasking helps:
People used to believe that multitasking was the only way to be successful. However, this can pull you in so many different directions that you don’t end up accomplishing anything.
- Try the ‘pomodoro method’ of intensely working on one task for 20 minutes at a time.
- Prioritize your daily tasks from most important to least, then work your way down the list one at a time.
- Have a “parking lot” for items you don’t want to forget about but can’t get to immediately because you’re doing something else.
- Only check emails 1-2 times per day and immediately categorize any tasks that come from the messages.
Stretch your legs
What to do: Take a walk
How taking a walk helps:
Walking can clear your mind. It also activates your body, helping to get blood flowing better.
Knowing how to walk isn’t the issue so much as finding time to make walks in your day. Try:
- Taking walking meetings instead of booking a conference room.
- Always walk to a colleague’s desk instead of asking them to come to you.
- Take the longest possible route in your office whenever you’re going to the kitchen, break room, a meeting, or the bathroom.
- Every hour or so, stand up and walk around your office or a section of it (depending on how big it is).
Pick your favorite
What to do: Listen to music
How listening to music helps:
Studies show that music has the ability to make people feel happier. This could be from the lyrics or the melody, but listening to music is a great way to passively engage with something you like while handling annoying coworkers or situations.
With headphones, there are a lot of ways to listen to music at work:
- Platforms like Spotify, Google Music, or Apple Music.
- Sites like YouTube.
- If you work from home or alone, you can even sing to yourself.
- If your office has a speaker system, suggest playing music quietly throughout the whole office.
Find an ear
What to do: Talk to coworkers
How talking to coworkers helps:
In some cases, a coworker is the only person who truly understands a crappy work experience. Further, you can usually talk about more confidential things, since you can’t often talk about clients or coworker relationships to people outside of work.
If you’re going to reach out to coworkers, make sure you remember:
- Don’t talk to coworkers directly involved – that could end badly.
- Don’t make accusations or claims – these could end up escalated to HR.
- Be clear about what you need (For example: if you just need to vent versus if you need help).
- Don’t say anything you’ll later regret. You may not know the whole story.
Vent it out
What to do: Get a “vent” friend
How getting a “vent” friend helps:
We all have those friends that kindly listen to us rant or vent. They are an important friend to have, since sometimes just getting it off your chest is enough to reduce stress.
If you’re looking for a “vent” friend, you’ve got to make sure you’re being kind to them.
- Be up front that you need to vent.
- Check with your friend that they are in a good place to hear your venting – they may be having a bad day themselves.
- Show gratitude and thank them for listening.
- Don’t expect them to solve your problem for you.
- Return the favor when you can.
Hobbies are helpful
What to do: Build your life outside work
How building your life outside of work helps:
When work is stressing you out, being able to take stock of the other great things in your life really helps to put things in perspective. If your entire life is work, then the stress from a bad day could feel much worse.
There are many ways to have a life outside of work. Don’t think it only happens in one specific way – try out:
- Recreational sports teams.
- Focusing on your family.
- Socializing with friends.
- Attending concerts or other entertainment events.
- Starting a side business.
- Reading or other solitary activities.
- Physical fitness and working out.
Time to get out
What to do: Look for a new job
How looking for a new job helps:
Sometimes, you just have to get out of a bad situation and there are no other alternatives. A new job could be exactly what you need if your current work environment is just too much.
- Look at job boards and company websites to see who is hiring.
- Attend meetups in your area to meet new people and companies.
- Look into your network on places like LinkedIn.
- Polish your resume to be specific and edit it to focus on each job application you submit.
- Read up on interview prep tips.
What to do: Minimize sugar and caffeine
How minimizing sugar and refined carbs helps:
Sugar and caffeine gives you a great jolt of energy, but the crash that follows could leave you feeling groggy and less able to handle stress. Minimizing sugar and caffeine could help to keep energy levels more consistent throughout the day, giving you a leg up.
When you need energy, turn to these other sources:
- Fruit (which contains natural sugars).
- Go for a walk.
- Chug a glass of water.
- Listen to a pump-up song.
- Do jumping jacks or squats without weights.
Naps on naps
What to do: Sleep more
How sleeping helps:
New studies show that sleep is just as crucial to brain and muscle development as working out and learning. Sleep is the time when the body repairs and recharges, helping you get stronger. If you’re sleep deprived, stress may get to you more easily.
- Go to bed at the same time every night.
- Wake up at the same time every morning.
- If you have an old mattress, a mattress pad could help add more comfort.
- Don’t drink caffeine in the afternoon.
- Turn off technology 30 min to an hour before bed.
- Get new pillows or sheets.
It’s a half-minute word
What to do: Say no
How saying no helps:
If we take on too much, then quality drops across the board. Oftentimes you also end up pulled into things you didn’t agree to, but had trouble saying no to. Simply declining to participate is a big way to reduce stressors.
- Practice saying “no” to small things like if you want to sit in on a meeting that you don’t need to be at.
- If you’re worried about literally saying “no,” then instead talk about what you need to focus on that makes you unable to take on the new task.
- Make a list of things you don’t want to do so you can prepare your response if it comes up.
Do you really need everything?
What to do: Compromise
How compromising helps:
A lot of stress can come from two strong-willed people, both with strong opinions. When that happens, it can lead to interpersonal tension that causes stress. Compromise, on the other hand, is a process that tries to find wins for everyone involved. It may not work every time, but you can use it to build goodwill for the future when something really matters to you.
- In any debate, know what you want as an absolute minimum and what your ideal outcome is.
- Ask other people what they are trying to accomplish.
- Think about outcomes, not process. Focus on what you want to get.
- Be ok changing your methods if it means you get what you want.
What’s a perfectionist?
What to do: Don’t focus on being perfect
How resisting perfection helps:
They say there are two kinds of every project: perfect and complete. Unfortunately, focusing too much on perfection means you get a lot less done – which can definitely be a cause of stress.
- Make a plan ahead of time for “minimum” completion. The things you must get done but nothing else.
- If you find yourself stressing over a task, see if it’s genuinely necessary.
- Adjust your standards based on the importance of the task – a crucial task needs to be done near perfectly. A “get it done task” may not need as much attention to detail.