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10 Ways to Instantly Reduce Stress at Work

10 Ways to Instantly Reduce Stress at Work

A difficult client, a fuming boss, a tight deadline – these are some of the many possible occasions that can make your stress levels soar while you are at work. Needless to say, to find a solution to your problem, being stressed out won’t help you move forward. You need to regain your calm, think clearly, define actionable steps and overcome the problem bit by bit.

Moreover, we all know that stress is essentially bad for us, and has damaging effects on our long term health. Keeping calm and carrying on is more than just a popular internet meme – it’s a skill we all should learn to master.

We are wired to react in a “fight or flight” way, but a grumpy person on the subway is simply not as life-threatening as an approaching lion in our prehistoric days. For this reason, we need to learn to control our reaction to stressful situations and adapt to our modern times that are filled to the brim with stress.

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Whenever you are faced with a situation that can make your adrenaline and cortisol levels spike and your heart pound too quickly, there are a number of actions you can take to bring your stress levels down. None of these actions require more than 15 minutes, and most of them require a simple change in mindset or location, but all of these help you break out of the vicious circle of being faced with stress at work and reacting like a hamster on a wheel.

1. Go for a walk

If you can disappear from your cubicle for a few minutes, head outside and walk around the block. You’ll get some fresh air in your lungs and fresh thoughts in your mind. Did you know that Mandela used to go for a walk every morning to think through the upcoming day?

2. Listen to calming music

Pop your earphones, and listen to some calming music: classical music, new age, post rock – whatever brings you in that blissful state of relaxation.

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3. Follow a short guided meditation

Turn your chair towards a window, or -if all else fails- hide in the bathroom for a few minutes, and listen to a guided meditation on your computer, smartphone or MP3 player. There are many smartphone apps that contain enjoyable guided meditations that can help you bring your zen back.

4. Watch pictures of kittens or puppies

You might think that watching internet memes of cute kittens is a waste of your time or a guilty pleasure, but there’s actually some benefit in watching these adorable young pets. Research suggest that watching kittens or puppies can reduce your stress levels.

5. Have a warm drink

Research suggests that we see other people as more sympathetic when we hold a warm drink as compared to when we hold a cold drink. Moreover, taking the time to get yourself a nice cup of tea or coffee can be that little bit of comfort you need during a difficult moment.

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6. Do a few stretches to get your blood circulating

Refresh your thoughts by doing some quick physical activity. Check out a yoga sequence for your office to twist your spine, or do a few jumping jacks and wall push-ups. Any activity that breaks the rut of overthinking the problem that causes stress in the first place, will have a (temporary) positive effect.

7. Stop by the cubicle of a befriended coworker

Talk to a friend about the situation that upsets you, get a pat on your shoulder or hug when you need it, and feel that heavy weight getting relieved from your chest. A situation can look much less intimidating once you discussed it over with a trustee.

8. Watch your urge, and let it go

Zen masters teach us to sit through our discomfort, to simply watch our urge to start frantically running around, smile, and let it go. Don’t follow your monkey-mind or reptilian midbrain and blindly follow your first instinct. Instead, watch your urge to react then think if your reaction is correct and if this will bring you a step closer to the solution.

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9. Take a time-out in a quiet room

If the general buzz in your office adds to your stress-levels, then seek out a quiet place (for example, an empty meeting room or your library) away from the situation and come back to your inner peace. Being away from a stressful environment of an office and enjoying a more peaceful location can do wonders to your stress-levels.

10. If you are pressed for time: take three deep breaths before reacting

If a reaction is expected from you right away, then allow yourself at least the time to take three breaths before acting or replying. Breathe deeply into your diaphragm to calm your mind and body. Singers, babies and yogis all know the benefit of abdominal breathing. Teach yourself this skill, as it offers an emergency time-out whenever and wherever you need it.

More by this author

Eva Lantsoght

Eva is a university professor and a professional structural engineer. She writes about achieving excellence and success in life on Lifehack.

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Published on November 12, 2020

5 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment (And What To Do)

5 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment (And What To Do)

What’s the most draining, miserable job you’ve ever had? Maybe you had a supervisor with unrealistic demands about your work output and schedule. Or perhaps, you worked under a bullying boss who frequently lost his temper with you and your colleagues, creating a toxic work environment.

Chances are, though, your terrible job experience was more all-encompassing than a negative experience with just one person. That’s because, in general, toxicity at work breeds an entire culture. Research shows abusive behavior by leaders can and often quickly spread through an entire organization.[1]

Unfortunately, working in a toxic environment doesn’t just make it miserable to show up to the office (or a Zoom meeting). This type of culture can have lasting negative effects, taking a toll on mental and physical health and even affecting workers’ personal lives and relationships.[2]

While it’s often all-encompassing, toxic culture isn’t always as blatant or clear-cut as abuse. Some of the evidence is more subtle—but it still warrants concern and action.

Have a feeling that your workplace is a toxic environment? Here are 5 surefire signs to look for.

1. People Often Say (or Imply) “That’s Not My Job”

When I first launched my company, I had a very small team. And back then, we all wore a lot of hats, simply because we had to. My colleagues and I worked tirelessly together to build, troubleshoot, and market our product, and nobody complained (at least most of the time).

