The demands of work take a toll on our emotional and physical health.
Content warning: workplace stress and trauma
The demands of work take a toll on our emotional and physical health. Whether that comes from an insurmountable amount of work to accomplish or toxic colleagues, there will always be a cause for work-related stress. Even for those working in ideal situations, there will eventually be a time when a stressor comes along and throws you off.
Some common causes are:
- Long hours
- Heavy workload
- Changes within the company
- Short deadlines
- Frequent changes to duties
- Job insecurity
- Insufficient skills for the job
- Lack of resources
- Lack of equipment
- Few opportunities to grow
- Poor relationships with colleagues or managers
These stressors not only impact our work life, but follow us home and affect those relationships as well. Overall, it affects our health in the long-term. Here are four tips that can help reduce the stress and encourage more fulfilling relationships with your colleagues and loved ones at home.
1) Emotional Support
The way we perceive stress is actually one the largest determinants of how it affects us. What does that mean?
If you look at your daily stressors and perceive them as threatening to your wellbeing, that’s when you will start to see your mood and health deteriorate. You will get sick more often, you will sleep less, and those things will put you in a worse mood only aiding in that negative negative cycle.
Viewing your work stressors as challenges to overcome can give you a sense of control and empowerment. However, getting there is hard. Professional help through therapy, counseling, or coaching can be incredibly rewarding. They provide proven techniques and approaches to escalating difficult situations and building long-term solutions. It’s important to at least share your feelings and experiences with a loved one you trust and who can offer support. If you have a manager or co-worker you trust, it would be beneficial to open up, as comfortably as you can, with them. Once you get the support you need, it will be easier to create boundaries from work.
The next time you find yourself venting to a colleague or your spouse about work, try saying, “I had another challenging day at work, my boss always seems to be adding to my plate, forcing me to get things done faster. I didn’t do anything to deserve this treatment, this is on my boss”.
Reframing any situation can have a positive impact in countless areas of your life, especially areas you usually feel stressed. But sometimes a workplace is too toxic to handle. There’s no shame in leaving if you are able to.
2) Physical Activity and Boundaries
The amount of research that has been done to show the benefits of physical activity are astronomical. It improves both mental and physical health. In a study by the Duke University Medical Center Study (reported in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine), exercise was shown to be just as effective as Zoloft in reducing depression in patients.
Exercise often has a daunting connotation and that it requires an intense workout with a personal trainer at a fancy gym. Finding time and resources to do physical activity is hard in our busy schedules. Just remember that physical activity is anything where you move your body. It can be as simple as taking your lunch break and going for a walk outside. It can also be doing some stretches in after waking up in the morning or before going to bed.
Establishing physical boundaries from work is important. If you’re able to, try to take a vacation or work from home when you need to recharge. Don’t hoard vacation days, use them when you need them!
Any amount of physical activity is better than none and over time, your mood at work will thank you for it. Being able-bodied makes it easier to access information on and resources for physical activity. For folks with disabilities, here is a helpful guide from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
3) Breath Control
It’s funny to think that we might need reminders to breathe. Again, the amount of research that highlights the importance of controlling our breath, especially in stressful situations is mind-blowing. The simple act of pausing, and being aware of our breath can drastically impact our central nervous system and completely change our physiology and psychology. If you think about it, breath control is a form of physical activity! You don’t need to be a medication fan to practice breath control.
Dr. James E. Loehr, who wrote “Breathe In, Breathe Out: Inhale Energy and Exhale Stress by Guiding and Controlling Your Breathing” says, “The key to emotional control is breath control. Breath control is the ultimate weapon. It is the simplest, safest, cheapest, most accessible handle there is for mastering emotional control, for recharging the Ideal Performance State in response to problems, for staying in control, for becoming a peak performer. Breath control is the force that leads to the emotional control that leads to the winning feat.”
Try pausing a few times throughout the day to practice a breathing exercise. Start by taking a deep breath to a count of four, pause, and then exhale for another count of four. Do this for a minute or two, taking all breaths through your nose and you will immediately feel a shift in your mood. Try doing this once every hour and I promise you will have a much better day at work.
4) Sleep Routines
A common misconception about success is that it requires burning yourself out — working long and late hours and only focusing your productivity on work. The irony in this type of thinking is that you will damage your health and shorten your life.
Dr. James B. Maas, who wrote “The Power of Sleep” says, “For anyone who wants to be successful, sleep is a necessity, not a luxury”. The conclusions presented in the book are based on recent studies of the neurological, chemical, and electrical activity of the sleeping brain, which show that even minimal sleep loss can have profound effects on mood, cognition, performance, productivity, communication skills, accident rates, and general health, including the gastrointestinal system, cardiovascular functioning, and our immune system.
Learning about sleep can help you to better value it and adopt better habits. Better sleep improves your life in all areas. It becomes easier to focus on and complete daily tasks at home and work. Relationships with partners, family members, friends, and co-workers improve as well.
The first thing to do is to create a sleep routine. Every night, you should aim to get ready for bed around the same time. Your room should be cool and dark, around 65 degrees F (18 degrees C). Calming sounds or music (e.g. white noise) can help induce sleep. Cutting down caffeine intake is another way to improve quality of sleep. Trying to limit your caffeine intake to 1–2 cups a day, and not drinking after 12 pm.
The goal is to be distraction-free, so put away your devices! Everyone is different, so figuring out what works best for you is key. The most important thing to remember is to stay consistent with your routine.
Sleep is recovery for our minds and bodies. It helps us recover from the daily challenges of life, including work. Without sleep, tackling another day of challenges will be impossible without renewed energy.