Modern workplaces are filled with hard working, motivated people who all have one thing in common: they’re incredibly stressed out. I live in Silicon Valley, where you can’t enter a coffee shop without seeing someone hunched over their laptops, hand over forehead and face contorted. The anxiety is palpable, and the result is more work hours logged at the expense of peace and sanity.
I work every day with professionals in the Bay Area, and there are three common practices I’ve learned have helped them reduce workplace stress and, in turn, increase productivity and happiness.
1. Build Great Relationships
The first step towards creating a less stressful work environment actually has nothing to do with any clever strategies or quick tips. Jan Yager, PhD, author of Friendshifts, told Cleveland Clinic Wellness that ”…researchers have found that having even one close friend that you confide in can extend your life by as much as 10 years.” The first step towards creating a less stressful work environment is to begin building solid relationships with the people you work with.
Yager continues, “Numerous studies also show that recovery from a major health challenge, such as a heart attack or cancer, is enhanced because of friendship.” Think about it…if you are every day walking into an environment where you feel distant or detached from the people around you, all that’s left is the stress inducing work in front of you. The more you take the time to get to know the people you see day in and day out, the more opportunities you’ll have to participate in de-stressing activities, such as the proverbial water cooler conversation, or even venting over lunch. Don’t underestimate the power of a good vent session with a friend!
2. Make a “Stop Doing” List
Way back in 2003, Jim Collins pioneered the “Stop Doing List,” which called all productivity junkies to consider listing out the activities and tasks that can be classified as non-essential, then having the courage and self discipline to cut them. It was, as his teacher had told him, the way to go from leading a busy life, to leading a disciplined life.
Most of the stress we face at work comes from the pressure we put on ourselves to get everything done, and then some. Sure, we have tasks and deliverables that are tied to our job performance. However, we also have the option to determine what actions we can put behind us. Eliminating unnecessary tasks and burdens frees us up to focus on the important stuff, and in turn relieves an incredible amount of stress; it relieves anxiety knowing that what you’re focusing on will lead to better results, and it’s comforting knowing that there isn’t anything dreadful looming.
3. Take Smart Breaks
We all need to take breaks from time to time in order to function. However, many of us are prone to taking breaks that aren’t necessarily helpful.
The best way to figure out when you should take a break has to do with our body chemistry. The human body is not fond of sitting in one place for too long, which is why many people develop lower back and other muscle problems after years of living a sedentary lifestyle at the office. Schedule 2 to 5 minutes every hour or so to take 5-10 minutes walking around, speak to coworkers, and even breath some fresh air. There are even programs that remind you when to take breaks. The goal is to reawaken and reinvigorate your mind, so you can stay fresh and free of anxiety.
Mike Query is a web strategist for the Bay Area Christian Church in Palo Alto, CA. He manages web properties for their various nonprofit/community service programs, and also coordinates self improvement events for Bay Area professionals, college students and high school students.