Too much stress is bad for your health. It’s not good for you and ultimately; it’s not good for your company either. A recent study by the American Institute for Stress found that one in five people have quit their position because of work pressure and 62% of employees were ending their day with stress-related neck pain. Ouch.
Over in the UK, meanwhile, 12 million people a year seek medical advice about mental illness stemming from work stress. Clearly, it’s a big deal and it makes sense to take action before it takes over your life.
Here are some small strategies that could make a big difference.
Are you that person with breadcrumbs lodged in your keyboard, the result of far too many lunches taken ‘al desko’? If so, it’s time to put down that sandwich and get out. Taking breaks is proven to increase productivity, so if that’s what you’re worrying about, you needn’t. Even if you prefer to eat inside, still make an effort to leave the office; take a walk around the block, listen to a podcast, or chat with a colleague (ideally about something other than work). If you genuinely think it’s impossible to take half an hour out of your schedule to do this, it’s time you spoke to your boss. This is not a realistic workload and your health and happiness are at risk. Not good. Now go shake out that keyboard and pop outside.
When you’re working long hours and fighting deadlines, going for a run or doing any form of exercise can seem like the last thing you want to do. Try to ignore the voice in your head that tells you to give it a miss and instead remind yourself that you never, ever feel worse after a run. In fact, exercise will set you up for the day (or help you wind down after a long day) – and has been proven to help reduce stress levels. Yes, it can be hard to fit into your schedule, but if you set a routine, it becomes second nature – as natural and necessary as cleaning your teeth every morning. Top tip – change straight out of your pajamas into your running gear every morning before you have time to think about it too much. Once you’ve got those kicks on, you’re halfway out of the door and around the block. Well done you.
It might seem trivial, but your workspace is hugely important when it comes to your stress levels. You likely spend more time here than you do at home on your sofa, so why put less effort in when it comes to making yourself comfortable? First up, check the ergonomics – a good chair will ensure you aren’t slouching and putting unnecessary pressure on your back and neck – and having your monitor at eye level is also key. Next, have a look at those stacks of papers you’re too afraid to throw out (do you actually know what any of them are anymore?), those three day-old coffee mugs, and those ten pens that don’t work. Time for a Spring clean, no? Disorganisation drags you down and you might as well start with your workspace. Tidy desk, tidy mind, or so they say.
So your boss calls you on a Friday afternoon and tells you you’re going to need to work the weekend. Again. Of course at times, everybody puts in extra hours here and there – but it’s important to have boundaries. Know what yours are and stick to them. Of course, it takes time and practice to do this without fearing for your job or your reputation. But the funny thing is, if you communicate your boundaries in a clear and calm manner, and then speak out immediately when things go awry (instead of brooding for weeks and then exploding), you’ll find that people start to respect you instead of assuming you’ll always be there. Respect yourself, and others will follow your lead.
So it’s 6.30pm, you’re en route home – you even got a seat on the train, but what is the first thing you do? Check your emails. Stop. Right. There. The ease with which we can all take our work home with us these days is frightening. Even if we aren’t on deadline, it can be tempting to scroll through emails at home, both out of habit and idle curiosity. It’s not healthy. So next time you find yourself reaching for the phone (that counts for first thing in the morning too), remind yourself this is your free time. Use it wisely – and you’ll be more productive at work and your stress levels will thank you for it.
Dominique Afacan is the co-founder of Bolder and a freelance editor and writer based in London.