Top 5 Methods to Manage Stress at Work

As the concept of corporate responsibility has spread, businesses are slowly realizing that onsite fitness centers and coupons for manicures or massages aren’t doing much to decrease stress. If you have to deal with stress at work, then you have to deal with stress at work! Be proactive and deal with it where it’s happening. Based on studies and surveys, here are the top 5 ways to minimize stress at work:

Cinnamon: warm, spicy, sexy, and subtle.
Cinnamon: warm, spicy, sexy, and subtle.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is one of the oldest forms of stress relief, dating back several thousand years times. It works by activating the limbic system, which includes the parts of the brain that handle our sense of smell, long-term memory, and emotion (including the fight-or-flight reflex response to stressors). But it takes the brain about twice as long to process that reflex as it does to process smell. This means that certain scents in the environment can bypass the fight-or-flight response before it can trigger stress reactions.

Vanilla has been long recognized as a relaxing scent. In most Western cultures, our first experiences with those kinds of treats are often as rewards or after school or dinner, leaving us feeling content, loved, and cared for. They are also usually loaded with serotonin, which adds to the positive emotional feeling. Unfortunately, chemical vanilla is usually unpleasant. Buy a bottle of cheap extract in the baking aisle.

Bonus benefits: in a (Western) retail environment, warm scents (like real vanilla, cinnamon, chai, or bergamot), enhance the preference for and purchase of premium items. However in a productivity environment, a cooler scent can help keep people focused and energized. Try green apple, citrus, or eucalyptus.

Don't judge.
Don’t judge.

Art

You don’t have to be Picasso to use this as stress relief. One study in England found that even viewing art for as little as 40 minutes could reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) levels by one third. If the museum isn’t your thing and you can’t afford to put Rembrandt on the walls, there are other options.

Coloring is exceptionally soothing; it only requires a simple, repetitive movement and not much focus; buy some grown-up coloring books or Google some free printables and store them with colored pencils. Maybe your people can decorate their work space with whatever art form speaks to them (within reason). Encourage them to find something appropriately artistic for their desktop wallpaper.

Art, whether you’re creating or appreciating, is emotionally distracting. It evokes feelings that stress represses so we experience them through viewing and then dismiss them almost as soon as we look away. It’s like visual venting!

We aren't using these anymore - how is this still a problem?
We aren’t using these anymore – how is this still a problem?

Communication

You wouldn’t think communication could generate stress in one day. But if there’s not enough, or it’s done badly (think of Michael Scott from The Office), it’s making everyone crazy. Make sure you have clearly explained what you expect from your group as well as what they can expect from you in terms of job descriptions, company culture and general attitude, training and development, hours or productivity, and flexibility.

If there’s a problem in a work relationship that’s causing stress for anyone, deal with it early. Don’t blame anyone, don’t trivialize anyone else’s feelings or perspective, and work together to find a solution.

You should already have systems or standard procedures in place for regular work as well as a standard contingency plan. Then, if something causes a deviation from the normal plan, everyone knows how to respond and there’s minimal conflict or confusion.

Dress for the job you want and match music to the EKG you want.
Dress for the job you want and match music to the EKG you want.

Music

For stress reduction, it’s ideal as background music. You may have to do a little research to find what you need, though. An ideal rhythm will be slightly slower than a normal heart rate, so search for 60-65 beats per minute as well as variants like 240-250 bpm. (You can find great song lists by bpm on runners’ forums.) Work with your group to create a playlist everyone can live with.

Music decreases adrenalin and increases serotonin, but as with any stimulus, the effects diminish as the brain starts to tune it out. Listen to music in shorter segments (about 30 minutes at a time) to avoid triggering environmental stress.

It's just a metaphor. Create whatever frame you need.
It’s just a metaphor. Create whatever frame you need.

Reframing

The frame is the lens or point of view you use that defines your reality. Become a movie director and look at things another way – reframe the situation. You can do this by changing certain features of the situation, like looking at a problem as a challenge, or rudeness as a misunderstanding.

You can also do this by evaluating your beliefs and values. Maybe something about a situation is important to you, but not important within the context of the situation, so you can downplay it. For example, maybe an employee comes to work with an injury that severely limits her productivity today, but she devises a way to make up for it tomorrow. The lack of work today isn’t ideal, but a more efficient method could be a game-changer for everyone and well worth the delay of one day.

If your workplace is the cause of stress, it’s your responsibility to address it. If work itself happens to be stressful once in a while, well, you’re still the hero for helping your people. Plus, these tips cost you next to nothing. It’s a win-win.

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2 thoughts on “Top 5 Methods to Manage Stress at Work

  1. I love the aromatherapy suggestion! Sadly some workplaces are so uptight that even having flowers on your desk can bother people. I switched to flowers that didn’t have a scent and treated myself to scented flowers at home 😉

    1. Adina Wollam, M.S. November 15, 2015 — 9:14 am

      Great idea, Nikki! That seems like a reasonable and diplomatic compromise, as not everyone can handle scent (or pollen). Good for you, for not depriving yourself!

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