An article in The Wall Street Journal last week described some of the programs employers are investing in to help workers deal with workplace stress, which it notes ranks just behind financial worries as the top cause of stress. One program involves a daylong retreat and two-hour sessions every week for two months to learn “mindfulness-based stress reduction.” Another employer installed a vertical garden, a wall with 900 plants inside the office, and a wildflower meadow outside the employee café.
I’ve worked in some very stressful workplaces and some that truly cared about the employees, but none that made such a substantial investment in attempting to reduce workplace stress and create more resilient employees. Instead, I’ve cobbled together my own stress-reduction techniques. Here are five ways that I cope:
- Communicate thoughtfully. “Mindful communication,” part of a training program at Dow Chemical Co., seems to be grounded in good communication techniques, such as paying attention and asking questions before reacting to what the other person has said. That prevents a lot of misunderstanding and conflict.
- Recognize reactions to stress. Even when I haven’t kept up with yoga practice, it has made me more aware of my body, such as when my breathing is too shallow because I’m feeling stressed or my shoulders are tensed. When you recognize the effects stress is having on your body, it takes only a few seconds to adjust and calm yourself.
- Exercise. No employer has provided an exercise program, although one co-worker who was also a part-time aerobics instructor voluntarily led classes in our tiny lobby after work for a while. One friend of mine enjoys walking with her co-workers during or after work. Because I telecommute, I walk with my office mate, an 8-month-old puppy. Stormy is a force of nature, so both of us have a better day when we take a good long walk.
- Bring a little nature indoors. Twice I’ve had to work in offices with no windows, and it took a toll on my mood. My current office features a huge window and a view of the mountains. While trying to keep most plants alive would cause me more stress, I’ve found a couple of low-maintenance varieties that give me the benefit of plants in the office without the hassle. One is a cactus that tolerates a lot of neglect, and the other is a peace lily, which droops to show me when I’ve neglected watering it and is great for improving indoor air quality.
- Find the joy. Another program described in the article is aimed at teaching people to replace negative thoughts and self-criticism with positive thoughts. An administrative assistant years ago taught me the value of keeping a “Glory” file, to document compliments and accomplishments. It’s not only a great career tool but also can help you through a stressful day when you’re being too tough on yourself.
In The Wall Street Journal article, one human resource consultant noted that workplace stress-reduction techniques aren’t a cure for dealing with a boss who’s a jerk or an overwhelming workload. That’s perhaps the most important point for dealing with workplace stress: Recognize the cause and eliminate it. When I was a new boss I suffered the stress of dealing with an underperforming employee for months, and the stress level of the entire team went down after I replaced her.
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How do you handle workplace stress?