12 ways to reduce stress at work

Proven (and simple) techniques for letting go of the stress and worry that can consume you in the office.

Taking a chill at work to reduce stress is a challenge, especially as we continue to juggle the work-life merge. You have to make the time for it, in a way that works for you. It’s highly unlikely your boss will “om” you into a relaxed state.

April is National Stress Awareness Month. As I tell the executives with whom I work, there’s no quick fix to beat stress. Creating a stress-busting routine is more of an individual journey, than a destination. Think of your workday as a lab and try different experiments to reduce the chaos.

To get a handle on stress, it helps to build an arsenal of tools so you can harness a little “inner chill” when you need it most.

1. Take a few deep breaths.

It’s not about a quick breath to calm you down, it’s about the science of the breath. Take deep breaths throughout the day, in through the nose, and out through the mouth. Breathing into the nostrils stimulates the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. It triggers the release of stress-reducing hormones such as dopamine and serotonin.

2. Take a break from office gossip.

Avoid the water cooler gossip factory. It’s important to cultivate healthy relationships at work, but diving in to the trashing of fellow colleagues and managers breeds negativity. It’s a time waster and induces stress.

3. Recharge with physical activity.

Create healthy habits of exercise. Even just a walk outside around your building or some seated yoga postures are beneficial. Try to schedule a half hour of white space in your calendar twice a week, to take a movement break. Getting the blood and lymph flowing in the body is good for the immune system and reduces stress.

4. Modify your environment.

Change your working conditions. Work from a conference room, head outside for a bit, or telecommute for a day. It gets your brain thinking differently. What can you put on your desk to generate positive thoughts? Try a family picture, small statue, knickknack, or just a post-it note with an inspirational phrase or word.

5. Focus on the positive by journaling.

Try journaling once a week at a scheduled time. Reflect on some of the better moments at work or in your career. Even if you don’t like your job, write a list of the good points associated with your position. Note how new friends, clients or colleagues are enhancing your working experience.

6. Cultivate a contemplative practice.

We’re on overdrive. But you can slow things down by taking time to read some inspirational material in the middle of your workday. For some people, reading prayers, meditative passages, or philosophy calms the mind and soul. Others prefer the repetition of positive affirmations or spiritual mantras.

7. Get a handle on your info-intake.

Sensory overload triggers stress and creates distractions. Limit checking and responding to emails that don’t need immediate attention. Inform clients and colleagues of your patterns. Create your own plan of monitoring news and blog feeds, aggregating information, and scheduling the timing of your intake.

8. Create some work-life flexibility.

How you determine your work-life flexibility strategy is an individual journey. Check out flexible workplace policies at your company. To make it work, it might mean having a conversation with your manager or human resources. Be ready with suggestions for your unique situation that will mutually benefit you and your employer.

9. Focus on meaningful communication.

Poor communication creates frustration, and it can result in inefficient interactions and lead to stress. Strive for the 3 Cs: Co-creation of a conscious conversation. The trick is to be more mindful of how and when you communicate with colleagues or clients, and being aware of the goal for the communication.

10. Do a time management check.

Sometimes we unintentionally clutter the playing field of the mind with confusion, rather than taking the time to prioritize and get organized. How we manage our time is a huge part of the puzzle to reduce stress. Keep a log of how you’re spending your time daily. Monitor that log each week. Assess, then adjust, on a regular basis. Identify the unproductive demands on your time.

11.Take in visual soul food.

Check out screen savers and apps that offer visual meditative exercises. What we watch impacts our brain and can either hype us up or calm us down. Surf the Web or YouTube for comforting videos. Nature or animal videos are easily found on the Web, and are generally relaxing to watch.

12. Listen to relaxing music

Classical music might not be for everyone but studies show that it has a relaxing effect on brain waves. Generally, in a busy work atmosphere, the brain is in a beta state, which tends to be frenetic. Relaxing music induces an alpha state and that reduces stress.

Before you take that deep breath, take this cue from Greek sage and stoic philosopher, Epictetus: You can only change the things you can control and you can’t control external events—only your reactions to them.

Have you tried any of these stress-busting tools? Any modifications on them or other strategies you’d like to share to beat stress at work?

Emmy award winning broadcast journalist Judy Martin reports on emerging business, workplace and career trends. Judy is a respected consultant who coaches executives and companies on stress management strategies. She was awarded an economic fellowship with the National Press Foundation and currently blogs for Forbes.com. A version of this story first appeared on the 12 Most blog.

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