8 ways to deal with stress at work

Man and woman sitting by modern co-working space with industrial aesthetic discussing project on tablet device while having coffee

Ted from accounting who always wants to talk about his fantasy football team. That one colleague who insists on microwaving leftover tuna in the office break room. And don’t get us started on the printer, the one that somehow gets a phantom load paper error every single week, and might just inspire us to go full Office Space on it one of these days.

And those are just some (relatively) lighthearted examples of workplace stressors. More serious concerns might include fraught conversations about compensation, maintaining your physical and emotional health or a decent work-life balance, and dealing with outright hostility and toxicity in the workplace.

It’s a lot. If you’re having a hard time with the effects of stress on the job, take a look at the following eight ways to manage stress at work.

1. Keep a stress journal

This simple task can be one of the best things you can do right now to manage your workplace stress. It can help you identify what exactly is stressing you out so you can make a plan of action to overcome it.

Tricky relationships with supervisors, colleagues, and clients — on top of an endless list of responsibilities and expectations — can feel overwhelming. Keep a stress journal and write down what exactly is making you feel stressed or anxious as soon as the feeling arises. By collecting this data, you can more easily find the causes and employ solutions.

Even if you already know exactly what is stressing you out, research shows that simply writing down how you are feeling can lead to decreased stress levels.

2. Establish healthy boundaries

While most jobs claim to follow a traditional 40-hour work week, many employees often feel pressured to work overtime and take on more responsibilities than they can handle within business hours, often with little to no extra compensation.

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If you find yourself working after hours on a regular basis, then you might be suffering from burnout. This is a fairly common occurrence that can happen in even the best workplaces, and it often goes unnoticed until the employee starts dropping the ball on projects.

Setting proper boundaries with your work is one of the best ways to beat burnout. Start by finding a reasonable compromise with your work, like not taking calls after hours or not checking your email over the weekend. Every job is different, so only you know what’s ideal for you. Make sure you allow some time for yourself away from work to recharge and prevent burnout.

3. Prioritize your tasks by level of urgency

Another big source of stress in the workplace is having an unreasonably long to-do list. Not only can this take a toll on your mental health, but it can also lead to procrastination. Think of a deer in the headlights: so frightened of the incoming vehicle that it’s unable to move.

To avoid triggering your fight-or-flight response, start by grabbing a piece of paper and writing down the top three tasks you need to get done for the day. These should be the three most critical tasks of the day so that you can sleep soundly at night even if you fail to get anything else done for the day.

This method allows you to be laser-focused on what really matters and tune out the less important tasks, giving you some much-needed stress relief. (And if crossing things off of your to-do list provides a specific sort of satisfaction, consider adding things to your list like “drink coffee” or “eat lunch,” then smile as you draw that line right through them after handling these basic tasks.)

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4. Create a comfortable working environment

With looming deadlines and big clients, it can be easy to overlook your workplace comfort. While it might sound silly at first, there is research to support the relationship between office comfort and productivity. Although what makes an office environment comfortable varies from person to person, one thing is clear: Being comfortable in the office can increase your productivity, and long-term, is good for your body and mind.

Some ways to improve your comfort in your workplace include:

Decluttering your workspaceGetting an ergonomic chair or adequate lumbar supportTuning out noise with noise-canceling headphones or earplugsFinding a playlist that promotes focusTurning your phone off during deep work sessions

5. Schedule breaks in advance

Forgetting to take a break can be counter-productive. Simply being in front of a computer doesn’t mean that you’re doing your best work. Studies suggest that taking micro-breaks at work results in higher productivity than not taking breaks at all. So, if you find yourself powering through without any breaks, you might be working against yourself.

The Pomodoro Technique is a popular time-management method in which you take micro-breaks after a predetermined deep work session. The two most common schedules include taking a 5-minute break after a 25-minute work session or taking a 10-minute break after a 50-minute work session. Give both of these a try and see which one relieves stress best for you.

6. Eat a healthy diet

Eating a healthy diet might be more important than you think because it plays an immense role in everyone’s mental health. While eating nutritious foods won’t automatically eliminate your workplace stressors, it can definitely impact how you react to them.

Consuming a poor diet can make you more irritable, which could turn even the most minor workplace inconveniences into real headaches. Also, having a stressful workplace environment can make unhealthy foods seem even more appetizing. Try packing a healthy lunch for the office every day to minimize the temptation to splurge on an appetizing but unhealthy lunch.

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7. Practice mindfulness and meditation

Studies suggest that even short-term mindfulness and meditation exercises can lead to reduced stress and tension. Deep-breathing exercises as simple as closing your eyes and paying attention to your breathing for five minutes can lead to improved mood and reduced stress.

Meditation takes practice, so don’t worry if it doesn’t come easily to you right away. If you don’t know how to meditate and want to learn, check out these five meditation apps suitable for beginners.

8. Discuss your stress with your supervisor

Finally, you should have an honest conversation with your supervisor regarding your stress. Discussing stress and fatigue is an important part of a healthy office communication policy, so you should feel comfortable discussing your situation with your supervisor. Any manager should strive to create an office environment for all employees to feel supported and empowered in their workplace, so you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about bringing this up.

The best case scenario is that your manager will directly address the source of your stress or provide accommodations to reduce it to the best of their ability. If they’re unsympathetic or fail to provide reasonable accommodations, then this could be an indication that you might be better off working for another company that prioritizes your well-being.

We also want to recognize the reality that some workplaces can be hostile, toxic, even abusive, and those situations might include a manager who contributes to the discomfort. In those especially stressful situations, you might be able to reach out to human resources and talk through what you’re experiencing.

But it’s possible you might need to leave the job (at the very least) or even consider hiring a lawyer. Suffice it to say that while the above ways of coping with stress might still provide some comfort and help, they are not a substitute for meaningful change in a highly hostile workplace.