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Because we were all in it together, with the same shared vision in mind, cooperation mattered so much more than job titles. Unfortunately, it’s not always that way.

In some workplaces, people adhere to their job descriptions to a fault:

  • Need help with an accounting problem? Sorry, that’s not my job.
  • Oh, you spilled your coffee in the break room? Too bad, I’m working.
  • Can’t figure out the new software? Ask IT.

While everyone has their own skillset—and time is often at a premium—cooperation is important in any workplace. An “it’s not my job” attitude is a sign of a toxic environment because it’s inherently selfish. It implies “I only care about me and what I have to get done” and that people aren’t concerned about the collective good or overall vision.[3] That type of perspective is not only bound to drain individual relationships; it also drains overall morale and productivity.

2. There’s a Lack of Diversity

Diversity is a vital part of a healthy work environment. We need the opinions and ideas of people who don’t see the world like us to move ahead. So, when leaders don’t prioritize diversity—or worse, they actively avoid it—I’m always suspicious about their character and values.

Limiting your workforce to one type of person is bound to prevent organizations from growing healthily. But even if your work environment is diverse in general, the management might prevent diverse individuals from rising to leadership positions, which only misses the point of having a diverse work environment in the first place.

Look around you. Who’s in leadership at your company? Who gets promotions and rewards most often? If the same type of people gets ahead while other individuals consistently get left behind, you might be working in a toxic environment.

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However it manifests in your workplace, keep in mind that a lack of diversity is a tell-tale sign that “bias is rampant and the wrong things are valued.”[4]

3. Feedback Isn’t Allowed

Just as individual growth hinges on being open to criticism, an organization’s well-being depends on workers’ ability to air their concerns and ideas. If management actively stifles feedback from employees, you’re probably working in a toxic environment.

But that definitely doesn’t mean nobody will air their feelings. One of the telltale signs of toxic leadership is when employees vent on the sidelines, out of management’s earshot. When I worked in a toxic environment, coworkers would often complain about higher-ups and company policies during work in private chats or after work hours.

It’s normal to get frustrated at work. That’s just a part of having a job. What isn’t normal is when dissent isn’t a part of or discouraged in the workplace. A workplace culture that suppresses constructive feedback will not be successful in the long run. It’s a sign that leadership isn’t open to new ideas, and that they’re more concerned about their own well-being than the health of the organization as a whole.

4. Quantifiable Measures Take Priority

Sales numbers, timelines, bottom lines—these metrics are, of course, important signs of how things are going in any business. But great leaders know that true success isn’t always measurable or quantifiable. More meaningful factors like workplace satisfaction, teamwork, and personal growth all contribute to and sustain these metrics.

Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, and they shouldn’t be the only concern. Measure-taking should always take a backseat to meaning-making—working together to contribute to a vision that improves people’s lives. If your workplace zones in on quantifiable measures of success, it’s probably not prioritizing what truly matters. And it’s probably also instilling a fear of failure among employees, which paralyzes employees instead of motivating them.

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5. The Policies and Rules Are Inconsistent

Every organization has its own set of unique policies and procedures. But often, unhealthy workplaces have inconsistent, unspoken “rules” that apply differently to different people. When one person gets in trouble for the same type of behavior that promotes another person, workers will feel like management plays favorites—which isn’t just unethical but also a quick way to drain morale and fuel tension in the office.[5] It only shows how incompetent the leadership is and indicates a toxic workplace.

For example, maybe there’s no “set” rule about work hours, but your manager expects certain people or departments to show up at 8 am while other individuals tend to roll in at 9 or 10 am with no real consequences. If that’s the case, then it’s likely that your organization’s leadership is more concerned with controlling people and exerting power rather than the overall good of their employees.

How to Deal With a Toxic Work Environment

The first thing to know if you’re stuck in a toxic work environment is that you’re not stuck. While it’s ultimately the company’s responsibility to make positive changes that prevent harmful actions to employees, you also have an opportunity to speak up about your concerns—or, if necessary, depart the role altogether.

If you suspect that you’re working in a toxic environment, think about how you can advocate for yourself. Start by raising your grievances about the culture in an appropriate setting, like a scheduled, one-on-one meeting with your supervisor.

Can’t imagine sitting down with your supervisor to air those problems on your own? Form some solidarity with like-minded colleagues. Approaching management might feel less overwhelming when you have a “team” who shares your views.

It doesn’t have to be an overtly confrontational discussion. Do your best to frame your concerns in a positive way by sharing with your supervisor that you want to be more productive at work, but certain problems sometimes get in the way.

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Final Thoughts

If your supervisor truly cares about the well-being of the organization, they will take your concerns seriously and actively take part in changing the toxic work environment into something more conducive to productivity.

If not, then it might be time to consider the cost of the job on your well-being and personal life. Is it worth staying just for your resume’s sake? Or could you consider a “bridge” job that allows you to exhale for a bit, even if it doesn’t “move you ahead” the way you planned?

It might not be the ideal situation, but your mental health and well-being are too important to ignore. And when you have the opportunity to refuel, you’ll be a far more valuable asset at whatever amazing job you land next.

More Tips on Dealing With a Toxic Work Environment

Featured photo credit: Campaign Creators via unsplash.com

Reference

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