How do you reduce stress at work? originally appeared on Quora, the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.
Reducing stress at work isn’t just a nice idea for an improved lifestyle. It’s an imperative for businesses and entire societies, as a new study makes clear.
“Collectively, the world is more stressed, worried, sad and in pain today than we’ve ever seen it,” Gallup announced in its Global Emotions report. In a survey of adults across 146 countries, more than a third said they’d experienced a lot of worry (38%) or stress (37%) the previous day. Sadness is on the rise as well.
All sorts of causes can contribute to stress. But as WebMD notes, “work stress tops the list,” with surveys finding that 40% of U.S. workers report experiencing office stress, while a quarter say it’s their biggest source of stress.
The financial costs are staggering. Harvard says lost work days due to stress cost businesses $30 billion a year. When health care costs are added, businesses are paying $300 billion, according to Eastern Kentucky University. But all this stress also reduces workplace productivity and engagement as well as other problems, which make the likely financial toll even higher.
The bigger concern, though, is the human cost. “Workplace stress — such as long hours, job insecurity and lack of work-life balance — contributes to at least 120,000 deaths each year,” Stanford reports. “The deaths are comparable to the fourth- and fifth-largest causes of death in the country — heart disease and accidents,” Stanford professor Stefanos Zenios said. “It’s more than deaths from diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or influenza.”
As a meditation coach, I’ve seen people across all sorts of industries and professions struggle with this. I also know what it’s like, having experienced a burnout several years ago. Through some simple steps and a new mindset, we can change what our work days are like.
Movement, with focus
Far too many workers, particularly in the corporate world, spend their days sitting still working hard behind screens. This doesn’t just contribute to physical problems. It can also increase depression.
We should all make a habit of habit of taking breaks for physical movement. Walking for at least a few minutes once an hour and always using the stairs when going to meetings are a good start.
But it isn’t enough. While moving your body, use this time to achieve some clarity of mind. If while you walk you’re still distracted by stress, you won’t get as many of the benefits. Instead, establish a plan spend those minutes focusing on gratitude for good things in your life. It will lighten your mental and emotional load.
It’s easy to think that you don’t have time for this. After all, there’s always more work to be done. So tell yourself that by clearing your mind briefly, you’ll become refreshed and focused, better able to tackle the tasks that await.
Meditation and breathing
At moments throughout the day, try to be conscious of your breathing. This does not have to take any extra time. Take deep, full breaths and be aware of each one. As you do this, make a decision to gain something specific in the moment -- a greater sense of calm, increased energy, or a focus on kindness, for example.
You can do this while sitting at your desk or while walking. The key is to dedicate to it.
When you do this, you’re engaging in meditation. Many people believe meditation is all about sitting on a floor somewhere in a yoga pose, closing your eyes and chanting. It doesn’t have to be! Meditating can mean concentrating on breathing at any time of day or night in order to gain greater spiritual awareness.
I’m a big fan of taking this a step further, using virtual reality to create immersive experiences that help lift workers out of their environment and give them the feeling of being surrounded by nature. A study found workers “felt more relaxed” after doing this. One reason may be that the visual element keeps people more attuned. In a study of attention spans, 33% of people said “visual stimulation is critical in maintaining their engagement.”
These steps can work for anyone. And they’re gaining popularity. But the CDC reports that mindfulness practice remains significantly lower among farm workers and blue-collar workers than among white-collar workers, and these groups “could most benefit from workplace mindfulness interventions.”
It’s time for all of us, and the organizations we work for, to value and respect the importance of mental health. Let’s make active efforts to reverse this trend. Let’s resolve this in the year ahead and we’ll see workplace stress decline.
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