During my days at a midtown Manhattan office in New York, I had to come up with ways to reduce stress. I read articles, joined discussion forums, went to therapy, tried every cliché suggested to make office life more bearable but eventually I just had to figure out what worked in my environment. After all, suggestions to take a coffee break and breathe didn’t work at my office: the coffee machine was often broken and there was too much dust in the air.
Hopefully you like your job and you don’t work in an office resembling a shoe factory from the industrial revolution but anyone can make use of the practices I suggest for making your everyday office life less stressful or just more pleasant. I’m no health professional and my source of knowledge on the topic are the years of experience as a stressed-out office worker and the many resources (some professional) that I came across during those years.
Here are 4 practical tips to alleviate office stress:
1. Bathroom Yoga
Disclaimer: I’m not a yoga instructor and I learned these basic exercises by taking yoga. If you have any doubts I strongly recommend you consult a professional before any physical activity.
In the land of cubicles it is often very difficult to find private space. The cubicle dweller can only find time that is anywhere close to private in the bathroom, where you can end up once a day for a mini yoga session! Find out when quiet time is at your employee bathroom (or lounge room) and get in there for some 5 minutes of basic stretches:
- Gently stretch your neck to the right, left, forward and backward
- Stretch your arms above your head, pushing towards the ceiling
- Pull your shoulders in, squeezing them against your neck then let go; do this 5 times
- Balance on one foot at a time; count to 10 on each foot, 5 times each foot
- Spread your feet apart so they’re aligned with the outside of your hips then spread your arms at shoulder height and hold; count to 10
- Align your feet with your hips, spread your arms and push them backward; count to 10
- Put your hands behind your back, clasp them together and gently push upward
2. See the Light!
When lunch time comes, take the break and get out of the office. This will break your day up and recharge some of the energy you’ve spent in the morning. It will also get the little hamsters in your head to run at a different pace – it’s good for them! – while your mind processes information different from the morning dose’s. When you get back to work you should feel refreshed and be better able to concentrate.
Also, there are several contributors to stress in the office from which you need a break; fluorescent light and sitting in the same position for extended periods of time are a couple of examples. At first you’ll find obstacles or excuses not to get out during your lunch break so here’s some motivation:
- Excuse 1: “It’s cold outside!” Think of the crisp air you can breathe instead of that stale office air. If you find there’s too much pollution then you can look forward to going back to the office.
- Excuse 2: “I have so much work to do I must eat at my desk.” Get out after you eat at your desk and walk once around the block. If you’re overwhelmed by work you probably will not be able to concentrate as much as needed anyway, taking longer to do the work so you might as well go out for 10 minutes and better perform when you get back.
- Excuse 3: “I’m tired/don’t feel like going out.” Would you really rather have your boss find you in the office and ask you to do a “quick thing just this once” that’ll keep you in the office till 10pm? Or are you tired because you’re working till 10pm, breathing tiring stale air, because you didn’t get out and re-energize the day before?
3. Look Away from that Monitor!
Looking at a computer monitor for extended periods of time has negative effects such as dry and sore eyes, headaches and blurred vision, all of which contribute to increased stress levels (in addition to poor eyesight). Make sure to take periodic breaks from your monitor!!! You should take your eyes off that monitor at least once per hour. Try doing it for 1 minute. If you need help remembering download a timer for your computer (there are many free ones), program your Outlook to remind you every hour or get a kitchen timer – whatever works.
During your 1 monitor-free minute:
- Close your eyes for 10 seconds
- Open them and focus on a point far in the distance
- Switch your focus to an object that’s less distant from you, then one less distant than that and so forth till your focus is back at your desk
- Then do the reverse: focus on an object that’s farther from your desk, then the next farther object and so forth till you’re looking at the farthest point from you
4. Schedule Time for Cleaning and Clearing
At least once a month (best if once a week) go through the surface of your desk and through your Documents folder in your computer and de-clutter. You’ll become overwhelmed if you keep watching piles of work get higher as they balance on top of squishy stress balls and you’ll become frustrated if you can’t find files in your computer because you saved them in a random folder “just for now.”
Here’s what you can do:
- If you haven’t cleared your desk in a long time (or ever), do your best to take a little time every day for a week to clear it.
- Pick a corner and take in your hands the first thing you find there. You either need it or you do not: if you don’t need it, shred the papers or throw out whatever else it is then pour some expired gooey food on it.
- On top of your keyboard or in your lap (or from wherever you will have to move the items), start to separate files into categories depending on where you need to file them, if you need to mail them, submit them.
- Finish a corner and move on to the section beside it (the same day or the next but don’t stop!).
