Stress is corrosive. It erodes both your mental and physical health in unexpected ways. Headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure, respiratory problems, ulcer flare ups, and compromised immunity can all stem from chronic stress.
That’s why chronic stress at work can be so toxic: you spend a third of your work week stewing in it. Imagine the damage that’s being done. The good news is that it doesn’t need to be your norm. Though there’s no cure-all, a combination of these practices can help to level out your stressors to a more comfortable stasis.
Gaining the Happiness Advantage
Your mentality shapes your susceptibility to stress. There’s no shortage of self-help gurus who advocate a happy disposition as the secret to a satisfied life. But it always sounds too cheesy, right? Nonetheless, a simple change in mentality can often dwindle the effects of stress.
Author Shawn Achor is outspoken about what happiness can do. He’s written two books and has studied the effect that choosing happiness has on groups as diverse as college students, Wall Street bankers, displaced Tanzanian farmers, and Kenyan mothers.
Across social groups, the potency of stress and personal/professional setbacks depended upon a person’s frame of mind: was the world a good place or a bad place? Those who believed the former had an easier time beating chronic stress and making the most of opportunities.
To change to a positive mentality, Achor suggests 21 days of happiness building activities. Here are just a few:
- Three Acts of Gratitude – To diminish stress and build positivity, people need to perceive the world differently. A starting point according to Achor is to find three new and very specific things you are grateful for each day. This forces them to scan the world and acknowledge that the world is more than doom and gloom.
- Reflecting on Your Positive Experiences – How often do you end up brooding about the bad? The negative sticks out and we keep on revisiting unpleasant experiences. Achor suggests that each day you think about a positive experience in the last 24 hours, reflect on it for two minutes, and bullet point the major features. Because our brains can’t tell the difference between visualization and actual experience, it has the same cognitive effect as if the person was reliving that pleasant moment.
- Conscious Acts of Kindness – One thing that Achor personally does whenever he feels stressed or overwhelmed is something called social investment. Simply put, it’s involving yourself and getting people involved in your life. You can send a quick email that compliments their best qualities or meet up with family or friends when the time is right. Why put in the effort? Because people with strong social networks are more resiliently happy in the face of stressful situations.
Focus on Solutions, Not on the Problems
When feeling stressed at work, what is typically on your mind? Is it one imposing project that appears impossible? Is it a mountain of challenges that appear immovable? If you answered yes to either, you’re focusing on the wrong half of the work equation.
Every project at work is made up of the challenge and the solution. Those who fixate on the challenge can be easily overwhelmed. It’s no different from staring at a fence and getting caught up in the intricacies of the chains or the pointed tip of its spikes. They fail to see the chain link as footholds and the spikes as handle bars (if evenly spaced).
Solution focused thinking goes in with the assumption that a clear resolution exists. It just needs to be found. Often, that requires thinking of a problem in smaller, more manageable pieces. Though your chronic stress at work won’t fully vanish, solution-thinking puts you in control and that’s half the battle.
Give Your Body What It Needs
The indivisible connection between mind and body is often ignored in our society. Good dietary choices, healthy sleep habits, and regular exercise routines are treated like electives, as if there were no mental consequences to putting your body through the ringer. Yet your brain is still an organ and needs a fair amount of TLC to beat stress.
Though the following rules don’t eliminate the source of chronic stress, they do equip your brain (and body by extension) with the stamina to properly handle it.
- Sleep Well – The act of sleeping seems easy, but as a nation we aren’t doing it enough. About 73% of Americans 18 and over say they sleep less than eight hours a night. That sabotages their brains’ ability to regulate energy, fight disease, dispense hormones, and (you guessed it) stand up to stress.To give your body a fighting chance, sleep needs to become routine. Look at the recommended sleep for your age bracket and experiment until you find the right fit. Then, set a regular bed time and wake time to create some normalcy (your parents weren’t so wrong after all). Before you go to bed, make sure that you are unglued from your electronics for an hour or more (the blue light in every LED screen tricks your brain into staying awake).
- Eat the Right Foods –You wouldn’t put diesel fuel in an unleaded engine and expect exceptional performance. Then why is it that we expect you can ingest any old thing and experience stellar health?To fight stress, a certain nutrient is essential: magnesium. In your brain, magnesium helps to mitigate the effects of the stress hormone cortisol, preventing a cycle of damage in your mood and memory center, the hippocampus. With adequate amounts of magnesium (about 320 to 420mg daily) obtained through foods like corn, apricots, and spinach, you can prevent stress from taking control.
- Exercise – When you’re feeling stressed, it always feels like you’re shackled down. Cortisol begets more cortisol until you are almost marinating in it. However, you can boost your mood if you aren’t afraid to get a little physical.When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins. Natural euphoria accompanies the hormone (which is the origin of the term runner’s high). The best part is that your exercise routine doesn’t need to be long or grueling. Just 15 to 30 minutes of jogging, biking, swimming, or hiking a day can get those good feelings flowing to overcome stress.
What if your work environment is just toxic? You may be better off taking your talent and going elsewhere. Look no further than IDR. We look out for our employees to guarantee that they have all the resources they need to reach their accomplishments with the lowest number of problems. Contact us today and we can get you started on the right path.