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1 Week, 5 Tricks for Managing Stress at Work: Here’s What I Learned

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Ever wish there were software that would just take your office’s stress away? I know I have.

HR professionals, regardless of their actual job description, are often tasked with keeping an eye on the wellness of the office as a whole. If your employees are stressed, it might be HR’s fault. That’s not fair, and it’s only going to add to your own level of workplace stress. But what can you do about it?

You can find plenty of lists with suggestions for ways to destress online, but it’s frustrating when you don’t know which ones will actually work in practice. So if you’ve been stressed at work, or you’ve noticed your employees getting increasingly stressed and you’re wondering what to do about it, I may have some answers.

My adventures in managing stress at work

You might say I’m a stressed person. But I prefer to think of myself as being in pretty good shape … for the shape I’m in.

For years, I was convinced I had an anxiety disorder, though it turned out to be a heart condition. (Nice catch, doc!)

Once I had that chemically handled, I was left to face the facts: I’m just naturally tightly wound, independent of any medical reasons.

I don’t want to be tightly wound. I want to be laid-back, chill, and easy going. But I’m just not.

We all want to be “Cool Girl.” Maybe not insane-Gone-Girl-Cool-Girl, but nonetheless

How I was managing stress

Most of my “coping mechanisms” have not succeeded in making me less tightly wound. These include:

  1. Making lots of lists. Yes, I see the irony here. My coworkers are reading this and laughing, because my desk, computer monitor, and three dedicated notebooks are covered in Post-it notes, all with lists on them. It’s a thing.
  2. Limiting caffeine. Heart condition (see above). More than two cups of coffee, and I start to vibrate out of my chair. I stick to cold water when I’m sleepy and need a kick.
  3. LARPing. Once a month I go out into the woods with some friends and we beat each other with foam sticks. It’s less weird than it sounds. (Ok, no it’s not, but it works for me.)

For this project, I ignored those tricks. I kept doing them as a control (because how can I tell if I’m destressing from something if I’m stressed about my lack of lists?) but I’m considering them to be part of my default, still-stressed state.

Each day this week, I tried one new method of destressing in the workplace, gathered from various sources across the web. I’ve organized my list chronologically, and have provided photographic proof of my endeavors where needed. Some of them made me look like a total weirdo at work, but I did it so you don’t have to.

If you’re a savvy talent manager who’s after more relaxed, content employees, share this article with your staff. Maybe one of the tricks I tried will work for them!

1. Monday: Stretched at my desk

Stretching helps return a little bit of the movement to your day that sitting around at a desk can rob. It also has a ton of benefits that make me wonder why everyone doesn’t stretch more often, but chief among those benefits is the fact that stretching can release tension and lower stress levels. That’s reason enough to try!

So did it work?

It was simple enough. I’m already insanely flexible, so stretching isn’t a tall order, but you don’t have to be flexible to get the benefits of stretching during the workday.

After I did a full round of stretching exercises that I found on WebMD, I did feel better.

It only took about two minutes for a nice slow stretch, and I attempted my stretches twice—once around 11:00 a.m., and once around 2:00 p.m.—times I’ve found to be lag points for me.

Sometimes it’s nice to just relax and extend all your joints. It felt a little redundant—since I typically run on Monday afternoons, and I’ll also be stretching later—but, really, is more stretching ever a bad thing?

2. Tuesday: Got a plant

This is Spike and he’s cute and I love him. Yes this is a Snapchat. He NEEDED that “cute” sticker, ok?

Allegedly, houseplants help lower stress, purify the air, and can raise your job satisfaction. Perhaps I can stare at Spike when I’m stressed and meditate on the idea that plants seem to have achieved enlightenment, so maybe I can, too.

So did it work?

Yes. Maybe because I just enjoy plants. I also enjoy taking care of other things, e.g., people, small animals, plants, so having something I can be mindful about taking care of is nice. (Especially since the interns I’ve been managing all summer are leaving this week; I feel like an empty nester!)

However, despite the fact that I enjoy plants, I really don’t have much of a green thumb, so we shall see how long Spike actually lasts … a cold fact that puts a damper on this method.

3. Wednesday: Ate more snacks

Having a snack helps stave off hunger, which can be massively distracting when you’re just trying to get some work done. The best snacks are the healthy ones, but barring that, dark chocolate and other sweet foods can reduce stress hormones and boost endorphins, and carbohydrates can give you a kick of energy.

I went with a small pack of lime cookies and a box of chocolate Pocky. Lime is a favorite flavor of mine, and I’ve been mildly obsessed with Pocky since adolescence, so they’re definitely snacks that are going to make me happy, while also indulging my sweet tooth.

