A recent Gallup study found about 55 percent of adults in the United States had experienced stress during “a lot of the day.”
Findings like these have sparked a growing conversation around mental health and its importance in the workplace that has employers not only paying attention, but also taking action. Many have started offering benefits tailored to the emotional wellbeing of their employees, ranging from counseling services to stress management programs.
Emotional wellbeing is essential to our overall health. It allows us to realize our full potential and helps us cope with the stresses of life. It doesn’t mean there is an absence of emotions or stress in our life – it means we’re able to understand the value of our emotions and use them to move in positive directions. Mental health is the psychological piece of our overall emotional wellbeing.
Feeling stressed is completely normal. Demands of the job, a 24/7 connected society, and juggling both personal and professional tasks all contribute. The most important, yet most difficult part, is how to cope with and overcome stress, especially in the workplace. Read on to learn more about how stress affects your mental and physical health and take away a few helpful tips to create a stress-free day!
Why do we stress?
Stress is defined as the body’s reaction to any life change, good or bad. The way we react varies from person to person. Some may experience an emotional reaction, while others may experience something more mental or physical. Remember: feeling stressed and your reaction to stressful situations is normal, so don’t be hard on yourself.
Although stress typically has a negative connotation, there is a form of “good” stress, known as eustress, which is a result of positive things happening in your life, such as having a baby or receiving a promotion. Distress is the bad form that typically comes to mind and messes with our daily lives, worrying about test results or being stuck in traffic.
What happens when we experience stress?
Whether it’s eustress or distress, our body reacts the same.
When a stressful situation occurs, we release stress hormones and blood starts flowing to our muscles in preparation for a “fight or flight” moment. Our anxiety rises, airways dilate, and heart rate increases. Some people also experience a rise in blood pressure, which causes them to sweat more and breathe rapidly.
Those physical tell-tales signs are fairly standard, but emotionally, the indicators depend on the person. Some people may feel depressed and sad, while others can become angry and upset, and some may be unable to concentrate and lack motivation.
While stress from time to time is common, if it’s experienced over a long period of time, it can manifest in negative ways. Examples include depression or physical aches and pains, such as shoulder pain due to how you hold your body as a result of the stress. Too much stress has also been linked to a number of health complications, such as heart disease, cancer, digestive disorders, and diabetes.
How do you cope with stress?
Next time you feel your heart beat faster while sitting in traffic or become anxious after looking at your to-do list, remember there are ways to deal with how you’re feeling. Here are six tips for coping with stress, whether at the office or at home on your couch.
- Positive psychology – This practice encourages you to focus on the positive instead of leaning into things that bring unhappiness. To put this into practice, try keeping a gratitude list expressing appreciation for what you have in your life. You can also practice forgiveness and self-compassion, with the ultimate goal of being gentle with yourself.
- Mindfulness – Mindfulness is being present in the moment. Focusing on the moment you’re in for just 60 seconds every day can make a big difference in your outlook. While you’re focusing, make sure you’re aware of your body and environment. Being aware of your body could include feeling your breath move in through your nose, filling your belly, and then leaving your body. As for environmental awareness, you can simply notice what you see or close your eyes and listen to what’s around you.
- Reframing – Intentionally reframing our thoughts is a small exercise that can make a big difference. Make an effort to shift how you think about a situation and change your internal dialogue. For example, if you feel a work presentation goes poorly, you may tell yourself, “That was terrible. I’m going to get fired.” Instead, reframe those thoughts and say, “Wow, that was a challenge. I’m proud of myself for working so hard and for the progress I have made.”
- Take a step back at work – If you’re feeling stressed but can’t walk away from your desk, take three deep breaths. Be truly aware of those breaths and the effect they have on your body. Focus on your breathing to help realign your perspective and allow you to get back to work in the right frame of mind. Another tip is talking with a coworker or calling a friend. Connecting with someone away from the situation can help clear your head and put you at ease. If you can step away, take a lap around your floor or get up to fill your water bottle. If you have an onsite fitness center with group classes, attend a yoga or meditation class!
- Create a calm space – Whether in the office or at home, creating a calm space is important. An easy way to accomplish this is placing a picture of your family or loved ones on your desk. When you start feeling overwhelmed, take 30 seconds to look at it – it will help spark joy! If you need to be reminded, set a recurring calendar reminder to practice meditation with a few deep breaths. Take note – if the alarm is set at the same time every day, you may fall into a habit of pressing ignore. Make sure you’re setting it intentionally on a frequency that you’ll honor.
- Apps – There’s an app for that! Head to the app store on your smartphone to find helpful tools like Calm or Headspace. These apps guide you through a mindfulness practice or meditation. Tune in for three to five minutes and allow yourself to enter a different space.
If your stress starts impacting normal functioning, such as lack of sleep, poor performance, or a noticeable decline in your relationships, professional help can provide support. A great place to start is utilizing your employer’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If your employer doesn’t offer an EAP, get in touch with your primary care provider, who can refer you to a licensed clinical counselor or psychologist. It’s important to remember you’re not alone, and there are numerous resources to help you cope with stress.
To read about Premise’s approach to behavioral health and how it integrates with primary care, click here.