Statistics reported by the American Psychological Association underscore what we already know to be true: work related stress is skyrocketing. Unreasonable workloads, low salaries, lack of social support, and unrealistic performance expectations are some of the more commonly reported issues. When left unchecked, persisting stress can lead to serious health issues. Chronic stress can wreak havoc on the mind and body, contributing to conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's and autoimmune diseases, as well damaging effects on mental health. Short-term stress also has its consequences, including reduced focus, insomnia, headaches, and a breakdown in communication skills.
Taking care of all four "dimensions" of wellness can help you get a handle on impending burnout. The core areas of focus are physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. This means adopting healthy activities such as exercise, diet awareness, relaxation; time, and energy management; the avoidance of addictive habits; spiritual or contemplative exercises (meditation or prayer); listening to relaxing or uplifting music; enjoying a good laugh; taking time away from work (vacations) and perhaps most important of all -- social support from people who care about you.
It can be challenging to make self-care a priority, particularly when you are already feeling over-taxed. Here are seven straightforward practices you can incorporate throughout the day that will help keep your stress levels down.
1. Keep your phone out of sight.
Even if you are not using your phone, studies show that seeing your phone anywhere in close proximity hinders your ability to concentrate. Interestingly, people are also less likely to trust one another when phones are present during meetings, and they discourage collaboration. To reduce stress, many people mindfully turn off all phone notifications. The Light Phone 2 may gain popularity for people attempting to get off the smart phone "hamster wheel" as it is designed to send and receive calls and texts only, saving you from endless online distractions.
2. Limit multi-tasking.
Multi-tasking diminishes mental productivity, elevates brain fatigue and increases stress. Do your best to eliminate distractions and laser-focus on tasks. Block out information that is relatively unimportant. Limiting the intake of information is a crucial brain function associated with optimum brain health -- therefore lowering stress.
3. Take better breaks.
Researchers have found that the most beneficial time to take a workday break is mid-morning. People who take breaks in the morning -- or sometime within the first half of their shifts -- feel more restored and less emotionally exhausted than those who took breaks later in the day. The study also reported that to boost energy, concentration and motivation, incorporate activities that you enjoy during your break time, but try to avoid too much screen time.
4. Strive to help others.
Want access to instant stress relief? Do a solid for someone else. When you treat others as you wish to be treated, you will unquestionably experience less stress. Even small favors such as getting coffee, picking up lunch, tackling a small work task or providing positive feedback will increase your ability to connect with others and reduce the time it takes for you to recover from work-related stress. It also acts as a useful distraction and will feed your endorphins.
5. Engage in small talk with your colleagues.
Social time with colleagues is invaluable, and is often overlooked due to the belief that "work is work." However, brief intervals spent connecting with people on a personal level -- while avoiding gossip -- leads to higher levels of work productivity.
6. Unplug at the end of the day.
People who think they need to be reachable outside of work hours have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and feel less in control, according to one study. While it cannot be avoided during certain times and projects, your body, mind and spirit still need some down time.
7. Learn mindfulness meditation.
You can slow down the pace -- and even heighten your productivity -- if you approach life from a more conscious perspective. By being more cognizant of what is going on at any given moment, you become more mindful of your thoughts and reactions to stress. Make the most of your relaxation time by practicing mindfulness meditation. There are a wealth of apps and resources to help get you started.