You may not have control over the demands of your job, but you do have control over yourself and, to a certain extent, your immediate surroundings.
Sometimes there’s no escaping stress on the job. Deadlines come one on top of the other, bosses start yelling, and as much as you’d love to just up and leave, fleeing isn’t an option if you’d still like to collect a paycheck.
How’s a harried worker to avoid being overwhelmed?
Create a solid anti-stress arsenal. You may not have control over the demands of your job, but you do have control over yourself and, to a certain extent, your immediate surroundings.
Here are some must-have items to keep you from going under when things get hectic:
First Things First
One of the best ways to combat stress is making sure you’re not unintentionally adding to it. This starting checklist can go a long way towards making things less frantic than they need to be:
Organization, organization, organization. Not only does a messy desk make it infinitely harder to keep on top of your tasks or find things when you need them; a visually messy environment makes you feel more stressed than a neat one.
Use inboxes, folders, and trays to keep the piles on your desk in order. Know where your action items are at all times. Make things easier on yourself by having a workspace that’s under control — even when everything around you isn’t.
Light. A dim workspace can make you feel groggy and create eye strain. Make sure your work areas are well-lit (but not too bright). Soft, indirect lighting is a good way to go.
Comfort. The human body wasn’t meant to sit in one position for eight hours a day — and it will let you know that. Poor posture and repetitive movements can lead to everything from back pain to tension headaches.
Fortunately, there’s an ergonomic everything now — keyboards, mouse pads, footrests, chair cushions. Get some comfy gear and visit resource sites to make sure you’re not stressing out your body in addition to your brain.
Fuel. Stock your desk with healthy, energy-packed snacks and be sure to drink plenty of (noncarbonated, non-sugary) fluids throughout the day. Flying and crashing on waves of caffeine and vending machine candy won’t make any day easier.
Alright, you’ve got the groundwork laid. Here are some basic tools to have on hand for when the crazy times hit:
Happiness-Inducing Pictures. Whether it’s a collage of your beloved pets or a screensaver of your favorite vacation spot, surround yourself with images of the people, places and things that make you smile. It will lift your spirits and can help you hang in there by reminding you you have a (much pleasanter) life outside of work.
Quality Tunes. If you can wear headphones, crank up whatever makes you feel a little less stabby — whether it’s some soothing Michael Bublé or the most cathartic Rage Against the Machine you can find. If you can’t wear headphones, try playing some (office-appropriate) radio (at a respectable level). Music makes the time pass faster and can be a huge mood booster.
Indulgent Drinks. No, I’m not condoning adult indulgent drinks. (This is a professional community here.) I’m talking more along the lines of exotic chai, soothing green tea, or rich hot chocolate. Sipping a comfort beverage in the midst of a hectic day can calm your nerves and reinvigorate you.
Stretching. Even with an ergonomic setup, sitting at a computer for eight hours straight builds up tension throughout your body. Take a pause every now and then to release some of that pent-up stress. Let your clenched jaw go slack. Stretch out your keyboard-cramped hands and wrists. Find some great stretches (and exercises) you can do right at your desk.
Breathing. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the relaxation book because it works. Try some of these deep breathing exercises to regain your physical and mental composure.
Moving. It’s easy to get sucked into a stressful project and lose all sense of space and time. Physically stepping away from your desk can help clear your head and reset your composure when you’ve entered the work wormhole.
Take a walk up to the second floor to deliver that memo, stroll over to the water cooler, or even just stand up and shake out your limbs for a few seconds — anything to break your concentration and release a little of that stressed-out energy.
Bathroom Breaks. Don’t laugh. They work. When all else fails, no one can fault you for excusing yourself and disappearing into the restroom for a minute or two. If things really start to overwhelm you, give yourself a chance to escape and pull yourself back together.
What’s in your anti-stress arsenal?
Kelly Gurnett, a.k.a. “Cordelia,” runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.