In light of International Stress Awareness Week being annually observed during the first week of November, Dakota Murphey looks at how bringing stress-reducing habits into each workday can leave you feeling more focused, productive and satisfied.
Stress is an all too common occurrence in many workplaces that can negatively impact health if not managed properly. By building small stress management practices into our day, we can help prevent burnout and maintain overall wellbeing. It’s important to purposely schedule time to relax and reset, and not allow stress to become unmanageable.
The need for stress relief at work
With the fast-paced, demanding nature of modern workplaces, not to mention outside stressors such as financial worries, implementing stress relief strategies has become essential for maintaining the health and wellbeing of workers.
There are two key pieces of UK health and safety legislation covering work related stress:
When high levels of stress are sustained over long periods, it can negatively impact our physical and mental health. Effects of chronic unchecked stress include:
- Disturbed sleep
- Weakened immune system
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
Productivity and focus also suffer when stress is allowed to continuously build, which can result in higher rates of absences for businesses.
Failing to purposely incorporate stress management techniques into each workday puts our long-term health at risk, and does nothing to improve our ability to thrive in the workplace. Prevention is key when it comes to stress. Be proactive about regularly reviewing how to relieve stress and informing employees of simple strategies to protect health and performance.
Incorporating some CBT techniques into the workday can help individuals to better manage stress, by changing negative thought patterns. When we notice automatic negative thoughts arising that increase anxiety, it’s important to identify and challenge them through logical reasoning. For example, an exaggerated thought such as “I’ll never get this project done on time,” should be replaced with a more realistic perspective such as “I’ve accomplished similar projects before within the timeline. If I break it down into smaller steps, I can get it done.”
The use of positive self-talk, affirmations and CBT methods reinforce a positive mindset and build resilience when faced with workplace stressors. If a problem is causing undue stress, take time to constructively think through how it can be solved. Putting some of these CBT approaches into practice teaches beneficial skills for dealing with stressful situations in a proactive way, to prevent being overwhelmed.
Practise desk yoga
Simple yoga poses can be done discreetly in the workplace, even at a desk, to help relax tense muscles during the workday. Yoga is well documented for its benefits to mental health, and lowering stress is just one of the advantages you can experience when practised consistently.
While sitting at a computer, try doing some gentle neck rolls to the side and front to stretch the neck. Shoulder shrugs are another easy move to loosen up shoulders and upper back without having to leave your chair. Another solution is to place your hands on the armrests and do some toe and ankle points to stretch your feet and improve circulation.
Practising just a few minutes of gentle desk yoga moves throughout the day can help relieve muscle tension caused by sitting and leaning over a computer. Releasing physical tension with some basic stretching goes a long way towards reducing mental stress as well. The simple act of moving and being mindful of our body for just a few minutes will leave us feeling more relaxed and re-energised to continue working.
Make the most of flexitime
Businesses should support their team’s wellbeing by implementing flexitime and hybrid working arrangements, wherever possible. Allowing flexitime enables employees to have some control over their schedules, which helps them better manage personal responsibilities alongside work. It also provides a change in environment which can be beneficial to our mental health. Just by introducing a core hour policy, where staff must be present during specified times, allows a degree of flexibility outside of the designated time frame.
For employees, a place of work offering the option for hybrid working, or flexibility around hours, provides an effective way to ease the stress of the work week and adopt a schedule that works for individual circumstances. For example, parents can coordinate childcare on their office days. Employees can also avoid long commutes a few days a week, freeing up time for themselves.
Flexitime, hybrid arrangements and remote work policies demonstrate that businesses support the wellbeing of their staff and value work-life balance. This helps boost morale, retention and wellbeing. Meanwhile, workers who feel empowered to achieve better work-life integration are more motivated, less stressed and have better mental health.
Take regular breaks
Whether we carry out a desk-bound job or are up and about throughout the day, scheduling specific times to disconnect during the workday can provide much needed relief. The mind can only focus for so long before it starts to drift and become foggy, so setting breaks strategically throughout the day keeps the mind sharp and stress levels low.
Setting reminders on a phone or calendar to designate blocks of time where you can switch off from screens and limit digital distractions and move around, are important. Even just 15 minutes away from a computer, tablet or phone will reduce eye strain and allow them a chance to rest.
Breaks can be very effective opportunities to get up and chat with coworkers, do some light stretches, or simply sit back and give the mind an opportunity to unwind. However, avoid the temptation to multitask during designated breaks. The goal is to let our brain switch gears away from the usual working day, leaving us feeling more focused and productive when we get back to our responsibilities.
Incorporating small stress relief practices into each workday is crucial for maintaining our health, wellbeing and performance. By being proactive and utilising simple techniques like taking regular breaks, setting technology boundaries and implementing CBT methods, stress can be prevented from accumulating and developing into burnout levels. Building stress management strategies into daily routines and scheduling time to relax and reset, is the best way to ensure balance in our working routine.
Read and watch more on stress and wellbeing here:
What makes us susceptible to burnout?
In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.
We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.