I didn’t look at the nutrition information because frankly, I don’t want to know. I’m trying to lower my stress here, not raise it.

So did it work?

Oh no! More snacks? This was such a struggle but, somehow, I overcame.

Seriously, though, I’m notoriously bad at feeding myself, because for some reason I just can’t grasp those simple tasks that help a person continue to be alive. Typically, I don’t eat lunch until 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. I never eat breakfast, and today was no exception, but I made a point to get some food in me along with my usual cup of coffee.

I did feel more alert, as if I’d had extra coffee but without the jitters. I had the Pocky with my coffee around 9:30 a.m., and the lime cookies around noon. I felt fine and had plenty of energy until lunch, when I didn’t feel as hungry and distracted as I often do. Feeling more alert allowed me to focus more on the tasks on my docket, so I did end up feeling less stressed!

4. Thursday: Slept better

You get a GIF for this one, because nobody needs to see how messy my room is

Sleep and stress can get you stuck in a terrible cycle.

Too little sleep can raise your stress level, and by the same token, high stress can disrupt your sleep cycle. The next thing you know, you’re trapped with no way out—other than maybe taking an entire day to catch up on sleep, which, not going to lie, I have absolutely done in the recent past (best weekend ever).

Keeping this in mind, I tried getting some extra sleep to see what it did for me.

So did it work?

Typically, I go to bed around midnight, then I’m up at 8 a.m. to catch the 8:30 bus. But last night I tried getting to sleep at a more reasonable hour, around 11 p.m.

I expected to wake up earlier.

This is not what happened.

I actually had a ridiculously hard time convincing myself to get out of bed this morning. I’m not sure if it’s because I got the extra sleep, or if I was just having a slow morning, but it made me wonder if messing with my sleep cycle on a short-term project is a good idea.

I’m keeping this method in mind for a longer-term follow-up project, but since it made me more tired in the short term, I’m going to mark it as a stress relief failure for now.

5. Friday: Went for a walk

Taking a midday stroll is always nice when the weather behaves itself, and walking, especially walking outdoors, lowers stress. Walking boosts energy, releases endorphins, and can make you feel zen and meditative. All that sounds pretty nice at the end of a long workweek!

So did it work?

I took a ten minute walk around my office building. This didn’t really seem to do much for me, however, and I’m left to wonder if the environment has something to do with it.

Capterra’s offices are in an office park, full of skyscrapers and D.C. traffic, and when everyone is fleeing the office on their lunch break, it can get loud, which made me regret leaving my headphones at my desk in a misguided effort to be present and mindful.

The weather, on the other hand, was lovely at a balmy 80-something (I love hot weather), so that was a plus for me. I think walking might be a good stress reliever, just at a different time of day.

What’s my pick for managing stress at work?

At the end of the week, I found that some stress management methods worked for me more than others.

  • Walking, for instance, didn’t work for me. But if you have a nice, quiet area near your office, like a park, you might have a better time with it. Or bring some headphones with you to block out the sound of the street.
  • Another thing I’m personally not sold on is the stretching. but if you find your back seizing up or your legs jiggling like mad at your desk, it might work better for you. There are tons of desk stretching suggestions out in the big, wide web, so try a few and see if any make you feel great.
  • Sleeping was also meh, but I admit that a more long-term effort to get more sleep would probably be good for me, and since everyone’s body is different, you might need to do some experimenting of your own to figure out what works best for your circadian rhythms.
  • What did find to be effective was the snacks. I still doubt that I’ll ever be a breakfast person, but some morning carbs and chocolate gave me a much-needed energy boost that came in handy in my busy workday. And getting more work done, faster really helped me feel more productive and less stressed out. A tasty snack at a natural lull, like midmorning or early afternoon, might be a great pick me up for you, too.
  • I also love that I have a plant now, and Spike seems to be settling in nicely. I’m not sure if he’s lowering my stress levels, but he sure is cute! Look into some office-friendly plants that aren’t demanding in terms of light or water, and you might have a new desk friend, too.

How do you manage workplace stress?

Are you a desk stretcher or do you just head to bed early every night? Do you have a different method I didn’t mention? What would you recommend to your employees who want to lower stress? Tell me about it in the comments below or tweet me about it @CapterraHalden.

And don’t forget to share this post to get the conversation going, with your friends or in the office: How do you handle workplace stress?

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About the Author

Halden Ingwersen

Halden Ingwersen writes about HR and eLearning at Capterra. She’s a graduate of Agnes Scott College and a TEDx presenter. You can follow her on Twitter @CapterraHalden, just don’t get her started about her zombie survival plan.

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