The alarm went off late, traffic was a nightmare, and you have four long meetings today on top of a major deadline. On the way to work, you heard a tragic news story you can’t get out of your head. Add some money problems and an argument with your significant other and the stress can feel unbearable at times. How can you focus and get things done when you’re under so much pressure from all sides?
Stop. Take a deep breath. Now, exhale and do it again. Feel better? You’re going to get through this.
Letting go of the stress that makes us less effective and productive isn’t easy, but like a muscle, it can be developed and mastered, says business consultant John J. Murphy, author of Zentrepreneur: Get Out of the Way and Lead. Getting there requires finding the right balance of accepting some things and changing others. Here are seven steps to find serenity in your workplace.
Regardless of how much stress you’re experiencing in the workplace or how unfair your boss is, you’re sitting at your desk because you choose to be there, Murphy says. Think about it: Assuming you’re not being detained against your will, you could leave at any time. Shifting your mindset from "have to" to "choose to" gives you control over the situation. Feeling out of control is a major stressor, he says.
Of course, even though you could choose to leave, quitting your job cold-turkey could cause even more stress in the forms of financial hardship and other fallout. Make a list of the things you can control in this moment. It may seem impossible to put the looming rent payment out of your mind, but whenever you feel your attention drifting to stressors, refocus on the most immediate task that will produce a positive outcome. Finishing that project piece will give you a sense of accomplishment that could help you feel better and, again, more in control.
Before you order your regular Starbucks Venti with a double-shot, know that "ingesting too much caffeine can lead to headache, muscle tremors, sleep disturbance, and unhealthy spikes in blood sugar levels that can have a huge impact on energy, ability to cope with extra stress, and depressive-like symptoms," says New York City-based psychologist Dr. Joseph Cilona.
And don’t drink it on an empty stomach. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who drank coffee or other caffeinated drinks before eating in the morning had spikes in blood sugar 250% higher than those who ate something before their morning caffeinated drinks.
It’s well documented that deep breathing helps reduce stress. If you don’t remember to stop and take some deep breaths throughout the day, schedule reminders in your calendar or include them on your task list. Taking a quick walk outside also helps. A large-scale study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that even just 20 minutes of physical activity like a brisk walk can lower the risk of psychological distress, says Cilona.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins also found that a compound in frankincense had anti-depressive and anti-anxiety effects in mice, he says. Try a frankincense-scented candle or essential oil.
Just because you’ve hit a bump in the road doesn’t mean you’re in a 12-car pileup. Stop assuming the worst, Murphy says. Being able to let go of negative feelings and fears isn’t easy, but it’s essential to your mental well-being. When you find yourself ruminating in negative feelings, you’re actually devoting energy to making things worse. Instead, practice turning around that thinking to focus on what’s going right and what you can change about your situation. Then make that change happen, he says.
When you bombard yourself with negative information and harrowing images, it’s going to exacerbate your stressed state of mind, Murphy says. Turn off the news. Stop hanging out with people who thrive on drama. You’ll feel better if you start your day with 10 minutes of meditation or breathing exercises instead of 10 minutes of television news, he says.
We’ve all heard the old chestnut: "Laughter is the best medicine." A series of studies out of Loma Linda University found that even just anticipating laughter, like watching a favorite humorous video on YouTube, caused significant reduction in three highly detrimental stress hormones, according to Cilona. So finding some "funny" in your day does more than just create a distraction. It can give you a much-needed moment of serenity.