Workplace Wellness - Managing Stress at Work
If you are feeling more stressed these days at work, take some comfort in knowing that you are not alone. The American Psychological Association took a nationwide poll on stress (APA, 2012) and found that over two-thirds of Americans list work as a significant source of stress. A little bit of stress is good, as it can give you a surge of adrenaline and energize you when faced with deadlines or new challenges. However, prolonged stress can take a steep toll on your physical health as well as your psychological health.
The down economy and the increase in technology have hit many employees with a maelstrom of stressors. Some of those include pressure to be constantly “on call” and answer emails and phone calls before and after work and on the weekends; fewer resources to complete more assigned job tasks in the same amount of time and for the same amount of pay; and the fear of layoffs. The same study as referenced above showed that a mere quarter of the population thinks they do a good job at handling stress when it occurs. Finding ways to manage stress in the workplace does not have to entail huge changes but it should center on the one thing within your control: your reaction to stress.
It is much easier to handle stress if you feel good physically. Previous articles in this series provided strategies for incorporating physical activity and healthy eating habits into your life. Do not underestimate the power of these two important behavior change strategies. Slugging back two or three energy drinks is not the way to confront more work demands. Neither is sitting at your desk for 12 hours per day. Instead, take a deep breath, brew a cup of herbal tea, and read the following to learn more about one stress-reduction technique you can incorporate today:
Meditation: A technique that is commonly used for relaxation and stress reduction is meditation. During meditation, you practice focusing your attention and eliminating the “chatter” in your head that contributes to feelings of stress. Meditation does not have to be complicated or require that you lie down or sit on your desk chair in the lotus position. However, incorporating one or two short 5–10 minute meditation breaks into your workday can help you face challenges with more calm and ease. While there are many different types of meditation including yoga, Tai chi, mantra meditation and guided imagery, most forms include the practice of focusing your attention and relaxed breathing techniques. You may be skeptical about incorporating meditation into your workday, but all you need is a few minutes.
How to meditate at your desk: Sit at your desk and take a few deep breaths. Relax, sit with your spine straight, and focus on your breathing moving in and out. Come back to your center. Let it go. You always want to bring your attention back to the present moment so if you are having a hard time silencing the noise in your head, put something on your desk that you can focus on to the exclusion of everything else. Don’t focus on your overflowing desk or computer icons since they signal the past or the future. Try focusing on something like a screen saver of flowers or an image that takes you to a peaceful state of mind. Do be “mindful” without judgment and if negative, stressful thoughts creep in, gently make a note of them and then push them aside. Then focus on a happy memory or peaceful scene and maintain that thought, absorb the details as if you were living it right now. Hold and bask in that thought while gently breathing in and out. When you feel refreshed, simply come back to the present moment. You are not ignoring your job and meditating all day. Just 2–3 minutes at a time will send you back to work with a fresher, newer, recharged mind.
To help you get started on your meditation practice, here are several links to different styles of meditation that you can try out. For these online meditations a headset would be useful so that you do not disturb your coworkers:
Add your favorites to your list of bookmarks and remember that it only takes a couple of minutes to practice meditation. In return you will be rewarded with a greater sense of calm and peacefulness enabling you to more easily manage those inevitable daily challenges we all face.
Jennifer Koslo, PhD, RD, CSSD, CPT
Jennifer Koslo is a full time professor with Kaplan University’s School of Health Sciences and teaches courses such as Vitamins, Herbs, and Nutritional Supplements, Sports Nutrition, and Contemporary Diet and Nutrition. Ms. Koslo is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and one of the few Certified Specialists in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) in the country. In addition to teaching online, Ms. Koslo is a sports nutrition consultant on a private consultation basis.
Ms. Koslo received her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Juniata College, and earned a dual Master of Science in Human Nutrition and Exercise Science from Colorado State University. She earned her Registered Dietitian certification from the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and Colorado State University, and is a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics certification from the ADA. She also holds a PhD in Education with an emphasis in instructional design for online learning from Capella University.
In addition to serving in the US Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, West Africa, for 2-1/2 years, Ms. Koslo also worked as a cardiac rehabilitation dietitian, and at the Arizona Department of Health Services as the chronic disease nutritionist. She is also an American Council on Exercise Certified Personal Trainer.