Stressed at work? Get it under control this year with five simple things you can do at your desk.
We are all under pressure at work. However, as an exercise physiologist, my take on stress is much different than approaches that attempt to “reduce” or “manage” stress.
This year, your job is not going to ask any less of you, nor will your loved ones. The reality is that the stress in your life will continue to increase. Instead of trying to , your only option is to train yourself to recover from it more quickly and efficiently, as well as to raise your threshold for it.
Instead of trying to reduce stress, you need to build your resiliency.
Stress is not something that just happens in our heads. Stress is a physiological response that radically changes the chemistry and physiology of our bodies. These changes can have negative consequences on our cognitive performance, health, energy and sleep. It’s important to understand how to prevent and correct these negative side effects through simple strategies that bring our physiology back into a state of balance.
To be the leader you want to be, the significant other you want to be, the parent you want to be and the best version of yourself — in the face of your mounting stress — you need to be diligent about your daily habits and routines.
Here are five quick tips to get you started: ( to tweet this list.)
1. Take movement breaks during the day
Short bursts of intense physical activity that burn off stress hormones and release endorphins can help restore balance. Several times during the day, take a minute or two to go up and down a couple of flights of stairs, go outside for a fast paced walk around building, or engage in a quick round of shadow-boxing.
Also, consider standing meetings or walking meetings if they’re only with only one or two colleagues. If you’re on the phone, and try to walk around if possible. You can also swap out your chair with wheels for one that doesn’t roll. This way, you are inclined to take standing breaks more often.
2. Take frequent snack breaks
Eat mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks each day to manage blood glucose levels. Why? Blood glucose levels that are too low can place stress on the body and brain, sending them into survival mode. This can lead to what some call being “Hangry” (a combination of hungry and angry).
Don’t know if you’re being “Hangry?” Symptoms include becoming impatient, critical and easily pushed over the edge.
To avoid this kind of emotional breakdown at the office, that contains healthy fats, lean protein and/or fiber. This combination is low-glycemic, which means your body will receive a slow, steady release of glucose to keep the body balanced. You don’t need a lot of food, though — 100-150 calories is all it takes. Choose from a piece of fruit, a small handful of nuts, a small yogurt or a hard-boiled egg.
3. Minimize caffeine, nicotine and alcohol
It’s easy to reach for these addictions when feeling stressed out. All of these substances release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which increase physiological stress on the body. As a result, cutting out all caffeine and nicotine is ideal. After all, why voluntarily pump more stress hormones into your body?
If you do consume caffeine, drink small amounts and don’t substitute coffee or an energy drink for food. If you enjoy the taste of coffee, switch to decaffeinated. Choose teas that have little to no caffeine. If you decide to consume alcohol, do so in moderation, which is defined as one beverage for women and two for men.
4. Don’t overeat at lunch
Many people skip breakfast, work all morning, and then are famished by lunch time. This can lead to eating an enormous meal. However, ingesting too much glucose at one time adds stress to the body. The pancreas has to work hard to produce enough insulin to process it, and any glucose that can’t be used is stored in the fat cells.
Not only is eating too much at once a stress on the body, carrying around extra fat also places stress on the system.
Eating about every three hours by alternating between moderate sized meals and small snacks keeps us from getting too hungry and overeating.
Try to create a T Plate at each meal where your plate is composed of 50 percent fruits and/or vegetables, 25 percent lean protein and 25 percent whole grains. Eat only until you feel “content,” meaning the amount of food you’ve eaten should last you for about three hours. Remember — you’re eating about every three hours.
5. If you can’t take an official break during a long meeting, still move your body
If you can’t escape a long meeting, stretch to release muscular tension and stress. Reach forward to stretch your upper back and shoulders, and then lift each ear away from the shoulders to stretch your neck. While seated, cross one foot over the opposite knee and lean forward slightly — this stretches the hips and gluteus muscles. Finally, bring the hands behind the back and gently lift to stretch the chest.
Stress isn’t going away, but we can build our resiliency, increase our energy and improve our performance.
Jenny C. Evans is the author of THE RESILIENCY rEVOLUTION: Your Stress Solution For Life 60 Seconds at a Time. She is also founder and CEO of PowerHouse Performance, where she works with C-suite executives, leaders, and employees worldwide to help improve resilience, performance and productivity.