Avoid Burnout with These 7 Stress Relievers at Work

September 19, 2019

Anytime I ask my patients about why they feel stressed, work almost always tops the list. Long hours, job insecurity, difficult bosses and co-workers, monotony, lack of recognition … these are just some of the examples of stress-related situations in the workplace they give. I always recommend that they implement stress relievers at work to support their overall health and well-being, and recent research is now showing just how important this is.

The American Institute of Stress reports that work is the biggest stressor for American adults. [1] In a survey conducted by Northwestern National Life, 40 percent of workers rated their jobs as “very or extremely stressful.” [2] And workplace related stress is only getting worse, not better, over time. [3]


Why is Work Stress Such a Big Deal?

Job stress results when job requirements do not match the worker’s capabilities, resources, or needs. It’s different from ajob challenge, which can be energizing and motivating. Instead, I find those who report job stress are exhausted and burned out. [4]

Like other forms of stress, job stress is harmful to your health. Over time, workplace stressors can take a toll on physical and mental health. Stress causes diseases such as cardiovascular disease,high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, anxiety, depression, skin problems, and irregular menstruation. [5]

Workplace stressors can also make existing physical and mental health problems worse. In one study of people with chronic headaches, for example, half of the participants said their headaches improved when they learned to better control their emotional reactions to stress. Long-term stress can also make it more difficult to recover when you get sick. [6]

For all these reasons, stress at work can affect your work performance, ability to pay attention, and missed days due to doctors’ appointments and illness, creating a vicious cycle and even more stress triggers in the workplace.

To break this cycle, the best thing you can do is develop some coping skills for stressful situations at work. After all, many factors that cause stress in the workplace are out of your control—you can’t change them. What you can change is the way you react to those workplace stressors, using tools in the form of stress relievers at work.


The Best Stress Relievers at Work

If any of this sounds familiar, here are some stress relieving tactics I suggest you try at work:

1. Take an exercise break.

Depending on your job, you may use your lunchtime and other breaks to check your phone, grab a coffee, or run errands. For an effective stress reliever at work, instead, use your break for physical activity. Leave your phone in your desk drawer and focus on some quiet time outside or by simply walking the halls. Trust me, nothing you find on your phone will allow your body to calm down; if anything, it may keep you amped up!

Exercise boosts levels of feel-good chemicals called endorphins that naturally lower stress. Physical activity can also help calm your mind by forcing you to focus on your body’s movements rather than the morning’s stressful meeting. Take a few laps around your building, ride your bike, or (if you can) spend your break doing a quick weightlifting routine at a nearby gym. Even just stretching at your desk for a few minutes can improve your workday mood, making exercise one of the top stress relievers at work. [7]

2. Breathe deeply. 

When we’re stressed, we tend to breathe in a shallow, rapid pattern. This is part of the fight-or-flight response ingrained in us as a survival tactic to help us run from a bear way back from our caveman days.

Problem is, today, it’s not a tiger but an unreasonable boss, looming deadline or less than trustworthy co-worker we can’t run from and instead must face. As a result, you may end up breathing in this fight-or-flight way for extended periods of time, which is not good for your body or your mind.

Breathing exercises can help you breathe more deeply and send a message to your brain to calm down and relax. In turn, your blood pressure and heart rate will also go down.

A simple, easy deep breathing exercise you can use as one of your stress relievers at work is belly breathing. To do belly breathing, follow these steps: [8]

  • Sit in a comfortable position (at your desk is fine).
  • Put one hand on your belly, just below your ribs. Place your other hand on your chest.
  • Take a deep breath in through your nose and let your belly push out as you breathe in. Do not let your chest move.
  • Exhale through your lips and feel the hand on your belly push all the air out.
  • Repeat three to 10 times.

You can also try my quick relaxation routine below, which will help you to restore your calm energy.

1-minute relaxation routine - Dr. Pingel

3. Use music as stress management.

Sometimes, lack of control over your workday can increase stress levels. As such, throwing in some personal enjoyment, such as your favorite music, can be one of the top stress relievers at work. For one, music will help get your creative juices flowing, and it can provide stress relief by distracting you mentally, easing muscle tension, and reducing stress hormones. Just make sure you wear headphones or keep the volume low enough as to not bother your co-workers.

Not a music-lover? Try listening to talk radio, comedy, or another topic that interests you (as long as it doesn’t interfere with your productivity or break company rules). [9]

4. Practice progressive muscle relaxation.

When you’re emotionally stressed at work, your muscles tense, which can contribute to musculoskeletal disorders and even more stress. A great stress reliever at work that targets this tension is called progressive muscle relaxation. With this technique, you relax different muscle groups in your body. You can do it in your office, lying on your back, or (if your office space doesn’t allow) before work or as soon as you get home. Here’s a quick guide:

  • While breathing in, tense the first muscle group in your body for four to 10 seconds.
  • Breathe out and completely relax that muscle group (suddenly, not gradually).
  • Relax for 10 to 20 seconds, then move to the next muscle group. Pay attention to how your muscles feel when they tense verses when they are relaxed.
  • When you’ve tensed and relaxed each of the muscle groups you want to target, count backward from five to one to bring yourself back into your present space. [10]

5. Lighten things up.

Used appropriately, humor is one of the most effective ways to ease tension—making this one of my favorite stress relievers at work. It’s also easier to get your point across to a co-worker when you present it jovially than if you come off as confrontational. This doesn’t mean you should turn into the company clown; tasteful and fitting are good rules of thumb when it comes to humor for workplace stress management. [11]

6. Snooze for stress relief at work.

Stress factors at work can leave you up at night worrying. To stave off stress and be your best self at work, it’s important to get enough sleep (most adults need seven to nine hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation). [12]

To totally let lingering stress in the workplace go when it’s time to get your zzzs, try to stick to a consistent schedule, have a relaxing and quiet bedtime routine, put your phone away, and listen to soothing music or a white noise machine to help you fall asleep. [13]

7. Decorate your desk.

With stress balls, that is. While scientists haven’t spent much time studying the power of using stress balls to relieve work-related stress, one study did show they helped reduce stress and improve focus in sixth graders. Plus, stress balls certainly can’t hurt. They come in all shapes and sizes these days, so find one that says “you,” plop it on your desk, and give it a hearty squeeze when you feel stress in the workplace. [14]

Most of us spend so much of our time at work, we deserve to enjoy an environment that is as relaxed, stress-free, and supportive as possible. Hopefully, these stress relievers at workwill help you deal with workplace stressorsso you can be productive, creative, and emotionally satisfied at work, which will only support your overall health longterm.


Key Takeaways

  • Stress in the workplace is the most common source of stress in American adults.
  • Over time, workplace stress can be harmful, mentally and physically.
  • There are stress relievers at work you can use to help prevent burnout.
  • The best stress relievers at work include stepping away from your phone, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, exercise, and laughter.
  • Getting adequate sleep and squeezing a stress ball now and then can also help buffer stress factors at work.
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