By Harvey Meyer
YOUR DESK IS overflowing with work. You’re
constantly interrupted with office chatter,
phone calls, e-mails. You’re frenetically multi-tasking. Deadlines are approaching.
Sound familiar? It should, since many of
us operate in high-stress workplaces. Eight in
10 workers experience at least some stress,
according to a 2003 survey conducted for the
Connecticut-based employee communications firm the Marin Company.
Some stress is good for you. Certain
workplace challenges are energizing confi-dence-boosters and motivate you to learn
new skills and develop job mastery.
But workers are increasingly besieged with
chronic, low-grade stress, an invisible but
sometimes crippling disability, notes Shawn
Talbott, a nutritional biochemist who has
authored several books about stress.
“People are multi-tasking; they’re coming
to work early, bringing work home; they’re
always busy, always available, always on,” says
Talbott. “There’s no downtime, and that constant, back-of-mind stress is biochemically
detrimental to our health.”
Overly stressed employees experience faltering memories and muddled thinking, and
are less productive, says Talbott, a Costco
member who lives in Draper, Utah. Moreover,
stressed-out workers can experience a catalogue of health woes—increased blood pressure and heart rate, fatigue stemming in part
from sleep deprivation, headaches and tensed
muscles, upset stomach, suppressed immune
system and even weight gain.
Certain workplace conditions—for example, constant deadlines and noisy interruptions—may mean stress can’t be sidestepped.
In fact, some individuals thrive in those environments. But for many, the less stress, the better. Fortunately, there are a number of helpful
stress-reduction techniques you can follow.
Exorcise stress through exercise. If you
can’t fit in 30 minutes of daily exercise, consider briefly, periodically but intensely contracting or stretching your arms, legs and
facial muscles for a few minutes at your desk,
says Talbott. Or try standing up and moving
while on the phone, self-massaging tensed
muscles, walking around the block or squeezing a stress ball. All of these activities increase
Too much pressure
can rule your life
and ruin your health
blood flow, he says, which will help reduce
blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol, a primary stress hormone.
You are what you eat. Avoid cortisol-and blood-sugar-enhancing refined carbohydrates such as doughnuts, muffins and white
bread, and junk food such as candy bars and,
especially, full-sugar sodas, says Talbott.
Instead, opt for food and beverages at work
such as blueberries, green tea, soy products,
milk and whole-grain breads, which block
some of the detrimental effects of cortisol, he
says. Talbott also suggests limiting caffeinated
coffee to no more than 200 milligrams (about
two to three cups) daily or risk boosting cortisol levels.
Musically inclined. When Lorna
McLaren wants to quickly moderate her stress
level, she thinks of or hums a favorite song.
The Kelowna, British Columbia, training specialist, international stress-management
speaker and Costco member says such tunes
often put a smile on your face and induce toe-tapping rhythms that distract, and thus help
Plan and prioritize. Not everything at
work is an emergency, so take time to prioritize your tasks, says Dr. Gabriela Cora, a
Miami wellness coach, author and Costco
member. The president of Executive Health &
Wealth Institute suggests dividing tasks into
“must do,” “may do” and “want to do” piles.
That action not only offers a sense of control
but lessens the chances you’ll constantly fret
about, and lose sleep over, your workload.
The friendship factor. Befriending
someone at work you can confide in is a
“huge stress reducer,” says Suzanne Zoglio, a
psychologist and author of Recharge in
Minutes (Tower Hill Press, 2004), a “
cookbook” of 101 ways to quickly de-stress.
“Gallup surveys show that if we have at least
one good friend at work—someone we can
joke or vent with or share a fear—we are
more satisfied with our jobs and more productive,” says Zoglio, a Costco member from
Take a baby step. Ever been so inundated with work you’re baffled about what to
do next? That rumination just exacerbates
your stress. “Research shows that multi-task-ers not only are more stressed, but less productive,” says Zoglio. “Better to finish one
task, even an easy one, before moving on to
the next. By taking action, you’re taking control, introducing a sense of order amid the
chaos.” That, in turn, will often motivate you
to complete another task and then another.
Tickle your funny bone. Laughter, a
chuckle, even a bemused smile—all are quick
ways to alleviate stress, says Lorna McLaren.
Humoring yourself provides immediate disengagement from a stressful environment, she
Blowing off steam
TAKE A DEEP BREATH. It’s minutes
before—or even during—your important presentation or a strained meeting
with your boss. What is a quick way to
de-stress? Stress management experts
urge taking a breath. Make that a deep
breath. When people are stressed,
they take shallower breaths and their
thinking becomes less focused, says Dr.
Gabriela Cora, author, wellness coach
and Costco member. By taking as few
as five deep breaths (three to five
seconds breathing air down into your
abdomen and three to five seconds
exhaling) in a comfortable rhythm,
you begin shifting into a more relaxed
state. Taking deeper breaths is a com-