- If you find you have little time go through 7 items every single day and toss or put in its place everything that you pick up – make sure to pick up everything.
- Once you’ve cleared your desk you’ll find generations of dust bunnies grinning at you. Grab a roll of paper towels, a mild cleaner or some water and wipe your desk and everything that’s on it. Do a section a day if you need to.
- Wipe your desk once a week or every other week. The best days for cleaning and clearing are Fridays and Mondays so that you start the week feeling like everything is under control and you can concentrate on your job.
It might seem so but these practices do not take a lot of time out of your day. When I first started I had to keep remembering to get up or stop but a couple of weeks of practice and they were part of my everyday schedule. I became more productive, much happier and less stressed-out and even my co-workers started regularly asking me for tips. Some even said I was like their workplace health guru!
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All very nice suggestion! I also meditate at regular intervals at work (3-5 minutes). I typically use http://www.freemeditation.ca and it works very well for me.
You’re lucky you can meditate too!
Real good, i already do the yoga bathroom thing!.
I created a tool that helps manage daily stress in a beautiful way. Please have a look at http://www.twitclicker.com to create your routine and to see how different areas of your life are related. Powerful graphs help you understand how stress affects you individually (pain, migrane, …) and what works best for you to interrupt the cycle (time with friends, workout, cutting down on coffee, …). If you have an iPhone, this is the link to the app store where you can see the program description: http://bit.ly/xB5Cv
Thanks Ana! Great suggestions! I know the experience of working in an office thats both mentally and physically unpleasant and any positive action one does for oneself is very helpful…
Thanks for your comment!
Great article, I will try start with the yoga 😉
Thanks for your comment! Even if you do the bathroom yoga once a day it makes an enormous difference. Good luck and feel to write to me.
Even if you’re not practised in meditation, I find that taking time to ‘reset’ your perspective is very helpful in dealing with work stress.
For example, on my way to the office and during lunch hours, I always take 5-10 minutes at a time to think over happy times with my family, chat briefly with a really amusing friend, or plan an upcoming holiday or social event. This doesn’t need to cut into actual productivity time. 😀
It helps keep the balance of work correct in relation to other priorities in my life, and in turn motivates me to reach career goals for overall life enjoyment!
Thanks for your comment Claire!
I enjoyed this post enormously, especially the ideas for bathroom yoga (which did make me giggle!) and taking a break out of the office at lunchtime. On the latter front, apart from being a good thing to alleviate stress, a short walk in the daylight gives us Vitamin D3, which we need to ward off depression. So that break is really useful for us northern hemisphere folks in more ways than one, especially during the winter months.
Before reading your post, I’d just read Justin Rush’s article “How not to boost employee morale”. Reading them both together made me think of how often individual stress is often a symptom rather than a cause. I wondered if you had any thoughts about that?
Thanks for your message and I’m glad you enjoyed the article! From my experience employee stress is a symptom and not a cause of low employee morale. If a worker is putting effort and extra hours into getting a project done well and quickly but isn’t ever allowed to take the lunch break to which he/she is entitled, then how can he/she feel any good about their job? It becomes all take-take from the employer and we all know one-sided relationships of any sort don’t work.
I’m sure everyone suffers from stress at work but there’s everyday stress (it’s over when we meet that deadline in 3 hours) and there’s stress that consumes us because we feel our employer is sucking our blood already.
I’ve seen that high-morale workplaces allow employees to feel supported and worthy, making them better able to deal with everyday stress and to avoid “gone postal” stress.
These are really useful … many thanks for sharing them.
Thanks for your great comment back. I completely agree with you. There seems to be a stress culture in some companies, whilst in other stress seems to be something that’s manageable. The occasional deadline type stresses are liveable. The ongoing stuff is deadly!
This whole thing has got me thinking about stress at work and I’m currently thinking that I may blog about it myself. Assuming it’s okay with you, I will of course link to you as the source of the inspiration!
Meantime I’m keeping WorkAwesome on my radar screen as it seems like a fantastic blog!
love the bathroom yoga
Looking for stress relievers (I think my middle name is “stress”) I found this great article.
Starting to apply your suggestions immediately, especially the number 4.
Thanks “cousin”! 🙂
Hi “cousin” (Is Silva a common last name or what!).
I hope you find something that works for you soon. I’m glad I got rid of “stress” as my middle name. Hopefully I will be de-stressed enough soon to remember my real middle name. It’s scary how much stress affects us and we really should take care of ourselves to avoid “bad” stress.
Best wishes to you!
Most office workers are stressed to the breaking point. This is especially the case in D.C and N.Y. These tips will be of great relief to thousands. Hope the article will be shared among office employees.